Coronavirus Legislation – Update 7 November

Cytûn – Churches together in Wales

Reopening places of worship and church community activity in Wales from November 9 2020

Every effort has been made to verify the accuracy of this information, but it should not be relied upon for the purposes of legal advice.

From Monday November 9, it will be lawful to arrange to re-open places of worship. With this permission, places of worship and community centres (along with many other public buildings) become regulated premises. In accordance with Clause 21 of the Public Health (Coronavirus Restrictions) (No. 4) (Wales) Regulations, which come into force that day, in the context of COVID-19 the principal additional legal duty of the ‘person’ (which can be a body such as a PCC) responsible for the building is to:

2(a) take all reasonable measures to ensure—
(i) that a distance of 2 metres is maintained between any persons on the premises (except between members of the same household or a carer and the person assisted by the carer);
(ii) where persons are required to wait to enter the premises, that a distance of 2 metres is maintained between them (except between members of the same household or a carer and the person assisted by the carer),
(b) take any other reasonable measures for that purpose, for example measures which limit close face–to-face interaction and maintain hygiene such as—
(i) changing the layout of premises including the location of furniture and workstations;
(ii) controlling use of entrances, passageways, stairs and lifts;
(iii) controlling use of shared facilities such as toilets and kitchens;
(iv) otherwise controlling the use of, or access to, any other part of the premises;
(v) installing barriers or screens; (vi) providing or requiring use of personal protective equipment, and (c) provide information to those entering or working at the premises about how to minimise the risk of exposure to coronavirus.
(3) Measures that may be taken under paragraph (2) also include—
(a) not carrying out certain activities;
(b) closing a part of the premises;
(c) allowing and enabling a person who ordinarily works at the premises to isolate for a specified period due to testing positive for coronavirus or having had close contact with somebody who has tested positive, where that person—
(i) has been asked to do so by the Welsh Ministers;
(ii) has been required to do so by a notification given by a contact tracer;
(d) collecting contact information from each person at the premises and retaining it for 21 days for the purpose of providing it to any of the following, upon their request—
(i) the Welsh Ministers;
(ii) a contact tracer
(e) taking reasonable measures to ensure that such contact information is correct.

There are, of course, other legal requirements – such as general health and safety, safeguarding children and vulnerable adults, data protection, and so on – which remain in force also, and they should not be forgotten when making arrangements to re-open.

Welsh Government has drawn up initial guidance regarding implementing these legal requirements. Clause 24 of the regulations places a duty on the ‘person’ responsible for the premises to have regard to this guidance (and other relevant Government guidance – see below). It is important, therefore, that the ‘person’ responsible reads this guidance carefully. It is expected that fuller guidance for places of worship will be published shortly.

It is a requirement under Clause 23 of the Regulations for all those aged over 11 to wear a face covering in indoor public spaces, including places of worship, unless they have an illness or disability which prevents that. There is no legal exemption for worship leaders, but in previous guidance, Welsh Government has said that those leading worship may remove the covering whilst leading, provided that they keep an adequate distance from everyone else. It is expected that this will be repeated in the new guidance when it is available.

Funerals and weddings

In the case of funeral services held indoors, there is a legal restriction on who may attend. Under Clause 6(6)(d) it is permissible to attend a funeral:
(i) as a person responsible for arranging the funeral,
(ii) if invited by a person responsible for arranging the funeral, or
(iii) as the carer of a person attending.

The Government guidance regarding funerals is here, and those arranging a funeral must have regard to these. (It should be noticed that although this guidance is addressed to local authorities, it is relevant to funerals held in places of worship also).

In the case of weddings and civil partnership ceremonies (which must be held indoors), there is a similar restriction on who may attend, under Clause 6(6)(c), which provides that an individual may:
attend a solemnization of a marriage or formation of a civil partnership—
(i) as a party to the marriage or civil partnership,
(ii) if invited to attend, or
(iii) as the carer of a person attending;

The guidance to which one must have regard when arranging a wedding or civil partnership is available here.

Attending a funeral, wedding or civil partnership ceremony under the above circumstances is also a “reasonable excuse” for travelling into or out of Wales under Clause 9(5) of the regulations.

Pastoral visiting

Pastoral care of the kind offered by faith communities (as opposed to the kinds of formal and informal care covered by the Social Services and Well-Being (Wales) Act) is not mentioned in the regulations. However, the Welsh Government’s guidance includes the following:


I am not part of an extended household with someone but I think they still need my care or support – can I visit them?

You are allowed to provide care for or to help someone who needs it, such as an older person, a child or a vulnerable adult, even if they are not part of your extended household. This includes being in a private home with them if necessary. You can also visit someone on compassionate grounds if necessary.

When considering whether there is a need to visit someone outside of your extended household, especially indoors, you should remember we all have a responsibility to recognise the risks the virus presents to ourselves, our families and friends and our wider communities. For example, you should consider alternative ways to communicate such as a videocall on your phone or computer.

