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This publication is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-guidance-for-small-marriages-and-civil-partnerships/covid-19-guidance-for-small-marriages-and-civil-partnerships
This guidance is of a general nature and should be treated as a guide. In the event of any conflict between any applicable legislation (including the health and safety legislation) and this guidance, the applicable legislation shall prevail.
This guidance is only applicable in England. For guidance in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland please refer to guidance from the relevant national governments.
The UK is currently experiencing a public health emergency as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and restrictions continue to remain in place across the country.
Marriages and civil partnerships are a vital part of our society, uniting couples to start their new life together and affording certain legal rights. These ceremonies are often followed by receptions and other celebrations attended by guests that are known to one another. However, by their very nature, in bringing families and friends together, they are social events which are particularly vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19 and restrictions have therefore been necessary to reduce the risk of transmission.
The government has been working closely with stakeholders in the wedding industry and the Places of Worship Taskforce to consider how we are able to allow small marriages and civil partnerships to take place safely
This guidance for marriages and civil partnerships has been drafted on the basis of the scientific evidence available and will be updated in line with the changing situation and as more data becomes available on COVID-19.
2. Purpose of this guidance
This guidance is designed to assist people planning to get married or form a civil partnership in England, and venues that host such ceremonies, to prepare for small ceremonies, in accordance with the associated legislation.
The guidance sets out how this can be done in a manner that is safe and in line with social distancing guidelines, in order to minimise the risk of exposure to infection for all individuals attending the marriage or civil partnership, including those who work at the venues.
This guidance does not set out how to meet the requirements for a valid marriage, or civil partnership under the law of England and Wales, including any preliminary requirement as to where marriage and civil partnership ceremonies can be held. This guidance also does not cover Urgent Marriages or Civil Partnerships which require particular guidance from Local Authorities.
This guidance applies to all weddings and civil partnership ceremonies and formations taking place in England under the law of England and Wales.
Alternative wedding ceremonies that do not take place in accordance with such law, whether religious, belief based, blessings, or other forms of non-statutory ceremony are also covered by this guidance, and subject to the same limits on the number of attendees as marriages and civil partnerships that are binding under the law of England and Wales. Those wishing to conduct them should also refer to other government guidance on gatherings (see links below). As alternative ceremonies do not take place under the law of marriage formation in England and Wales, they neither create a legally valid marriage nor confer the rights and protections that flow from one. A definition of alternative wedding ceremonies is contained with the COVID-19 regulations.
Those wishing to conduct a religious ceremony should refer to the places of worship guidance.
Definitions for the purpose of this guidance
“Marriages” and “civil partnerships” - The ceremony of solemnisation of marriage or formation of a civil partnership which includes the usages or requirements for the marriage or civil partnership to be legally binding under the law of England and Wales and may include other elements (which are not legally required).
“Exceptional circumstances” - Where the guidance states that weddings and civil partnership ceremonies should only take place in exceptional circumstances this includes, but is not limited to, examples such as an urgent marriage where one of those getting married is seriously ill and not expected to recover, or is to undergo debilitating treatment or life-changing surgery.
“Alternative wedding ceremony” - A ceremony, including a ceremony based on a person’s faith or belief, or lack of belief, to mark the union of two people, but that is not legally binding under the law of England and Wales.
“Venue” - Any location at which a legally binding marriage or civil partnership can take place. These include, among the various permitted places: Register Offices; approved premises for civil marriages and civil partnerships (that is, places approved by the local authority of the area in which the premises are situated); Church of England churches or chapels, certified places of worship that have been registered for the solemnisation of marriage (“registered buildings”); naval, military or air force chapels.
“Venue managers” - The person or persons responsible for the management of a venue, including assessment of compliance with the following guidelines.
“Visitor”, “attendee” or “guest” - Individuals entering a venue for the purpose of attending a marriage, civil partnership formation, or alternative wedding ceremony.
“Officiant” - A person acting in an official capacity. This could be a person with certain legal responsibilities at the ceremony, such as a registration official or authorised person, or a minister of religion solemnising the marriage.
“Must” - Where the guidance states that an activity must take place this is because it is a requirement under law.
“Should” - Where the guidance states that an activity should take place this is not a legal requirement under law. However it is strongly advised that consideration is given to following the advice being provided to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19.
“Household” and “Support Bubble” - A household is a person or a group of people who live together in the same accommodation. A support bubble is a close support network which links two households. For further information on support bubbles, please refer to the guidance on making a support bubble with another household.
