‘Border Control actually laughed at me’: The shambolic reality of the UK's quarantine policy

Hugh Morris
·7 mins read
"Nobody checked my passenger locator form, or asked for proof that I’d filled it in" - getty
"Nobody checked my passenger locator form, or asked for proof that I’d filled it in" - getty

British holidaymakers who were told to quarantine on their return to the UK have told Telegraph Travel that they have not experienced any follow-up by Government officials – and, in many cases, their quarantine documentation was not checked when they re-entered the country.

Under the rules introduced in June, Britons returning to the UK from countries not on the ‘travel corridor’ list must quarantine for 14 days or face a fine of up to £1,000 – with a potential prosecution and further fine to follow. However, stories abound of lack of enforcement, no checking, and “clueless” Border Control officials.

Telegraph Travel has spoken to a number of travellers since the rules were imposed. Of those required to self-isolate for two weeks, only two have been contacted by the authorities to ensure they were staying at home. Many more were not even asked to fill in the appropriate ‘passenger locator’ form when they returned to UK soil. 

Carolin Schroeter, from Bristol, told Telegraph Travel that UK Border Control personnel at Heathrow Airport “laughed” at her questions about quarantine rules. “I was travelling back from Australia, via Singapore, back in July. I’d read that everybody entering the UK was being checked and had to show their passenger location form, but when I got to Heathrow I sailed right through Passport Control. 

“Nobody checked my form, or asked for proof that I’d filled it in – so when I popped out into Arrivals I went around asking if I needed to register anywhere, and nobody knew – they eventually directed me back to Border Control. But they were completely clueless – they said ‘I don’t know’, and they were laughing because I’d actually asked them. 

“They told me, ‘Nobody actually does the quarantine, as long as you are sensible and wash your hands, etc, you will be fine.’ I was like, OK, so we’re in the middle of a pandemic with one of the highest death rates in the world… it wasn’t at all what I expected to hear.”

Mark Henshall had been in Brittany with his family when the France quarantine was announced on 15 August. Instead of joining the hordes rushing back to UK shores, the group stuck to their plans, travelling on the ferry from Dieppe to Newhaven a day later. However, he told Telegraph Travel that their locator forms weren’t checked either. 

“A guy came to our window as we were queueing at Border Control, and asked if we’d filled in the forms online – I told him we had, and he just said ‘good effort’ and walked off. He was carrying an iPad, which I assume was to register people who hadn’t filled in the form, but I’m not sure. Was it being handed round, car-to-car? I don’t know, but wow what a way to potentially spread Covid…”

And, as for follow-up? “We’ve had no communication about the situation, nobody checking on whether we are sticking to our quarantine. There wasn’t even a text or email to confirm you’d been registered.”

After flying to the UK from Spain on 23 August, Telegraph Travel’s Joe Doherty found that nobody at Stansted Airport was checking if passengers had filled in their locator form – and, if he had been so inclined, he could have re-entered the UK without providing his quarantine details. “I had completed the form on my phone before we flew, but it was pages long – so my friend Lee said he’d wait until we landed and fill in a paper version instead. 

“We assumed that would be easy enough, but we couldn’t see any paper ones – and nobody asked if he’d actually filled a form in. We came right through Arrivals, with no enforcement – so in the end he did it on his phone, of his own volition. It was such a stark contrast to when we’d arrived in Spain, and they were asking for our details and checking everything rigorously.

“Since we got home, nobody has been in touch to see if we’re sticking to the rules – I’ll be surprised if they do.”

SJ Armstrong, who returned from Seville on 21 August, came right through UK customs without anyone checking her quarantine paperwork – despite flying in on a foreign passport. “I was travelling on my Irish passport, so as far as anyone was aware I was a foreign national coming into the country. In order to get on the plane to Spain, I had to show them a QR code to say I’d filled in a form – that was a requirement of entry to Spain. But there was nothing like that coming into the UK. 

“Nobody checked my locator form – and I don’t see how they would have known if I hadn’t filled one in. Nobody has checked on me since, either. I would honestly prefer it if they enforced it really rigorously – otherwise, what’s the point of it? The travel industry has taken such a hit because of this, so to see it seemingly not being taken seriously is baffling to say the least.” 

One journalist Telegraph Travel spoke to said he had been on a press trip to Spain and, of the group, only two had been contacted by quarantine officials. Jules Perowne, founder of PR firm Perowne International, was also on the trip. She said she had received a call, during which she was asked her name and address. Then an automated message was played, she said, reading out a list of coronavirus symptoms. Then the call went dead.

“And that was it,” she added.  

The rules for travel quarantine are much stricter than those imposed on residents otherwise on lockdown, with subjects unable to leave their home to exercise or shop. 

Luke, from Harrogate, who did not want to give his second name, visited Majorca with his fiance and two friends. “No one has been in touch about quarantine since we got back,” he says. “When we arrived back into Leeds Bradford, authorities did not mention quarantine.

“Upon arrival, we went through passport control as usual. We were the only flight at the time so we did not mingle with any other flights. We were asked whether we’d filled out our form for track-and-trace at customs, but we didn’t have to prove this, we just said ‘yes’. 

“We have not rigidly stuck to quarantine rules but have been sensible, not going out to bars and restaurants, but I am still running and exercising on my own, away from others.”

Another holidaymaker, Emily, who only wanted to give her first name, thought her quarantine after returning from Barcelona might be enforced by the GPS on her phone. “I’ve not had anyone check on me at all,” she said. “I was wondering whether there is something that triggers on your phone if it changes location against the address you input into the form – but I doubt it’s that sophisticated, to be honest.”

Chris Wright, who works for tour operator Sunvil, said he has flown into the UK twice in recent weeks, neither time from somewhere requiring quarantine, but said that he had seen passengers from flights from different countries mix, then be waved through without checks.

“On my arrival into Stansted, there were no checks at all,” he said. “There was one lady sort of trying to catch people saying ‘have you filled in your form’ but that was it.

“I flew into Heathrow Terminal 2 last week and again it was the same. If you went to the e-passport gates, there were no checks at all.

“People on the flights weren’t bothering to fill in the forms.”