Guidance for the safe use of council buildings

Please note: 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.

1. Introduction

This information is for those managing council buildings. It signposts to relevant guidance on a range of different activities that can take place in these spaces, in line with the government's roadmap to ease the existing measures to tackle COVID-19.

Each council will need to apply relevant guidance locally depending on circumstances, including its size and type of activities, how it is organised, operated, managed and regulated. This guidance applies to all users of council buildings including visitors attending meetings or council buildings, and councillors working from council buildings.

Operators of council buildings will have discretion over when they consider it safe to open for activity permitted by legislation and may decide to remain closed at this stage if they are not able to safely facilitate the relevant guidelines.

Many council buildings are also workplaces and should therefore be aware of their responsibilities as employers. The government is clear that no one should feel obliged to work in a workplace they consider to be unsafe. Individuals who are shielding should continue to follow the government's advice on shielding.

To help decide which actions to take, a COVID-19 risk assessment should be completed by each operator of a council building, civic building, town hall or organiser of a civic event. This will be in addition to any risk assessment which is already in place. See guidance on completing a risk assessment.

2. Core principles for safely reopening council buildings

Council buildings are used for a range of purposes, and relevant guidance on specific activities is signposted below (section 3).

Ultimately, those using these spaces are responsible for ensuring their activity is conducted safely and within relevant guidelines. However, there are general principles that managers of council buildings should consider in safely reopening the space to permitted activity.

Any reopening plans must be consistent with:

To help decide which actions to take prior to reopening the building for permitted activity, a COVID-19 risk assessment should be completed. This will be in addition to any risk assessment which is already in place for the community facility. See guidance on completing a risk assessment.

In addition, 2 metres, or 1 metre with risk mitigation (where 2 metres is not viable), are acceptable for distances for people to be from each other. You should consider and set out the mitigations you will introduce in your risk assessment.

Test and Trace

The opening up of the economy following the COVID-19 outbreak is being supported by NHS Test and Trace. You should assist this service by keeping a temporary record of your customers and visitors for 21 days, in a way that is manageable for your business, and assist NHS Test and Trace with requests for that data if needed. This could help contain clusters or outbreaks.

Many businesses that take bookings already have systems for recording their customers and visitors – including restaurants, hotels, and hair salons. If you do not already do this, you should do so to help fight the virus. We will work with industry and relevant bodies to design this system in line with data protection legislation, and set out details shortly.


Where the enforcing authority, such as the HSE or the local authority, identifies employers and building managers 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 workplace risks. For example, this would cover employers not taking appropriate action to ensure social distancing, where possible.

Under health and safety legislation, failure to complete a COVID-19 risk assessment would constitute a breach, as would having a risk assessment with insufficient measures. The actions the enforcing authority can take include the provision of specific advice to employers and building managers 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 large fines and even imprisonment for up to 2 years.

Employers 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 authority. The vast majority of employers 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, inspectors are carrying out compliance checks nationwide to ensure that employers are taking the necessary steps.

3. Council buildings: signposting to relevant guidance

Those managing council buildings, and those planning civic events, should take account of the relevant guidance below. This guidance signposts to the guidance available to support operators to safely manage council buildings during the pandemic.

3a: Office space

Where it is not possible for employees to work from home, operators need to make sure that council buildings can be operated safely during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Guidance has been published on how to work safely.

3b: Reception

Information on how to manage your customers, visitors and contractors to your place of work can be found in the guidance on working safely in office and contact centres.

3c: Meetings

We continue to recommend that where meetings can take place digitally, without the need for face-to-face contact, they should do so. Where council buildings need to be used for physical meetings, these meetings must be managed within the social distancing guidance and principles set out above.

The principles set out in the 'Safer workplaces' guidance apply but are not limited to:

  • meetings of civic, political or community groups (e.g. parish council meeting, ward meeting of political party; charity board of trustees)
  • MP or councillor surgery/drop-in session Government is discouraging unnecessary physical attendance at meetings. From 4 July, where necessary to take place physically, participants should maintain 2 metres, or 1 metre with risk mitigation, separation throughout.
  • public meetings and local consultations (e.g. planning)

Local authorities in England still have the powers to hold public meetings virtually by using video or telephone conferencing technology.

And the Local Government Association have on their website a hub with contributions from a range of sector representative organisations providing advice and support with the management of remote meetings.

3d: Common areas

Council buildings and town halls often rely on shared facilities for workers´┐╝ and occupants to access, including canteens and lifts. Guidance on moving around buildings and common areas can be found in below.

3e: Toilets

Public toilets, portable toilets and toilets inside premises should be kept open and carefully managed to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19.

Steps that will usually be needed:

  • Using signs and posters to build awareness of good handwashing technique, the need to increase handwashing frequency and to avoid touching your face, and to cough or sneeze into a tissue which is binned safely, or into your arm if a tissue is not available.
  • Consider the use of social distancing marking in areas where queues normally form, and the adoption of a limited entry approach, with one in, one out (whilst avoiding the creation of additional bottlenecks).
  • To enable good hand hygiene consider making hand sanitiser available on entry to toilets where safe and practical, and ensure suitable handwashing facilities including running water and liquid soap and suitable options for drying (either paper towels or hand driers) are available.
  • Setting clear use and cleaning guidance for toilets, with increased frequency of cleaning in line with usage. Use normal cleaning products, paying attention to frequently hand touched surfaces, and consider use of disposable cloths or paper roll to clean all hard surfaces.
  • Keep the facilities well ventilated, for example by fixing doors open where appropriate.
  • Special care should be taken for cleaning of portable toilets and larger toilet blocks.
  • Putting up a visible cleaning schedule can keep it up to date and visible.
  • Providing more waste facilities and more frequent rubbish collection.

3f: Main hall/council chamber

For events and activities taking place inside council rooms or facilities please follow the guidance on community facilities below.

3g: Civic events

Until 4 July, community centres will be closed except where they are used to provide the following permitted activities:

(a) essential voluntary activities or urgent public support services (including the provision of food banks or other support for the homeless or vulnerable people, blood donation sessions or support in an emergency), or

(b) early years childcare provided by a person registered on the Early Years Register under Part 3 of the Childcare Act 2006, or

(c) to host an indoor market

The government will allow community centres and other multi-use community facilities to open for wider use in step 3 of the roadmap. This will be on 4 July.

Any hire or use of a council building or space that may be permitted at that stage must be conducted in line with the core principles set out above, and with social distancing guidelines.

3h: Travel

Before opening council buildings, operators should think about how manage pedestrian space, pedestrian movement, queues and traffic.

Car parks are permitted to be open where needed and councils should consider practical measures such as changing the car park layout to help people socially distance. Decisions to reopen car parks are to be made locally.

Guidance on social distancing relevant to transport, parking and the public realm can be found below. Face coverings are now mandatory on public transport.

3i: Other uses


Cafes within a council building that is otherwise open, are currently permitted to open for take-away services. If the council building is otherwise closed but the cafe is self-contained and can be accessed from the outside, it is also permitted to open for take-away services. From 4 July, cafes inside of council buildings are permitted to open along with other council facilities, but should take account of the guidance below in order to reopen these functions safely when permitted.

Community facilities

Community facilities such as community centres and village halls are used for a wide range of local activities and services – from childcare provision to hosting social and recreational clubs.

Posted: Wed, 01 Jul 2020 16:58 by Alison Robinson

Tags: Council Buildings, Covid-19, Health & Safety, News