3. COVID-19 Response - Spring 2021
The government has published the ‘COVID-19 Response - Spring 2021’ setting out the roadmap out of the current lockdown for England. This explains how restrictions will be eased over time, including a staged return of weddings, civil partnerships and receptions.
At Step 2, on 12 April, some of the rules on what you can and cannot do changed. However, many restrictions remain in place. Find out what you can and cannot do here.
Weddings and civil partnership ceremonies are permitted to take place with up to 15 people in COVID-19 secure venues that are permitted to open or where a broader exemption applies.
Receptions can take place with up to 15 people in the form of a sit down meal in any COVID-19 Secure outdoor venue that is permitted to open. Such receptions must not take place in people’s private gardens or public outdoor spaces.
The COVID-19 Response - Spring 2021 roadmap sets out the staged return of weddings and civil partnerships. At each stage, the decision to proceed to the next step will be guided by data not dates and the four tests set out in the roadmap. A week’s notice will be provided before any step is taken. For weddings and civil partnership ceremonies, the following restrictions apply at future Steps:
Step 3 - no earlier than 17 May
Weddings and civil partnership ceremonies are permitted for up to 30 people in COVID-19 Secure venues that are permitted to open.
Receptions can also proceed with up to 30 people in a COVID-19 Secure indoor venue, or outdoors. This includes private gardens.
Further details on receptions at this step will be updated in due course.
Step 4 - no earlier than 21 June
At Step 4, the government aims to remove all limits on weddings, civil partnership ceremonies and receptions. This will be subject to the outcome of the Scientific Events Research Programme, which will include a series of pilots using enhanced testing approaches and other measures to run events of larger sizes.
At each step
- anyone working is not included in the limit for ceremonies or receptions
- weddings and civil partnership ceremonies, and receptions, can only take place in venues that are permitted to be open at each Step. For further information, please refer to the guidance on closing certain businesses and venues in England.
4. Key principles for planning COVID-19 Secure marriages and civil partnerships
We understand the unique significance that marriages and civil partnerships hold in people’s lives, but it is important that we all continue to manage the risk of transmission.
From Step 2, weddings and civil partnership ceremonies can take place with up to 15 people. This maximum number includes all those at the ceremony, including the couple, witnesses, and guests of all ages, including under 5s. It is only those working who are not included in this limit.
At present, it is strongly advised that marriage and civil partnership formations should only go ahead where they can be done in a COVID-19 Secure environment. Such gatherings cannot by law take place in private dwellings, unless they are urgent marriages where one of those getting married is seriously ill and not expected to recover (‘deathbed weddings’).
During all activity linked to the marriage ceremony, civil partnership formation or alternative wedding ceremony, all parties should adhere to social distancing guidelines. This means people should be 2 metres apart from those they do not live with, or more than 1 metre apart as well as taking extra steps to reduce the risk of transmission.
The marriage ceremony or civil partnership formation
Under current restrictions, it is advised that the ceremonies and services should be concluded in a reasonable time and be limited to those elements to ensure the marriage or civil partnership is valid in law.
Religious communities should therefore adapt traditional religious aspects, especially where celebrations would otherwise have taken place over a number of hours, or even days, to ensure the safety of those present and minimal spread of infection.
No food or drink should be consumed as a part of the marriage or civil partnership ceremony unless required for the purposes of solemnisation. Where it is required for the purposes of solemnisation, it must not be provided by the venue.
Where the exchanging of rings is required or desired, hands should be washed before and after. The rings should be handled by as few people as possible.
Singing, chanting and the use of musical instruments
COVID-19 spreads from person to person through small droplets, aerosols and through direct contact. Singing, playing some musical instruments, shouting and physical activity increases the risk of transmission through small droplets and aerosols. Steps should be taken to reduce the risk of transmission. This includes limiting the number of individuals participating as far as possible.
Where singing or chanting is essential to the solemnisation of a marriage or civil partnership ceremony, this should be limited to a small group of singers or performers, with social distancing being maintained at all times. Communal singing by the congregation should not take place.
Where singing takes place at a wedding or civil partnership ceremony, the following principles should be followed:
- Ensure that anyone with COVID-19 symptoms (or who has been in contact with others who have symptoms, or who has been told to self-isolate) does not participate in singing activities (even if they have no symptoms).
- Avoid playing music at a volume that makes normal conversation difficult or that may encourage shouting when people will be trying to converse before or after the ceremony.
