MSE News

Coronavirus Life-in-Lockdown Help

The latest rules, cancellation rights, MOTs & more

Coronavirus Life-in-Lockdown Help

Lockdown restrictions are being eased across the UK. While the primary concern is health, many have been worried about cancelled events, postponed weddings, shopping and more. This guide looks at your rights if you’ve been affected, including key refund rights.

What are the current lockdown rules?

Here's a summary of the latest developments on lockdown:

Restrictions are being eased across the UK

The stay-at-home rule has ended across the UK, and non-essential travel between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland is allowed. These are the latest rules:

  • In England, most legal lockdown restrictions have now been lifted. There are no limits on how many people can meet or attend events such as concerts, theatre or sports. Nightclubs are now allowed to reopen. Face coverings are no longer required by law but recommended in crowded spaces, and some public transport and shops will still require masks to be worn. Weddings and funerals can take place with no set limit. For full info on the rules, see the Gov.uk website.

  • In Northern Ireland, the 'stay local' message has been lifted. Up to six people from two households can meet indoors and stay overnight. A group of up to 15 from up to five households can also meet in a private garden. You can meet outdoors elsewhere in groups of up to 30. Pubs and restaurants can serve customers inside. Gyms and swimming pools can reopen and weddings, wedding receptions and funerals can take place with no set limit (dependent on venue size). Restrictions are set to be further eased on Monday 26 July. For full info on the rules, see NIdirect.gov.uk

  • In Scotland, the whole country has moved to 'level 0' (least restrictions). Up to eight people from up to four households can meet indoors at home, up to 10 people from up to four households can meet indoors in a public place like a pub or restaurant, up to 15 people from up to 15 households can meet outdoors in a private or public space, and up to 200 people can attend weddings and funerals. For full info and to check which level you're in, see the Gov.scot website.
  • In Wales, up to six people can now meet indoors in privates homes and holiday accommodation. There are no limits when meeting outdoors in public places. Further easing is set for Saturday 7 August. For full info, see Gov.wales.
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Your rights on cancelled events, subscriptions & more...

The coronavirus outbreak has had a huge impact on many aspects of everyday life – some of the need-to-knows are below, but first a quick word from Martin:

Martin: 'We need to show patience, compassion and forbearance, even to companies, at this time'

I wanted to say something that's at odds with MSE's original founding motto – "a company's job is to screw you, our job is to screw them back" (since then it's morphed into "cutting your bills, fighting your corner").

Right now, even in our commercial relationships, we should try not to be adversarial. We want banks and firms to show people patience, compassion and forbearance. Yet equally, when our entire economy and way of life is under threat, we must try to return it.

Many firms are struggling to cope, change policies, or even just get their staff settled in new ways to work – so be patient.

And for those who can afford it, even if you've a right to a full refund for a ticket, travel or more, if the firm is in a struggling sector and asks if you'll take vouchers instead, it's worth considering. That may just be what stops that firm from collapsing and its staff from losing their jobs, which results in more money taken out of society and a vicious cycle. Of course, be mindful of how you'd be protected (eg, by your card provider) if it did go bust.

  1. Concert, theatre or sporting event cancelled? You should usually get a refund

    Events big and small have been cancelled across the UK during the pandemic. For example, rock band The Who's UK tour was postponed, Glastonbury Festival has been cancelled for the second year running.

    If you bought a ticket for an event which was later cancelled, you should usually get a refund, though double-check the terms and conditions. For example, Ticketmaster says customers will be able to get a full refund if an event is cancelled due to coronavirus. However, it's less certain if you'll get booking and delivery fees refunded too, so check.

    While you may be entitled to a refund, also consider that many firms – especially small independent businesses – will struggle as a result of coronavirus cancellations. So if you can afford it, it could be worth practising forbearance by waiving your right to a refund and accepting a voucher or credit note instead if you're offered one. 

