Police in England can tell people to leave someone’s home if they are breaching new lockdown rules but cannot make them go, according to guidance issued to forces.
Gatherings of up to six people can now take place outdoors, for example in open spaces or in private gardens.
But laws which came into force on Monday banned people from staying overnight anywhere other than the place where they are living.
Any indoor gatherings of two or more people are also prohibited unless they are members of the same household or fall under a short list of exceptions to the rule.
A document from the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) and College of Policing said: “From June 1 2020, the approach to restrictions has changed.
“Rather than requiring a reasonable excuse to leave the place where a person is living, there are specific things that members of the public cannot do.
“A person may now leave and remain outside of the place where they live for any reason, subject to restrictions on gatherings and overnight stays.”
The guidance issued to officers on powers they have to police overnight stays said: “You may only direct a person to return home.
“There are no powers in the Regulations to remove someone or use force.
“Fixed-penalty notices (FPNs) and arrest still apply, where appropriate.”
The document also points out the laws put in place “provide no power of entry” and Downing Street said police did not have the power to enter gardens to check numbers.
Although officers still have existing powers at their disposal to gain entry to a property where they suspect illegal activity to be taking place.
In public places “direction, removal and/or use of force can still be used”, the guidance said, adding: “If you are lawfully in a private place you can only direct a prohibited gathering to disperse, or any person in the gathering to return home.
“FPNs and arrest still apply, where appropriate.”
The latest laws, called the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (Amendment) (No. 3) Regulations 2020, define a gathering as two or more people “together in the same place in order to engage in any form of social interaction with each other, or to undertake any other activity with each other”.
This has raised questions as to whether it expressly prohibits intimacy among loved ones and couples who have been separated for months in different homes.
Asked if the new regulations would mean people will not be able to have sex with someone not in their household, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said police can “exercise their discretion, that will continue to be the case under the new rules”.
“They will have the power to break up large public gatherings and to issue FPNs where they feel that it’s appropriate” but “the police don’t have the powers to enter people’s homes under the regulations”, the spokesman added.
“What they can do is enter homes where they suspect serious criminal activity is taking place under separate and existing laws.”
Police would continue to issue fines only as a last resort, the spokesman added.
Previously police chiefs told officers they have no powers to enforce the Government guidance on two-metre social distancing.
Downing Street said the public had been trusted to abide by the rules so far and will be expected to continue to follow their common sense and stick to social distancing rules.
NPCC chairman Martin Hewitt said police will “still have a role” if people are found to be flouting the regulations and he was confident the “vast majority” of officers will “continue to act responsibly”.
He added: “Personal responsibility is key as we all enjoy these new freedoms.
“Think carefully about where you are going, how you will be able to keep your distance from others and continue to wash your hands.”