People will need to make judgements for themselves about what is reasonable, in line with that overarching principle. Keep in mind that the purpose of the continuing restrictions is to prevent the spreading of the virus, including to those we care about. If you can meet people outdoors or in a Covid secure setting rather than in a private home then you should do so.

What do you mean by compassionate grounds?

You may have compassionate reasons for visiting someone where that person is struggling with restrictions on meeting others generally or they may be living with  a physical or mental illness, have suffered a bereavement or you may be concerned about their general wellbeing or welfare.

We believe that this guidance gives permission, where there is no alternative means of providing pastoral care, to undertake a pastoral visit under Clause 4 of the regulations (2)(a) for a purpose that is reasonably necessary and there is no reasonably practicable alternative by 3(b) working or providing voluntary or charitable services by (4) (a) providing or receiving emergency assistance or (b) avoiding illness, injury or other risk of harm.

Naturally, this does not cover pastoral visits which are not truly necessary, and the risk of spreading the virus inadvertently should be considered prior to undertaking them. If the weather is fine, an outdoor visit should be considered in preference to an indoor one. It would be wise to keep a written record of the decision to visit and the reasons for it.

Community use of places of worship and community centres

Community activities (which are not “religious services”) are considered in Clause 7 of the regulations to be organised events. Under Clause 47(5)(a), such events must be organised by:
(i) a business,
(ii) a public body or a charitable, benevolent, educational or philanthropic institution,
(iii) a club or political organisation, or
(iv) the national governing body of a sport or other activity

Note that events organised by an individual or family are not, therefore, permissible, except for:
a gathering of no more than 15 people, not including persons under the age of 11, at regulated premises to—
(i) celebrate a solemnisation of a marriage or formation of a civil partnership that takes place on or after 22 August 2020;
(ii) celebrate the life of a deceased person whose funeral is held on or after 22 August 2020
[Clause 6(6)(e)]

The maximum number of people who can be present in the event is 15 indoors or 30 outdoors. However, children under 11 years of age and persons working, or providing voluntary services, at the event are not included in these totals.

There is now no restriction on the kinds of events that may be arranged, so – in principle – all activities that would have been arranged in places of worship, community centres or outdoors before Covid-19 can recommence, provided that they keep to Covid safety rules (see top of page 1) and within the maximum attendance limits noted. Welsh Government’s initial guidance can be read here, but the full guidance for community centres has not yet been updated.

In arranging an event, Clause 47(5) also requires that the organiser must have carried out a risk assessment which would satisfy the requirements of regulation 3 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, whether or not the person is subject to those Regulations.

For convenience, here are the regulations referred to regarding carrying out risk assessments, as amended:

Risk assessment

3.—(1) Every employer shall make a suitable and sufficient assessment of—

(a) the risks to the health and safety of his employees to which they are exposed whilst they are at work; and

(b) the risks to the health and safety of persons not in his employment arising out of or in connection with the conduct by him of his undertaking,

for the purpose of identifying the measures he needs to take to comply with the requirements and prohibitions imposed upon him by or under the relevant statutory provisions.

(2) Every relevant self-employed person shall make a suitable and sufficient assessment of—

(a) the risks to his own health and safety to which he is exposed whilst he is at work; and

(b) the risks to the health and safety of persons not in his employment arising out of or in connection with the conduct by him of his undertaking,

for the purpose of identifying the measures he needs to take to comply with the requirements and prohibitions imposed upon him by or under the relevant statutory provisions.

(3) Any assessment such as is referred to in paragraph (1) or (2) shall be reviewed by the employer or relevant self-employed person who made it if—

(a) there is reason to suspect that it is no longer valid; or

(b) there has been a significant change in the matters to which it relates; and where as a result of any such review changes to an assessment are required, the employer or relevant self-employed person concerned shall make them.

(3A) In this regulation “relevant self-employed person” means a self-employed person who conducts an undertaking of a prescribed description for the purposes of section 3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.

(4) An employer shall not employ a young person unless he has, in relation to risks to the health and safety of young persons, made or reviewed an assessment in accordance with paragraphs (1) and (5).

(5) In making or reviewing the assessment, an employer who employs or is to employ a young person shall take particular account of—

(a) the inexperience, lack of awareness of risks and immaturity of young persons;

(b) the fitting-out and layout of the workplace and the workstation;

(c) the nature, degree and duration of exposure to physical, biological and chemical agents;

(d) the form, range, and use of work equipment and the way in which it is handled;

(e) the organisation of processes and activities;

(f) the extent of the health and safety training provided or to be provided to young persons; and

(g) risks from agents, processes and work listed in the Annex to Council Directive 94/33/EC on the protection of young people at work, as amended by Directive 2014/27/EU.

(6) Where the employer employs five or more employees, he shall record—

(a) the significant findings of the assessment; and

(b) any group of his employees identified by it as being especially at risk.