    If you'll have 'consequential losses' as a result of a cancelled event – for example, if you'd booked accommodation or trains to the venue separately – you can get in touch with the firms you booked with to see if they'll refund you or let you rebook to a later date. Also check whether you'd be covered by any UK travel insurance, if you have it. 

  2. Restrictions on weddings are being eased

    Here's a summary of what's allowed in each part of the UK:

    • In England, there is no limit on the number of people allowed to attend weddings and receptions.

    • In Scotland, weddings can take place with up to 200 people.

    • In Wales, the number of wedding guests allowed is determined by the capacity of a regulated venue, allowing for social distancing. Weddings can't be held in private homes.

    • In Northern Ireland, it's up to venues to decide how many they can safely accommodate for wedding ceremonies. Receptions are now permitted, with no restriction on the number of people seated at the top table. Other tables have a limit of 10 people.

    If your wedding's cancelled, or not the day you had planned, see our What are your rights if you need to change or cancel a wedding? guide for full step-by-step help. 

Motoring & transport, incl MOTs & driving licence renewals

Below are the need-to-knows on face coverings, MOTs, driving licence renewals and more.

  1. You need a face covering on public transport across the UK

    It's compulsory to wear a 'face covering' on public transport throughout the UK (including on buses, coaches, trams, trains, planes and ferries). You can be fined for not wearing one, though there are exemptions for young children and those with certain medical conditions – see the full list.

    What counts as a 'face covering'?

    Face coverings aren't necessarily the same as face masks, and can be as simple as a scarf or bandana that ties behind your head. The UK Government says it's important not to use medical-grade face masks, to ensure these remain available for frontline staff. 

    There's advice on Gov.uk on how to make your own face covering at home, using scarves or other textile items. MSE Rhiannon also has a guide to using spare fabric to make a mask. It's worth noting, in Wales, a three-layer covering is advised.

    If you've got a valid reason for not wearing a face covering, you don't legally have to carry proof of your exemption. You might feel more comfortable carrying something though, and the Government says a badge or even a homemade sign is allowed. The Gov.uk website provides badges and signs in PDF format, free to download and print.

  2. You CAN'T get a refund on your railcard

    Although many will have been unable to use their railcard while in lockdown, you won't be able to get a refund.

    Railcards usually cut a third off the bill when you travel by train. Most are £30/year or £70 for three years (£23.30/year). So we usually say if you spend more than £90 a year on trains, it's worth getting one.

    But the Rail Delivery Group, which represents the rail industry, told us you can't get a refund for your railcard as a result of travel restrictions during lockdown. It said many will have already made enough of a saving on their travel before (and after) the initial lockdown, to cover the upfront cost. 

  3. LNER has introduced mandatory seat reservations on all train services

    East coast train operator London North Eastern Railway (LNER) introduced mandatory seat reservations for all passengers in May 2020. The rule means even if you have a flexible ticket, you'll need to pick a train to travel on in advance.

    LNER operates services between London and Leeds, and Edinburgh, York, Newcastle and London. You can reserve a place on a train on its website (even if you booked your ticket elsewhere), or at one of its station travel centres.

    Other train companies, including Avanti West Coast and Chiltern Railways, are encouraging passengers to reserve tickets, but haven't made it compulsory.

  4. You can still get an MOT – and they're compulsory again

    MOT testing for cars, motorcycles and vans is mandatory across England, Scotland and Wales. Although a six-month extension was offered during the lockdown last year, you now need to sort the test as usual.

    In Northern Ireland, MOT testing resumed for some vehicles on 1 September 2020. Unlike the rest of the UK, you get a 12-month extension.

  5. Keep your car battery from going flat if you're not driving

    If your car isn't being used (for example, if you're still working from home), its battery will eventually go flat. How long it will last without you starting your car depends on a number of factors, according to the AA, Green Flag and RAC.

