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Support and childcare bubbles in England: what you need to know and the rules to follow

To help prevent isolation and loneliness during the COVID-19 pandemic, some people have been allowed to form a bubble with friends or family. But who is allowed to do this and what are the latest rules? Here’s everything you need to know about support and childcare bubbles.

By Mumsnet HQ | Last updated Sep 2, 2021

Grandmother and Child

With lockdowns and restrictions forcing us apart from our loved ones, the pandemic has been incredibly tough for all of us – but particularly those who live alone or rely on support from friends and family.

Thankfully, support bubbles allow people to form a support network with one other household, which can be a huge relief for all involved.

A ‘childcare bubble’ can also help families with children under the age of 14 – especially vital for parents needing to leave the house for work or those trying to work from home while dealing with endless requests for snacks, among other things.

Under the current lockdown rules, you’re allowed to meet one other person from outside your household (and support bubble) in an outdoor public space in your local area for exercise or for a drink or picnic.

As part of the Government’s COVID-19 roadmap, the rules in the UK will be easing in the coming weeks, which should hopefully feel like some light at the end of the tunnel. As long as targets for beating coronavirus are met, we can look forward to:

  • From 29 March – a group of six people or two households can meet outdoors, including private gardens (each household can include existing support bubbles). Outdoor sports facilities will reopen.
  • From 12 April – non-essential retail, hairdressers and beauty salons will reopen, as will gyms and most outdoor attractions, such as theme parks and zoos. Pubs and restaurants can serve food and drink outdoors.
  • From 17 May – you can meet indoors following the rule of six or two households, with most restrictions on meeting outdoors finally lifted. Pubs and restaurants can serve indoors and hospitality – including, cinemas, soft play centres and hotels – will reopen.
  • From 21 June – the Government hopes to remove all restrictions on social contact.

With things changing all the time, it can be hard to keep up. So if you’re not sure about the rules surrounding support and childcare bubbles, read our guide explaining who they help and why they’re so vital.

Support Bubbles

What is a social or support bubble?

Since the start of lockdown just over one year ago, we’ve had to spend a lot of time apart from friends and family to try and stop the virus from spreading. But for people living alone, this has meant months without seeing anyone.

Support bubbles can help those living alone or who might be at risk of isolation during the pandemic.

This means that they can form a support network with another household. Everyone in it can visit outdoor places together and stay overnight in each other’s homes – essentially acting like one big household. The best part about it is that you don’t have to socially distance, so hugs are officially back on the menu.

Bubbles must be exclusive though so you only join up with one other household. Of course, circumstances do change and you may need to form a new bubble – if so, leave it 10 days between leaving one and starting another.

Who can form a support bubble?

Although we’d all love to be able to pop round to Mum and Dad’s for a cuppa and a natter, support bubbles aren’t for everyone. You have to meet certain criteria to be able to join up with another household (of any size). These are people who:

  • Live by themselves – even if they have carers visiting to provide support
  • Have a child who is under the age of one or was under that age on 2 December 2020
  • Are aged 16 or 17 living with others of the same age and without any adults
  • Are a single adult living with one or more children who are under the age of 18
  • Are a single adult carer and anyone else living within the household has a disability and requires continuous care
  • Have a child under the age of five with a disability that requires continuous care (regardless of how many other adults are in the household)

Remember, if you’re not eligible, it’s still against the law to form a support bubble.

Mumsnetters say:

“I'm single and live alone and I remember crying with relief when my mum and I were allowed to bubble, a good couple of months in.”

“My mum is my support bubble – she lives about 5 miles away. She came over this week and we walked to my local shops. I struggle with anxiety and going out alone isn't possible at the moment.”

“My parents are our bubble as we have a 23-week-old. That doesn't mean that I see them every day, but I see them once or twice a week.”

Support Bubbles Infographics

What is a childcare bubble?

While registered childcare has remained open throughout the latest lockdown and all children are now back at school, many of us still rely on outside help when it comes to looking after our children.

For families with children under the age of 14, a childcare bubble can be formed with one other household. This means that grandparents, friends or other family members can take the kids off your hands for a little while if you need some help.

They can look after the children in either of the two homes or in a public place and this includes staying overnight. If possible, try to choose someone local to help with childcare – this helps prevent the virus from spreading between areas.

Remember though – this is only for childcare purposes so don’t book in any playdates or pop in for a quick coffee, even if the kids are there.

Who can form a childcare bubble?

Childcare bubbles are for anyone who lives with a child under the age of 14 and needs help with childcare.

Bear in mind that, like the support bubble, you can only join up with one other household, so if you have two sets of grandparents eager to help, you can only choose one to form a childcare bubble with. It may not be an easy choice, but consider who will be able to give you the most support.

Mumsnetters say:

“Me and DH can’t be furloughed. Our parents will be doing the childcare so we can continue with such luxuries as paying the mortgage and putting the food on the table.”

“I'm a full-time teacher so my mum has my child once a week when he's not in nursery. He's dropped off at her gate and she keeps him overnight and drops him at nursery the next morning. I don’t see her.”

Childcare Bubbles Image

Can you have a support bubble and a childcare bubble?

Thankfully, yes – you can form both a childcare bubble with another household and a support bubble to help someone who is at risk of isolation. Remember that if anyone tests positive for COVID-19, everyone in your bubble will need to self-isolate.

What else should parents be aware of when it comes to schools and social bubbles?

In the UK, schools are using year group or class bubbles to prevent large numbers of children from mixing and to help isolate any cases of COVID-19.

As parents, we can also do our bit by wearing face masks and supporting social distancing when dropping off or collecting our children.

While it may be tempting to have a quick catch up at the school gates, try not to hang around any longer than you have to and avoid carpooling with other families.

We can also test ourselves twice-weekly using rapid lateral flow tests. These are available to all families with primary-school, secondary-school and college-aged children and young people, including childcare and support bubbles.