This article was updated on 3rd of March 2021
Grandparents play a significant role in their grandchildren’s lives, often providing vital support to those children’s parents. The ongoing pandemic has unfortunately impacted upon the opportunity for grandchildren to spend time with their grandparents.
Fortunately, under the current rules and guidelines, it is possible for grandchildren to spend time with their grandparents through the use of “bubbles”.
There are principally two bubbles which allow children to spent time with their grandparents; support bubbles and childcare bubbles.
With the government planning an easing of restrictions over the coming months until they are all removed on the 21st of June, it is perhaps more important than ever to be aware of what support measures are open to you and when.
What is a support bubble, can I form one and how does it work?
Support bubbles can be formed between two households where any of the following criteria applies:
- you live by yourself;
- the other household only contains one adult;
- one of those households contains one adult and at least one child under the age of 18;
- one of those households has a child who was under 1 years of age as at 2nd December 2020; or
- one of those households contains a child with a disability who requires continuous care and is under the age of 5 as at 2nd December 2020.
Once you form a support bubble you are considered as a single household. By forming a single household through the use of a support bubble you may have close contact with that household as if they were members of your own household. This includes caring for your grandchild or supporting either of their parents, and you may enter each other’s homes and stay overnight.
If the support bubble is formed by a household where there is child with separated parents then each parent may form a support bubble with one other household. For example, the mother of a child may form a support bubble with her parents and the father may do the same with his parents, which then would enable the grandchildren to spend time with both sets of grandparents.
What is a childcare bubble and how could this help me?
If you are unable to form a support bubble you may form a childcare bubble. If you have formed a support bubble you can form a childcare bubble with another household in addition to your support bubble.
A childcare bubble can be formed between two households to provide informal childcare place to a child under the age of 14 (rather than under 18 as provided for in support bubbles). The childcare which is provided by the other household can be provided in public, private, indoors (including each other’s homes) and outdoors but can only be used for the purposes of childcare and not household mixing.
Where there is more than one child in the household, and at least one child is under the age of 14, the childcare bubble can continue. Once all children in the household are aged 14 or over, the childcare bubble must end.
If parents are separated, each parent, as with support bubbles, can form their own childcare bubble and in those circumstances, grandparents from both the maternal and paternal sides could potentially provide childcare to their grandchildren.
Unlike a support bubble, however, a childcare bubble is not considered as one household.
What if I cannot use bubbles to see my grandchildren?
If none of the bubbles are an option for you then you may be able to see your grandchild or grandchildren for your daily exercise, for example a walk, if they live locally to you.
You can meet one other person outside your household in a public place, although children under 5 do not count for this purpose. For example, one grandparent may meet with their adult child and one grandchild if that child is under the age of 5. The exercise must take place locally to you and only take place once a day.
The Easing of Restrictions
The roadmap to lockdown restrictions ending was announced on 22 February 2021. With the easing of lockdown, grandparents should have more opportunity to see their grandchildren, in line with the rules.
From 29 March, the rule of six returns. This means that six people or two households will be able to meet outdoors. The rule of two household may be more helpful for grandparents, particularly when you they already part of a support bubble, as the support bubble constitutes one household – so long as the ability to form a support bubble remains available.
The plan is to extend the rule of six or two households to allow them to meet indoors from 17 May 2021. Grandparents may also be able to see more of their grandchildren and families out of doors, so long as the group is limited to 30 people.
However, up until 17 May 2021, there is no plan to allow people to hug others outside of their household, support, or childcare bubbles. This will be reviewed as part of Step 3 in the process of easing of restrictions.
Many people are now looking forward to 21 June 2021 when, it is hoped, life will return to a pre-pandemic “normal”. Until then, as a grandparent you may be able to take advantage of one or more of the bubble approaches and easing of restrictions to see your grandchildren.
The easing of restrictions is currently subject to four tests being satisfied, which means it is subject to change. In any case, the rules and guidance are constantly reviewed and are complex so ensure you keep up to date.
This article was originally drafted by Gemma Davison, Associate Solicitor.
*Disclaimer: While everything has been done to ensure the accuracy of the contents of this article, it is a general guide only. It is not comprehensive and does not constitute legal advice. Specific legal advice should be sought in relation to the particular facts of a given situation. The information is accurate at date of publication, 3rd of February 2021 .