COVID-19: outdoor events guidance

This guidance was originally developed in August following uncertainty about the extent to which outdoor events, particularly large events, were permitted to take place, with both councils and business organisations raising this issue with the LGA. At that stage, it was clear that there were concerns among some councils at the prospect of large events being organised in their areas. With COVID infection rates having worsened significantly since the summer, these concerns are still in place. This guidance was last updated on 7 October 2020.


Background

These notes have now been updated to reflect relevant regulations and are intended to bring together relevant guidance on outdoor events, given the different legislation that applies and sectors that are affected.

Further information about safety at indoor events is included in COVID-19 secure guidance on performing arts

Please note that this sets out the current position on outdoor events (as at the date indicated at the top of this page) as it applies to those parts of the country not subject to specific local regulations and restrictions, and is subject to change depending on any new regulations introduced. Event organisers should always consider whether there are local restrictions in place in a specific area.

Overall position

The current legal position is that outdoor events that are organised by businesses, charitable organisations and public bodies are not restricted to a specific number of attendees and may go ahead provided (i) they have carried out a thorough risk assessment and (ii) taken all reasonable steps to mitigate the risk of viral transmission, taking into account that risk assessment, in line with COVID-19 Secure guidance (see COVID-19 Secure guidance on performing arts and sports and recreation)  and (iii) ensuring that social distancing between different households or support bubbles is maintained at all times including between staff and any performers. Event organisers should also take additional steps to ensure the safety of the public and prevent gatherings of more than six people taking place within the event.

Event organisers should always speak to local authorities as soon as possible to discuss plans for outdoor events and how they can be managed safely. Through this process, councils can advise on safe working practices, support events to comply with relevant requirements and help address any concerns early on and advise on any local restrictions. 

Most councils will have a Safety Advisory Group (SAG) which brings together representatives from the LA, emergency services and other relevant bodies who can help advise event organisers on the safety of very large events taking place in their areas. Given the current impact of COVID-19, it will be helpful to include environmental health services in these discussions. This is an important step especially for larger events.

COVID-19 secure guidelines

With the exceptions of large sporting events, current government guidelines allow for outdoor events that are organised by businesses, charitable organisations, and public bodies to take place provided they have carried out a thorough risk assessment and taken all reasonable steps to mitigate the risk of viral transmission, taking into account that risk assessment, in line with COVID-19 Secure guidance.

This includes ensuring that social distancing between different households or support bubbles is maintained at all times including between staff and any performers. Event organisers should also take additional steps to ensure the safety of the public and prevent gatherings of more than six people taking place within the event.

The Events Industry Forum has published some useful guidance on outdoor events which has been developed with input from DCMS and is kept under review.

Although the COVID-19 Secure guidance itself is not legally enforceable, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA) provides a framework for considering the steps businesses should take to ensure they are operating in a way that is safe and can help to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

During an event as enforcing authorities under the HSWA councils have powers to act if there are concerns about the extent to which an event is compliant with the guidance on being COVID-19 secure. The approach to doing so will mirror how businesses manage other health and safety risks in the workplace usually starting with advice and guidance to support compliance, but could also mean a fine, prohibition notice or prosecution.  

The police have powers to enforce legal limits on the size of gatherings, including to issue fines (fixed penalty notices) of £200, doubling for further breaches up to a maximum of £6,400 and penalties on organisers up to £10,000.  

Licensing Act 2003

Large outdoor events may apply for or have an existing licence under the Licensing Act 2003. In the absence of a health objective councils’ powers to refuse or revoke a premises licence on the basis of concerns about COVID-19 may be limited, as the refusal would need to relate to one of the Act’s licensing objectives: 

  • the prevention of crime and disorder
  • public safety
  • the prevention of public nuisance and
  • the protection of children from harm.

In some cases, event organisers have applied for Temporary Event Notices (TENs). While this gives councils the opportunity to review an application for an event, the short timescales present a challenge for authorities. Environmental Health and the police can object to a TEN, although as set out above, objections would need to relate to the four licensing objectives. Given the current situation and the limited timescales involved in the TENs process councils may want to support event organisers to consider alternative approaches for example encouraging them to apply for a premesis licence.

Clarification is still needed around how restrictions on opening hours and table service would apply to outdoor events. 

Situations where councils may be able to refuse permission/request cancellation of an event

There are some circumstances where a council can clearly refuse permission for or request organisers to cancel an event.

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No. 3) Regulations 2020 give county, unitary and metropolitan councils powers to restrict access to, or close, individual premises or public outdoor places as well as prohibit certain events from taking place where there is a serious or imminent threat of transmission of coronavirus, for example where there is a local spike and a large event going ahead would risk further transmission of the virus. Regulations set out three conditions which need to be met before a direction can be issued. These are:

  • That giving a direction responds to a serious and imminent threat to public health,
  • That the direction is necessary for the purpose of preventing, protecting against, controlling or providing a public health response to the incidence or spread of infection by coronavirus in the local authority’s area, and
  • That the prohibitions, requirements or restrictions imposed by the direction are a proportionate means of achieving that purpose.

The Secretary of State needs to be notified of any directions made by councils and they must be reviewed every seven days. There are also rights of appeal to a Magistrates’ Court and the Secretary of State also has power to intervene, both to require an authority to make a direction but also to require the authority to revoke a direction.

Directions should therefore only be issued where councils can successfully demonstrate relevant criteria has been met in order to resist any challenges. When considering whether this power could be applied in relation to a planned event, councils will clearly need to discuss this with local public health leads, and potentially the police.

Where the council is the landowner, they could refuse permission to allow the use of the land for an event without the need to issue a direction.