It may be concluded, therefore, that the ‘person’ responsible for arranging an event under these coronavirus regulations must fulfil the duties of the “employer or relevant self-employed person” under these health and safety regulations, even if they are not an employer or self-employed, with regard to ensuring the safety of all who attend the event (and not employees only).

The Health and Safety Executive has published guidance on preparing a risk assessment, which includes a template proforma. A number of denominations have drawn up templates for this purpose. The templates prepared by the Church in Wales and the Presbyterian Church of Wales have been drawn up based on the Regulations applicable in Wales. Churches of other denominations and non-denominational churches would need to adapt some of the contents to their own governance arrangements.

It is likely that every place of worship will wish to use posters to guide people who enter the building. The Church in Wales and the Baptist Union of Wales have published bilingual posters that can be used for this purpose.

Welsh Government has said that from August 3 it is no longer necessary to maintain a physical distance of 2 metres between individuals under 11 years of age , or between those children and adults, but this change has not been incorporated into the Regulations. It is especially important, therefore, that in arranging any activity involving children under 11 that a risk assessment is drawn up taking this into consideration – as well as other matters regarding safeguarding children.

Other guidance

There is further guidance that will be useful for some places of worship:

Churches which are part of a denomination, especially where the denomination is the trustee of the local building, should seek the advice of their denomination regarding any specific denominational requirements. It should be noted that the guidance issued by a number of cross-border churches is based on the Regulations applicable in England rather than those applicable in Wales. This is a matter for the individual denomination, and where there is any conflict between denominational advice and the Welsh Regulations, this should be raised within the relevant denomination.

Many of those who are responsible for places of worship are concerned about their liability for conforming to the regulations, especially when they are changing regularly. It may be helpful, therefore, to read Welsh Government’s guidance for enforcement officers, to see what they will be looking for and how they will proceed in order to ensure compliance.

Some FAQs

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions. We will add to this section on a regular basis.

Musical instruments and singing

Previous Welsh Government guidance advised against congregational singing and the playing of wind instruments indoors. A soloist may sing behind an appropriate screen if that is essential to the worship. On August 7 the guidance regarding playing pipe organs was amended to read: The decision whether to play an organ that requires air to be pushed through the mechanism should be based on a risk assessment and adherence with physical distancing, for example from the remainder of the congregation and avoiding use of a registrant, hand hygiene and cleaning guidance. It is advised that you use alternative instruments such as a piano, electronic instruments or recordings.

Where it is desired to consider using a pipe organ, consideration should be given to using the Church in Wales’s bespoke risk assessment template.

We expect that this guidance may be eased a little with regard to small singing groups (but not congregational singing) when new guidance is published, but in the mean time the above guidance should be adhered to.

Cleaning the building

Welsh Government’s guidance for places of worship includes useful general guidance. Public Health England has published more detailed guidance about general cleaning and about cleaning a building when it is found that someone with Covid-19 has been present.

Test, Trace, Protect

The regulations do not require keeping a list of all those who have attended a service or event unless people have been unable to maintain a physical distance of 2 metres, for example those who take part in a wedding or baptism service. However, some denominations recommend that such a list should be kept at all activities. If it is decided to keep a list, it is important to adhere to data protection regulations (GDPR).

Welsh Government has previously interpreted the regulations to require keeping a list of attendees at community activities, so it is recommended that this continue until further guidance is published.

Individuals who are anxious about attending

There is no requirement on anyone to attend a place of worship for any purpose, and it is important to ensure pastoral care of anyone who is anxious regarding this.

  1. It may be of help to some to use the risk assessment tool for individuals which has been devised by Welsh Government. Although drawn up principally for workplaces, it can be used by anyone up to 79 years of age and gives an indication of the individuals’ risk level with regard to Covid-19. The United Reformed Church has drawn up a similar risk assessment for members of congregations including those aged over 80. It uses a slightly different metric.
  2. Welsh Government has produced a suite of easily read materials for the public offering general advice on keeping safe.
  3. Welsh Government has created badges and lanyards for individuals to wear in order to remind others to keep their distance.

Baptism by immersion

Baptism by immersion is not currently permitted. The Baptist Union of Great Britain has published brief guidance regarding some ways of arranging believers’ baptism in the current circumstances. It is important to conduct a risk assessment prior to arranging a Service of this kind.

Church governance meetings

It is no longer a legal requirement to work or volunteer from home unless that is impracticable, although Welsh Government continues to advise that home working/volunteering should continue where possible. Nonetheless, holding church governance meetings (e.g. PCC, Deacons, Elders, etc) within a church building or community centre is now permitted, subject to adherence to the above regulations and that the local risk assessment permits. Where some members of the meeting are elderly and/or in poor health, this should be taken into account in the risk assessment.

Worshipping in premises not owned by the faith community

It is the ‘person’ responsible for the premises who is required to ensure conformity with the regulations and arranging a risk assessment. It is, therefore, necessary to discuss with that ‘person’ how and when worship may resume.

Gethin Rhys