    It's suggested that starting the engine once a week and allowing it to run for 15 minutes can help keep the battery charged – if you keep your car in a garage, move it into the open before doing this, and don't leave it unattended while it's running.

    However, the RAC says if your battery isn't in good condition, starting your car up occasionally may actually drain it rather than charge it. If that's the case, and if possible, seek expert help.

    Tighter lockdown rules in many parts of the country mean maintaining cars is becoming trickier again, and if you've not used yours for a while there are checks you should do beforehand. For full help on looking after your car in lockdown, see MSE Kelvin's Lockdown Motoring Tips blog.

  6. Government £50 bike repair vouchers – not available right now, but another batch may be coming

    The Government has released four batches of £50 'Fix Your Bike' vouchers, which bike owners in England can put towards repairs. The scheme is intended to get more people cycling by getting unused or broken bikes back on the road. The latest batch was released on 30 March and all the vouchers have now been claimed.

    To try to ease the pressure on bike shops, the vouchers are being released in batches. Each one so far has been snapped up fast. We've asked the Department for Transport if another set of vouchers will be released and we'll update here when we have more information. 

    See our MoneySaving Tips for Cyclists guide for more ideas, if you're taking to two wheels.

  7. Warning. Driving licence renewals have restarted – don't get caught out and risk a fine of up to £1,000

    If you've got a photocard driving licence, you normally need to renew it every 10 years, and as part of that replace the photo. But the DVLA announced last year that if your licence expiry date was between 1 February and 31 December 2020, you'd automatically be given an 11-month extension. So for example, if your licence was due to expire on 1 December 2020, you'll actually have until 1 November 2021 to renew it. During the extension, you can continue to drive with your old licence.

    See full info and how to check if your licence is nearing expiry in our Is your driving licence valid? guide.

Shopping, return rights & more

Here's what you need to know about how things are now operating when it comes to shopping, return rights, and more...

  1. You must wear a face covering in shops across the UK

    In England and Wales, face coverings must be worn in all indoor public places, including shops and where food and drink is served (unless you're eating in and seated). The rule is enforceable by the police – anyone failing to wear one will be liable for a £100 fine in England or £60 in Wales. Children under 11 and people with certain disabilities are exempt.

    It's also mandatory to wear a face covering in some public places such as shops, restaurants and cafes (when not seated) in Scotland, though children under five, those with certain health conditions, drivers behind protective shields and certain others are exempt. You can be issued a penalty notice of £60 (or £30 if paid within 28 days) for not complying.

    In Northern Ireland, it is mandatory to wear face coverings in some public places such as shops, restaurants and cafes (when not seated), though there are exemptions including those under 13, if you're a shop staff member or have a reasonable excuse not to (eg, medical). You can be issued a penalty notice of £60 (or £30 if paid within 14 days) for not complying.

    It's worth noting, face coverings aren't necessarily the same as face masks, and can be as simple as a scarf or bandana. The Government says it's important not to use 'medical-grade' face masks, to ensure these remain available for frontline staff. It has advice on how to make your own face covering at home. MSE Rhiannon also has a guide to using spare fabric to make a mask.

  2. Some shops are offering 'volunteer cards' to make it easier to pay anyone buying essentials for you

    Big supermarkets, including AsdaM&SSainsbury'sTesco and Waitrose, have all launched volunteer cards to help you pay anyone buying groceries for you.

    You buy a gift card online for the amount you want, then you can choose to send an email to yourself or direct to your volunteer. They'll get a barcode that they can print out and hand over when they're at the till paying for your shopping, or just show the barcode on their phone, or quote the number.

    You can also do this on behalf of family or friends if they're not online but are being helped by a volunteer or neighbour.
     For more ways to pay people back, see MSE Helen's blog Neighbours or volunteers shopping for you? How to pay them back safely.

  3. The contactless card spending limit's rising to £100

    Chancellor Rishi Sunak has confirmed the contactless spending limit will increase from £45 to £100. While legally in force from 3 March, the change won't happen in practice immediately, as businesses will need to update their systems. 

