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Working under lockdown

A MEMBER asks: "Can I travel to do journalism under lockdown? In particular: can I travel from my home in one 'tier' to work in another?"

The short answer at present is: "yes". We'll update this when we've let the UK Prime Minister know what he meant by his announcement at 20:00 on 4 January.

11 January 2021: We've read the Regulations implementing the 4 January announcement, which came into force on 6 January. We find no changes to the provisions allowing travel for work that cannot reasonably be done at home.

The longer answer: we find no mention of penalties for travelling between "tiers" in England. There is no specific mention of journalism either. Anyone challenging you would have to rely on a general power to order you to return home if you're out without a good excuse. And in the English Regulations good excuses include, in all tiers including Tier 4, travel "for the purposes of work or to provide voluntary or charitable services, where it is not reasonably possible... to work, or to provide those services, from home..."

The Freelance cannot be responsible for any effects of you deciding that it is not reasonably possible to work from home. We report that you, or your client, can decide that.

Support for that decision is given in a letter from the National Police Chiefs Council that states, for the benefit of officers:

  • Journalists are covered as key workers;
  • There is a public interest in keeping the population informed of the developing crisis and subsequent recovery / return to normality;
  • Responsible journalism promotes good community relations and assists the emergency services, which is essential in the current health emergency;
  • Journalists will be expected to carry a UK Press Card or other official record of employment;
  • Police will engage with them if officers are unsure why they are out;
  • [Police] will expect [journalists] to comply with the Public Health guidelines e.g. on numbers, social distancing, and if not [will] explain and encourage them to do so.

We recommend printing and carrying the letter (PDF here) when out for work. Expect police officers to ask you - frequently - "your reason for being here" when out and about in the course of your work. Carrying supporting documents such as evidence of a commission always helps.

In Scotland and Wales there are penalties for travelling between certain areas without good reason: and in both cases travel that is necessary for work is explicitly stated to be a good reason for travel as well as for leaving home.

Where there is specific mention of journalists is in the regulations on quarantine on returning to the UK from an assignment abroad "in the course of their work as newsgatherers": if you do that you were exempt from having to quarantine on arrival but this ceased to be the case on 18 January 2021.

You should have ready evidence of the work you’ve been doing - a letter from an editor commissioning you would help. Again, this exemption is subject to possible sudden change; and may be pretty much moot when so many countries are declining to admit travellers from the UK.

Do keep an eye on the expiry date of your Press Card. The covid crisis means that these will take slightly longer than usual to renew. Yes, in the experience of the Freelance, the cops frequently note the expiry date on Press Cards and send away journalists whose Press Card has expired.

22 January 2021

Today's announcements about "easing" the covid lockdown appear to make no difference at all to the above advice.