- Spoken responses during the ceremony should not be in a raised voice.
- Any instrument played during the ceremony should be cleaned thoroughly before and after use.
- Any performers should be positioned in a way that avoids face-to-face performance, as far as possible.
- Limit the duration of any singing, as far as possible.
- Good ventilation plays a crucial role in reducing transmission. Venues should try to improve ventilation to ensure plenty of fresh air whenever possible, including by opening windows.
- Always ensuring there is a gap of at least 2m between any performers and the first row of attendees. Further mitigations like screens or other barriers between performers may also be considered.
- The congregation should not participate in any activity that can create aerosols, including singing, shouting and chanting. This follows the advice generally for the Performing Arts.
- The maximum number of people present should take into account the area of the space and the requirement to maintain 2m social distancing at all times.
Social distancing measures
Please note that the actual number of people able to attend a wedding or civil partnership ceremony will depend on how many people can be safely accommodated within the venue with social distancing, and where the venue manager has carried out a risk assessment and taken all reasonable measures to limit the risk of transmission of COVID-19.
All individuals involved in the ceremony (including attendees, guests and officiants) should observe social distancing from those they do not live with, except where they are part of the same support bubble.
They or members of their household should not attend the marriage or civil partnership if they are unwell with symptoms of COVID-19. If either member of the couple has symptoms of COVID-19 the ceremony should not go 5ahead.
Wherever possible, adhere to social distancing of at least 2 metres, or 1 metre with risk mitigation (only where 2 metres is not viable), between households. For frequently used venues, mark areas using floor tape or paint to help people maintain social distance.
Venue managers should consider and set out the mitigations that will be introduced in the risk assessment. These could include, for instance, avoiding any face-to-face seating by changing layouts, reducing the number of people in enclosed spaces, improving ventilation, using protective screens and face coverings, and closing non-essential social spaces, as outlined throughout this guidance.
In England, face coverings are currently required by law to be worn in many indoor settings, including places of worship.
The police have the powers to enforce the wearing of face coverings, including to issue fines (fixed penalty notices) of £200, doubling for further breaches up to a maximum of £6,400.
There are valid exemptions for some individuals and groups to not wear a face covering in these settings. In particular, those who are leading services or events in a place of worship. Those exemptions will also cover the couple being married or joined in a partnership and those officiating at the wedding. This exemption does not apply to those observing the wedding, who should wear face coverings consistent with the requirements for any other public space.’
For further information, please refer to the guidance on the wearing of face coverings at a place of work and guidance on face coverings: when to wear one, exemptions, and how to make one.
Visitors should avoid touching property belonging to others, such as shoes which, if removed, should be placed and collected by their owner while adhering to social distancing principles.
Please see the places of worship guidance for advice on the use of water in rituals.
Handling objects and communal resources
Venue managers should take steps to prevent visitors from touching or kissing devotional and other objects that are handled communally. Where shared items are required, hands should be washed before and after. The items should be handled by as few people as possible. Barriers or clear signage should be put in place where necessary.
Books, reusable and communal resources such as service sheets, prayer mats, or devotional material should be removed from use. Single use alternatives can be provided as long as they are removed by the attendee. Items owned by individuals for use in the ceremony or registration (such as a prayer mat or religious text, a pen for the signing of the register) may be brought in but should be removed after the marriage or civil partnership.
Where possible, venue managers should discourage cash donations and continue to use online giving resources where possible minimising contact around transactions. Regular cleaning and hygiene should be maintained and gloves worn to handle cash.
People who are symptomatic should not attend
Any guests or those involved in the ceremony who have symptoms of COVID-19 (a new continuous cough, a high temperature or a loss of, or change in, your normal sense of taste or smell), should not attend a wedding or civil partnership ceremony. You should immediately self-isolate, follow the stay at home guidance, and request a test online, or by contacting NHS 119 via telephone if you do not have internet access. Remote participation should be considered, for example by live streaming.
If either member of the couple has symptoms of COVID-19 the ceremony should not go ahead.
People who are required to self-isolate
If you have been instructed by NHS Test and Trace to self-isolate because you have tested positive for COVID-19, or you are the close contact of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, you should not attend a wedding or civil partnership ceremony due to the risk you pose to others. Please refer to guidance for households with possible or confirmed coronavirus infection.