    For transactions over £100, you can pay in the normal way with chip and PIN. Or if you'd prefer to avoid touching keypads entirely, you may be able to use contactless payments on your smartphone, as these don't usually have an upper limit.

    The limit for contactless card payments rose from £30 to £45 at the start of the coronavirus pandemic in April 2020, and since then people have increasingly made use of contactless payments. See our Budget 2021: Contactless payment limit to rise to £100 MSE news story for more details.

  4. Gas safety inspections can be delayed if you're self-isolating

    The current advice is that household gas inspections, particularly for rented properties – where a gas safety check is required every 12 months – should continue as normal during the coronavirus lockdown.

    Though if you're self-isolating, you're a vulnerable person or you're considered at high risk to Covid-19, you can ask for it to be delayed until the end of your isolation period or when social-distancing rules are relaxed.

    If you do need an inspection, the engineer should follow Government guidance for working in people's homes, maintaining a two-metre distance from anyone and regularly washing their hands.

Free or cheap ways to keep fit, stay entertained & more during lockdown

With some restrictions still in place across the UK, you may find you're staying at home more these days. But staying indoors doesn't have to mean feeling bored. The MSE team's rounded up lots of free and cheap ways to have fun, get your exercise and even learn new skills while following social-distancing rules. Here are some of our best tips...

  1. Keep fit for free via YouTube, Instagram, apps and more

    It's perfectly possible to get your fitness fix remotely. There are loads of free apps, online tools and resources that can help you to exercise and look after your health and wellbeing at home – particularly helpful if you're self-isolating.

    The MSE team has loads of suggestions for videos and tools it's used to work out at home, and some online fitness subscriptions are now offering free access. There are even online PE classes for kids. See How to keep fit for free while staying at home.

  2. Watch free box sets and films, incl Star Wars, Toy Story 4 and more

    You don't have to subscribe to a big-name streaming service such as Netflix or Prime Video to binge on box sets and films. There are plenty available for free including All 4 (eg, Green Wing, Peep Show and The IT Crowd) and BBC iPlayer (eg, Fleabag, Luther and Gavin & Stacey – though you do need a TV licence to watch).

    Check out our TV MoneySaving tricks for more free ways to watch the latest box sets, films, documentaries and more.

  3. You can get must-read Kindle books for free (or just 99p)

    If you pay full-price and devour several Kindle books a month while stuck indoors, the cost will soon stack up. Amazon is heaving with Kindle books that are permanently free or 99p.

    Yet these cheap titles may not always match your virtual to-read pile. In fact, you often have to wade through a lot of very average books to find the good ones. Know where to look though, and there's a treasure trove of amazing free or 99p Kindle books to be found.

    MSE Jenny's shared her top tricks for getting must-read Kindle books for free (or very cheap).

  4. Get free audiobooks and three months' Audible for £12

    Buying one-off audiobook titles can be costly, sometimes £30 or more, but when you subscribe to Amazon's audiobook-seller Audible you can cut the cost to £7.99 a book – and we've a trick that can reduce that further, to £3.99.

    Plus, there's a way to get completely free Audible audiobooks and a clever trick that means you can often slash the cost of a specific audiobook by buying the Kindle book first.

    So for those who'd prefer to listen, rather than read, see all of MSE Jenny's Audible MoneySaving tricks.

  5. Play big-name games for free on iPhone/Android

    Games consoles sold fast (and sometimes sold out) during the initial lockdown in 2020. And in any case they tend to cost £100s and the games themselves ain't cheap.

    But you can play loads of games totally free on your phone, and often from well-known game franchises everyone has heard of. So we've picked some of the biggest and most popular games you can play right now, including Mario Kart Tour, Pokémon Masters and Call of Duty: Mobile – see 31 free big-name games for iPhone or Android.

