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COVID-19: What amounts to a reasonable excuse for a child?

What constitutes a reasonable excuse to leave the place where you live, NPCC &  College of Policing, April 2020

Guidance for police on what constitutes a reasonable excuse for leaving the house during lockdown has been issued. Children are not identified as having distinct ‘excuses’ from adults but in reality many of society’s most vulnerable children, such as those who are Looked After, will have pertinent reasons for leaving the places they live. The regulations give police power to ensure an adult responsible for a child complies with these regulations. If unaccompanied children come into contact with the police during this time there may at an increased risk of being arrested for other offences.


Regulation 6 of the The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 states no person may leave the place where they live without a reasonable excuse. There has been widespread confusion over the definition of ‘reasonable’ in this context.  In relation to  shopping, exercise, going to work and other possible reasons for leaving home during lockdown the new guidance sets out examples of behaviour which are likely to be considered reasonable alongside examples which are not. One such example is that it is likely to be considered reasonable to buy tools and supplies to repair a fence panel damaged in recent bad weather but not reasonable to buy paint and brushes to redecorate a kitchen.


The guidance does not refer specifically to children. Many children who come in to contact with the police have difficult home lives which is why they are more likely to be out on the streets. Looked After children have particularly challenging living circumstances and  are consequently much more heavily criminalised than other children. Children do not have the same appreciation of risk and consequential thinking skills as adults and arguably the fact of being a child in itself should go towards being a reasonable excuse for breaking unfamiliar rules in an unprecedented time.