Protecting the vulnerable
There should be a particular focus on protecting people who are clinically vulnerable and more likely to develop severe illness, including people who are aged 70 or older, regardless of medical conditions. Individuals who fall within this group are advised to keep social contacts low and maintain social distancing from those they do not live with.
There is a further group of people who are defined, also on medical grounds, as clinically extremely vulnerable to coronavirus – that is, people with specific serious health conditions. There is additional advice that clinically extremely vulnerable people must follow.
People who are clinically extremely vulnerable should have received a letter (a formal NHS notification) to inform them of this and may have been advised to shield in the past. Shielding guidance was lifted nationally on 1 April 2021, but clinically extremely vulnerable people are advised to continue taking extra precautions to protect themselves, as set out in the guidance page for people who are clinically extremely vulnerable.
If they do choose to attend a wedding or civil partnership ceremony, clinically extremely vulnerable people should inform those organising the ceremony, maintain strict social distancing and follow the guidance for shielding and protecting people who are clinically extremely vulnerable from COVID-19.
Young people and children
Parents or guardians should ensure children maintain social distancing and frequently wash their hands thoroughly for 20 seconds with running water and soap and dry them thoroughly or use hand sanitiser ensuring that all parts of the hands are covered.
Any shared facilities for children, such as play corners, soft furnishings, soft toys and toys that are hard to clean, should be removed or closed. Particular attention should be paid to cleaning frequently touched surfaces by children and those that are at child height.
Children of all ages are included in the limit of 15 attendees for both weddings and wedding receptions.
Many restrictions still remain in place in England and you should continue to minimise the number of journeys you make where possible.
You are permitted to travel to attend a marriage or civil partnership ceremony in accordance with the legislation in England.
You are also able to leave England and travel to other parts of the UK (or abroad), to attend a marriage or civil partnership ceremony, again when it is taking place as set out in the legislation (subject to any travel restrictions in that country). This guidance is only applicable in England. Therefore, if you travel outside England to attend a wedding or civil partnership, the regulations only allow you to leave home for the purposes of a wedding of up to 15 people. This is regardless of whether different rules on weddings are in place in your destination. For further information, refer to guidance from the relevant national governments, and guidance on international travel.
Wedding and civil partnership receptions and celebrations
At Step 2, wedding and civil partnership receptions and celebrations can take place with up to 15 people in the form of a sit down meal and in any COVID-19 Secure outdoor venue that is permitted to open.
Such receptions must not take place in people’s private gardens or public outdoor spaces.
For further information, please refer to the guidance for wedding receptions and civil partnership celebrations.
Wedding and civil partnership ceremony venues
Wedding or civil partnership ceremonies can take place in licensed venues that are not expressly required to close under the COVID-19 Regulations, in some venues that are only partially closed, and in venues that are permitted to open for the purposes of providing unrestricted services. In all such cases, any indoor hospitality must remain closed.
At Step 2, wedding or civil partnership ceremonies can take place in licensed venues that are not expressly required to close under the COVID-19 Regulations, or where an exemption applies. This includes, for example:
- Register Offices
- Church of England churches or chapels, and certified Places of Worship that have been registered for the solemnisation of marriage (“registered buildings”)
- Naval, military or air force chapels
- Approved premises for civil marriages and civil partnerships (that is, places approved by the local authority of the area in which the premises are situated) not required to close. This may include venues such as community centres and town/village halls.
- They can also take place in other venues which are not explicitly closed in law. This includes purpose-built wedding venues where that is its sole purpose, and it does not also function as a hospitality venue or visitor attraction, for example.
- This includes some licensed buildings or rooms within a larger, closed visitor attraction or hospitality venue, for example a weddings venue in the grounds of a heritage attraction, where the licenced venue itself where the ceremony will take place doesn’t function as part of the visitor attraction. In these cases, there would need to be direct access to the wedding venue without going through a closed part of the larger site. This does not generally include rooms or spaces within indoor visitor attractions (for example a room within a museum) unless they can be accessed directly from the street, or open outdoor areas of the venue.
- Ceremonies may also take place in venues which are permitted to open for the purposes of providing unrestricted services. This includes holiday accommodation, including hotels (in a room approved for the solemnisation of marriage and formation of a civil partnership).
In all of the cases noted above, any part of the premises ordinarily used for the consumption of food or drink indoors must remain closed. This means, for example, that a wedding ceremony can take place in the function room of a hotel (if licensed to do so), but not the restaurant. Food and drink should not be consumed unless this is necessary for the purposes of solemnisation. Where it is necessary, food and drink must not be provided by the venue.