  6. Free virtual globe-trotting, tours and experiences

    We may be staying indoors a bit more, but that doesn't mean we can't broaden our horizons beyond the living room walls. Because let's face it, there are only so many 1,000-piece jigsaws you can do, and Netflix series you can watch.

    MSE Oli has found ways to globe-trot or tour from your sofa, including Machu Picchu, the Vatican, 'walk' on a volcano and wild Disney rides. See his blog: Free virtual globe-trotting, tours & experiences.

  7. Learn something new at home

    There are tons of free online and app-based resources that can help you learn and develop new skills in a fun way, from free courses to tutorials and quizzes.

    MSE Laura B has picked some of her favourites – including language courses, hair and beauty tutorials and Open University qualifications. See FREE ways to learn something new at home.

  8. Free official Harry Potter fun for kids (or yourself)

    JK Rowling, author of the mega-popular Harry Potter books, has launched Harry Potter at Home, a selection of online activities and resources to amuse kids who "might need a bit of magic" during the lockdown.

    For those who have read the books, activities include a video on how to draw a 'Niffler' (a mischievous animal from the wizarding world), as well as Harry Potter-themed puzzles and quizzes. And if yours haven't read the books yet, this could be a great way to introduce them with some handy articles to help get them started, eg, 10 words you need to know when reading the first Harry Potter book.

How to help vulnerable people & those struggling during the lockdown

With so many vulnerable people forced to self-isolate at home, and others struggling financially, there are ways you may be able to help others – such as offering to shop for a neighbour, or donating food to a foodbank. There is also help for anyone in need of free train travel to escape the horrid situation of domestic abuse.

  1. Donate to a foodbank

    When doing your own essential shopping, if you can afford to buy a few extra bits of food, donating to a foodbank is a great way to support those in society who are struggling to afford basic supplies.

    How to donate

    The easiest way to donate food is to check if your local supermarket has a collection point. They're often found near the checkouts or the exit. Tesco for example has collection points in over 450 stores.

    Also, the Trussell Trust is one of the biggest foodbank charities in the UK – you can search for your local foodbank on its website, then click on the foodbank's name to see a list of collection points where you can donate.

    What can I donate?

    The Trussell Trust provides non-perishable tinned and dried food (such as cereal and pasta) as well as non-food items such as toiletries. See its website for a list of what to donate. If it operates a foodbank near you, you can also check which specific items your local branch needs.

    If there isn't a Trussell Trust foodbank near you, your nearest foodbank may be independent. You can find out how you can help independent foodbanks via the Independent Food Aid Network.

  2. Look out for vulnerable neighbours

    Many are keen to help neighbours who may be vulnerable and struggling to buy food online. But unless you live in a tight-knit community, you may not know who needs your help.

    This is where local Facebook groups can come in handy – people are using them to offer assistance or to request help. To find your local group, search for your area or postcode in the main search box on Facebook. Alternatively, you could simply post a handwritten note through your neighbour's letterbox offering help (that way they don't need to come to the door, so you can keep to social-distancing rules).

    MSE Kelvin has spotted lots of offers to help in his local Facebook group, as well as useful info:

    People have been suggesting shops where you can buy things which have been in short supply, asking about the welfare of people known to be vulnerable, posting about local online choir sessions, listing restaurants, breweries and shops that are delivering, and leaving old books and DVDs outside houses for people to pick up if they're lacking in lockdown entertainment. Local restaurants have also posted stock they're selling or giving away as they can't use it.

  3. Free train travel to help those escaping domestic abuse

    Train firms have announced they will cover the cost of train tickets for anyone travelling to refuge accommodation during the lockdown, following an increase in reports of domestic abuse. Of course, travel costs may not be the first thought for those escaping such a terrible situation, but it could at least be a small help.

    While it's in partnership with domestic violence charity Women's Aid, the scheme is for anyone escaping abuse (women and men, as well as their children). You'll be able to apply for the free tickets once you've received an offer of a place at a refuge. The refuge can then direct you to a special train booking system.

    For help finding a refuge, visit the Women's Aid website. The charity is dedicated to helping women and children, but also has helpful links for finding support for male survivors of domestic violence.

    You can also find support at domestic violence charity Refuge, which has a free 24-hour helpline (0808 2000 247), as well as specific safety tips for survivors during the coronavirus pandemic.

Warning – watch out for coronavirus scams

scams signpost

Lowlife scammers are taking advantage of coronavirus to try to defraud people, especially the elderly and vulnerable.

Action Fraud identified thousands of reports of fraud relating to coronavirus, with victims' losses totalling more than £5 million. Many of these are online shopping scams where victims have tried to buy products such as protective face masks and hand sanitiser from fraudsters. There have also been over 4,400 reports of coronavirus-themed phishing emails designed to trick people into opening malicious attachments or revealing sensitive information.

A common tactic used by scammers is to send messages purporting to be from research groups linked with the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the US, or the World Health Organisation. Some claim to be able to provide a list of people infected with Covid-19, which links to a malicious website or asks the victim to make a payment in Bitcoin.

Other common phishing emails include those pretending to be from the Government, sending articles about the coronavirus outbreak with links to fake company websites, or sending details of investment schemes which encourage people to take advantage of the coronavirus downturn.

Received a suspicious email? The National Cyber Security Centre (part of GCHQ) has launched its new Suspicious Email Reporting Service to take phishing scams down – all you have to do is forward suspect emails to its report@phishing.gov.uk email address.

Pension holders targeted in spate of scams

One very common scam during the coronavirus crisis has targeted pension holders, saying they can access cash quickly if they transfer their pension. And with many desperate for cash, this scam often finds a target – and victims lose an average of £82,000 through pension scams. Here's what to look out for

  • An out-of-the-blue offer of a free pension review. If someone calls you and says they're from your pension company, or are from a financial adviser offering you a free pension review, NEVER continue with the call.
  • Someone saying they're calling from your pension company. If they say they're from your pension company, say you will call them back, and then look up the company's contact details online or on your policy documents. NEVER call a number they've given to you. If it's a legitimate call, the caller won't mind.
  • If you're under 55 and someone calls with an offer to access your pension, don't continue. You can't access your pension before you're 55 unless you're terminally ill. Anyone offering this isn't legitimate.
  • Someone offering to manage your pension. Similarly, if someone asks you to transfer your pension to their company or put it under their management, do your homework on the company before taking any action. You can check if pension companies or advisers are registered on the FCA Financial Services Register, a public record that shows details of regulated firms, individuals and other bodies. 

Tips to protect yourself against scams

Action Fraud says you can do the following to minimise your chances of being tricked:

  • Be vigilant for scam messages. This includes not clicking on any links or attachments if you receive a suspicious message, and not responding to any unsolicited messages or calls that ask for personal or financial details.
  • Take care when shopping online. You should always do your research if buying from a company or person you don't know and trust, and possibly ask a friend or family member for advice first. If you do go ahead with an online purchase, you should use a credit card if possible for extra protection (see our Section 75 guide).
  • Protect your devices from threats. This includes always installing the latest software and app updates to protect your devices from new threats.

Also see MSE Katie's 20+ coronavirus scams to watch out for blog for more of the known coronavirus-related scams out there and tips to protect yourself from fraudsters.

Have you been scammed?

If you've lost money to fraudsters, you should do the following:

  1. Immediately end all communication with them.
  2. Contact your bank to tell them you've been scammed, and cancel any recurring payments.
  3. Report the scam to the police through the Action Fraud website. You can also call it on 0300 123 2040, but be aware it has a reduced phone service at the moment, so waiting times may be longer than usual.
  4. If you want one-on-one help, you can contact Citizens Advice Scams Action by phone or online chat.

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