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Social Distancing Enforcement

Businesses and the public in Scotland are now required by law to follow necessary social distancing measures to slow the spread of coronavirus.

The Scottish Government is using powers from the UK Coronavirus Bill to make it a criminal offence to flout the strict public health guidance that is helping save lives.

To enforce social distancing, people in Scotland are being asked to only go outside if they have a ‘reasonable excuse’.

These include shopping for necessary food, household and medical supplies, travelling to and from work where working from home is not an option, and daily exercise that adheres to social distancing guidance.

Enforcement can be used against businesses and venues that have been told to close, including drinking establishments, entertainment venues, and indoor leisure and sports facilities.

Police Scotland can issue penalty notices of £30, rising to £60 if not paid within 28 days, where they have reason to believe there has been an offence under the regulations. These penalties are doubled for each repeat offence up to a £960 cap, with no reduction for early payment. Due to the exceptional nature of these powers, the regulations will be reviewed at least every 21 days to ensure they are still necessary.

Constitution Secretary Michael Russell said, “There has been a huge effort by the people and businesses of Scotland to respond to the unprecedented situation we face dealing with the coronavirus.

“I would like to thank everyone who is playing their part by staying at home to ensure the social distancing measures we have introduced help stop the spread of the virus.

“While the majority of people are doing the right thing, these regulations provide the police with emergency powers to enforce social distancing where necessary.

“It is only because of the unprecedented crisis we are facing, and to save lives, that these powers are being introduced. They are temporary and will be kept under review.

“I urge the people of Scotland to continue their outstanding collective effort and follow the rules that have been laid down.”

Chief Constable Iain Livingstone QPM said, "I thank the overwhelming majority of people who are complying with very clear guidance to stay at home.

"I expect the public to continue to do their duty and contribute to the national effort to keep people safe from the spread of coronavirus.

"This is a challenging time for people who have to adjust their daily habits and everything we do will be done in a fair, reasonable and proportionate manner.

"Those who persistently and blatantly defy the law must know we will enforce the law."


Following Royal Assent of the UK Coronavirus Bill, the Scottish regulations came into force on 26 March and will be laid in the Scottish Parliament on 27 March.

The UK Government also laid English regulations on 26 March which are intended to, in the main, have the same effect as the Scottish regulations.

All regulations will expire in six months’ time. Further details of the regulations introduced to the Scottish Parliament can be found here.

Guidance for business

The Scottish Government has issued specific further social distancing guidance for business.

The regulations include powers to:

  • Enable Police Scotland to enforce restrictions on the closure of all businesses and venues in which activities would lead to prolonged social contact. This includes all food and drink venues for consumption on site (with some exceptions such as hospitals and care homes); drinking establishments including bars, pubs and nightclubs, entertainment venues including cinemas, theatres, concert halls and bingo halls; museums and galleries; spas and massage parlours; casinos and betting shops; all indoor leisure and sports facilities including gyms

  • Allow businesses or services that are considered essential services, such as food retailers and pharmacies, to continue to operate but prescribe that they must take reasonable steps to ensure social distancing measures within its premises

Guidance for the public

A non-exhaustive list of reasonable excuses for when people can leave their home includes:

  • Shopping for food

  • Essential household and medical supplies

  • Exercise once a day

  • Medical assistance

  • Travel to work where work at home is not an option

  • Attending a funeral of a member of their household, a close family member or in the event that no family or household member is attending the funeral, of a friend

  • Providing care or assistance to others

  • Meeting legal obligations or accessing critical public services

The regulations include powers to:

  • Enable Police Scotland to enforce restrictions on movement of people outside their place of residence and to disperse gatherings. This includes the ability to remove people who are outside their home without a reasonable excuse if the police officer has reason to believe it is a necessary and proportionate means of ensuring compliance

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