Where a venue is permitted to open in the Regulations, venue managers will have discretion over when they consider it safe to open, and the officiant should also be content that it is safe to proceed. The venue should decide to remain closed or not proceed with the marriage or civil partnership if they are not able to safely adhere to the guidelines outlined below. It is against law for a venue to provide a service if it is non-compliant with the gatherings limits and exemptions.
You can find further information on which businesses are open under the current restrictions in the guidance on closing certain businesses and venues in England, which sets out restrictions on certain businesses and venues.
This guidance has been published alongside industry or venue specific guidance, and this should be used alongside this guidance to ensure public safety. These include:
- Guidance for the safe use of places of worship
- Guidance for wedding and civil partnership receptions and celebrations
- Guidance for hotel and other accommodation providers
- Guidance for working safely during COVID-19 in the visitor economy
- Guidance for people who work or volunteer in heritage locations
- Guidance on performing arts
- Current stay alert and social distancing guidance
5. Test and Trace
The government has launched an NHS Test and Trace service to manage the risk of the virus re-emerging. The service:
- provides testing for anyone who has symptoms of COVID-19 to find out if they have the virus
- gets in touch with anyone who has had a positive test result to help them share information about any close recent contacts they have had; and
- alerts those contacts, where necessary, and notifies them they need to self-isolate to help stop the spread of the virus.
Further information can be found online including for contacts of people with possible or confirmed COVID-19 infection who do not live with the person and for places of work.
Venues should assist this service by keeping a temporary record of visitors for 21 days, in a way that is manageable for your place of worship, and assist NHS Test and Trace with requests for that data if needed for contact tracing and the investigation of local outbreaks. You should also display official NHS QR code posters so that those with the app can scan in if they choose.
Find further information on maintaining records of staff, customers and visitors to support NHS Test and Trace.
While generally consent is not always required, we do recommend that consent is collected in places of worship. This is because of the potentially sensitive nature of the data collected in these circumstances, which is protected by law. Guidance on collecting visitor details for Test and Trace, including issues around consent, is provided by the Information Commissioner’s Office. You should make clear that giving contact details is optional and is not a condition of attending your place of worship. We have created a template form for collecting consent, which is relevant for places of worship, available in Annex A.
It is important to note enforcement provisions, as is the case for other sectors.
Where the enforcing authority, such as the HSE or your local authority, identifies employers or venues who are not taking action to comply with the relevant public health legislation and guidance to control public health risks, they are empowered to take a range of actions to improve control of venue risks. Enforcement officers will take relevant guidance into account.
Failure to complete a risk assessment which takes account of COVID-19, or completing a risk assessment but failing to put in place sufficient measures to manage the risk of COVID-19, could constitute a breach of existing health and safety legislation.
Failure to complete a risk assessment that accounts for COVID-19 could constitute a breach of Health & Safety legislation and could also lead to a breach of the law, as could having a risk assessment with insufficient measures set out.
The actions the enforcing authority can take include the provision of specific advice to venues to support them to achieve the required standard, through to issuing enforcement notices to help secure improvements. Serious breaches and failure to comply with enforcement notices can constitute a criminal offence, with serious fines and even imprisonment for up to 2 years. There is also a wider system of enforcement, which includes specific obligations and conditions for licensed premises.
Venue managers are expected to respond to any advice or notices issued by enforcing authorities rapidly and are required to do so within any timescales imposed by the enforcing authorities. The vast majority of venues and venue managers are responsible and will join with the UK’s fight against COVID-19 by working with the government and their sector bodies to protect their workers and the public. However, regulators are carrying out compliance checks nationwide to ensure that employers and venues are taking the necessary steps.
Annex A: Template form for collecting consent and contact details for attendees at places of worship:
Template: consent form for places of worship and those handling sensitive information
In order to support the NHS Test and Trace programme, we are taking contact details (name and telephone number) for all visitors, as well as recording times entering and leaving [name of place of worship].
In line with guidance issued by the Department for Health and Social Care, we will keep your details safely and in compliance with GDPR legislation for 21 days before securely disposing of or deleting them. We will only share your details with NHS Test and Trace, if asked, in the event that it is needed to help stop the spread of coronavirus. We will not use your details for any other purposes or pass them on to anyone else.
Thank you for your understanding.
If you agree to providing your information for this reason, please complete the following form: