Coronavirus Life-in-Lockdown Help
Cancelled events, shop return rights, MOTs & more
Lockdown restrictions are gradually beginning to ease across the UK. And while the primary concern is health, many are also worried about cancelled events, postponed weddings, shopping and more. This guide looks at your rights if you’ve been affected, including key refund rights.
Looking for other help? This guide has tips for the current lockdown. We also have...
- Coronavirus employees' help for the latest on furlough.
- Coronavirus self-employed help for the latest on support schemes.
- Coronavirus universal credit & benefits for what help's available.
- Coronavirus finance & bills help for info on mortgage and other bill help.
- Coronavirus travel rights for the latest on holidays and refunds.
In this guide
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. Travel restrictions within Wales have been lifted, and non-essential travel between England and Wales is now allowed. In Scotland and Northern Ireland however, you're still encouraged to 'stay local'. These are the latest rules:
- In England, indoor gyms and 'non-essential' shops, including hairdressers can now reopen. Weddings can take place, attended by up to 15 people. You can meet outdoors (including private gardens) in either a group of six from any number of households, or in a group of any size from up to two households. For full info on the rules, see the Gov.uk website.
- In Northern Ireland, hairdressers can now reopen, groups of ten people (from two households) can meet in private gardens, and non-essential shops can resume click-and-collect. For full info on the new restrictions, see NIdirect.gov.uk.
- In Scotland, four people from two households can meet outside to socialise, including in private gardens. Hairdressers, homeware shops and garden centres are now able to reopen. For full info, see the Gov.scot website.
- In Wales, non-essential retail can now reopen, and six people from two households can meet outside, including in private gardens. It's been announced gyms and leisure centres can reopen on Monday 3 May (a week earlier than planned). For full info on the current rules, see Gov.wales.
While life in lockdown is hugely restricted, there are still some key things which are allowed, across the UK. The direct quotes below apply to Government guidance in England, but the general rules apply UK-wide.
- You can still move house. The rules say you can leave your home to 'carry out activities related to buying, selling, letting or renting a residential property'.
- Tradespeople can visit your home. For example, electricians, plumbers, repairers of domestic appliances.
- You can visit your GP or dentist. The Government says it's supporting the NHS to safely carry out urgent and non-urgent services, and that it's 'vital anyone who thinks they need any kind of medical care comes forward and seeks help'.
- You can take your car for its MOT. Garages can remain open for vehicle repair and MOT services.
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.
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 last year, the 2020 Glastonbury Festival was cancelled (and it's been announced the 2021 festival will be cancelled too).
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.
Weddings in England can now be attended by up to 15 people
Weddings and outdoor receptions in England are now allowed to take place with up to 15 people. The Government has said it hopes to increase this to 30 people from Monday 17 May.
You're allowed to have at least a small ceremony in each part of the UK, though restrictions vary, and things can change quickly. For example, in Wales you can have a wedding ceremony in a licensed venue (such as a hotel or castle), but not a reception. In Northern Ireland, the 25-person limit has now been lifted, and it's up to venues to decide how many they can safely accommodate.
So 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.
Gyms can reopen in England, but are still closed across the rest of the UK
- In Scotland gyms will reopen on Monday 26 April.
- In Northern Ireland they'll reopen on Friday 30 April.
- In Wales they'll reopen on Monday 3 May.
You should receive a refund or credit for the time your gym has been closed. The Competition & Markets Authority says that "where consumers have paid money in advance for services or goods that they have yet to receive, they will generally be entitled to obtain a refund". With gyms, this is usually given as credit.
The majority of the big fitness chains, including Better Gyms, Nuffield Health, Pure Gym and Virgin Active, have confirmed you won't pay for your membership while gyms are closed. However, your direct debit for the upcoming month may have already been taken before the lockdown was announced. If this is the case, chains say you'll be credited for this amount when gyms reopen and payments restart.
Cinemas in England and Scotland are expected to open from 17 May
Some of the cinema chains have membership schemes where you pay an annual or monthly fee for unlimited cinema trips. With Cineworld Unlimited and Odeon Limitless, both cinemas have said memberships will be automatically paused and payments frozen during temporary closures.
National Trust member? You may be able to stop paying temporarily
National Trust gardens, parks and countryside are open across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but houses remain closed.
- In England, shops have reopened, and you can sit outside at some cafés.
- In Wales, some shops have reopened and cafés are offering a takeaway service.
- In Northern Ireland, shops remain closed but cafés are offering a takeaway service.
The National Trust isn't offering refunds or automatic payment freezes across the board, but you're entitled to stop paying temporarily or get a discounted renewal, depending on what type of membership you have – though you'll need to apply for it.
It's possible to arrange a three-month payment break. That means a standard, full three months completely free, which you don't have to pay for later. The deadline to apply is currently Friday 30 April.
The National Trust isn't offering a refund but you can get 25% off your renewal. You must apply for the discount by Friday 30 April. If you want a refund instead, you can try asking for one. The competition watchdog says it would usually expect a full refund to be given if restrictions mean a service can't be accessed, so you'd be within your rights – though do bear in mind the National Trust is a charity.
You can apply for either of the above online – you'll need your National Trust membership number (the one printed on your card) to hand.
A National Trust spokesperson told us these options are intended for people in financial hardship, rather than everyone. While you won't have to prove you're in financial hardship, remember the National Trust is a charity, so consider only applying for help if you really need it. It says it's grateful to anyone who can afford to continue to pay the full cost, as it means it can continue its conservation work.
- In England, shops have reopened, and you can sit outside at some cafés.
Motoring & transport, incl MOTs & driving licence renewals
Below are the need-to-knows on face coverings, MOTs, driving licence renewals and more.
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.
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.
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.
You can still get an MOT – and they're compulsory again
MOT testing for cars, motorcycles and vans is mandatory again 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, despite the current restrictions.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Driving lessons and tests can now restart in England, Wales and Northern Ireland
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, driving lessons and tests can now resume. In Scotland, driving lessons can resume on Monday 26 April, with tests restarting on Thursday 6 May at the earliest.
If you've been affected by the suspension of tests during lockdown restrictions, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), or the DVA in Northern Ireland, say they will refund payments and contact you directly to advise on rescheduling the test.
Shopping, return rights & more
Supermarkets are limiting sales of toilet roll, eggs, rice and more – but say there are no shortages currently
Supermarkets faced a surge in demand when coronavirus first hit, leading to the rationing of some items such as toilet roll and pasta. These purchase limits were loosened, only to be reintroduced in September, both online and in stores.
Despite this though, it's important to stress that the major supermarkets all insist there are currently no product shortages and customers are urged to shop normally. Tesco, for example, says the restrictions are simply pre-emptive measures to smooth demand.
Supermarket-by-supermarket restrictions – in store and online
Here's the latest info we have on rules, restrictions and priority hours. Don't forget you must wear a face covering in all supermarkets across the UK. Supermarkets have cracked down on anyone not wearing a mask – Asda, Tesco and Morrisons have confirmed to us that you won't be allowed in stores without one (unless you're medically exempt), while Sainsbury's says it's put security guards at the front of stores to challenge mask-less shoppers.
Please note: This info was last checked at 3.10pm on Thu 8 Apr. Let us know what's changed at email@example.com.
Supermarket Restrictions Priority shopping for vulnerable or key workers? Delivery available? Opening times Aldi None
Elderly/vulnerable: access 30 mins before official opening Mon-Sat
NHS & emergency services: access 30 mins before official opening on Sun & queue priority at all times
400 items avail via Deliveroo from selected stores across Eng, Scot & Wales
Check your store Asda Max 1 or 2 on eggs, 3 on antibac gel, 4 on toilet roll (2 on extra large toilet roll packs) NHS & care workers: TBC (previously, priority entry any time in all stores) Yes – slots avail 14 days ahead Check your store Co-op Online: max 3 on some toilet rolls (some are max 6), 6 on most other items & max 30 items total. In-store: total item limit varies Elderly/vulnerable customers, their carers & NHS workers: 8am-9am Mon-Sat, 10am-11am Sun
Yes – slots avail 5 days ahead. Also partnered with Deliveroo Check your store Iceland Max 4 on extra large toilet roll packs, 6 on eggs & 8 on most other items None (but elderly/vulnerable may get priority entry at store manager's discretion)
Yes, prioritising elderly/vulnerable & self-isolators
Check your store Lidl None
Priority entry ahead of queues if "you have difficulty queueing" No Check your store M&S None No, but a new Book & Shop system (selected stores) means anyone can reserve a time slot and skip the queue
Some – offering basics from local BP M&S stores via Deliveroo Check your store Morrisons
Max 1 on antibac gel, 3 on pasta
NHS workers: 6am-7am Mon-Sat & 9am-9.30am Sun Yes – slots avail 3 days ahead. 180+ stores offering essentials via Deliveroo Check your store Ocado (online only) TBC N/A Accepting new sign-ups again. Priority given to vulnerable existing customers but newbies can place orders N/A Sainsbury's None Elderly/vulnerable & their carers, NHS & social care workers: queue priority at all times
Yes. Priority given to vulnerable customers Some reduced hours. Check your store Tesco (in store) None Elderly/vulnerable: dedicated hours at all stores (excl Express), times vary by store
NHS, carers and emergency services: queue priority at all times
N/A Some reduced hours. Check your store
Tesco (online) None N/A Yes – slots avail 14 days ahead N/A Waitrose Max 4 on toilet roll Elderly/vulnerable & their carers & NHS workers: priority entry all day, every day Yes – slots avail 3 days ahead. Priority goes to elderly/vulnerable Some reduced hours. Check your store
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.
Some shops are offering 'volunteer cards' to make it easier to pay anyone buying essentials 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.
Returning something bought before lockdown? Go quick, eg, M&S gives you till 30 April
Due to coronavirus restrictions, many retailers extended their refund policies, so you wouldn't miss out while they were closed. However, most are restarting the clock from their reopening dates. For example, John Lewis is giving you 35 days from when stores reopen to return items – with New Look you have just 14 days.
As non-essential retailers were able to reopen on 12 April in England and Wales (and some opened on 5 April in Scotland), you may need to go quick if you have an item to return. We don't have info for Northern Ireland yet, but we'll update here when we do.
Most retailers are only offering the extension for purchases bought in stores, as online purchases could still be returned via post during lockdown (see the table below for individual policies). These extended rights are on top of your basic statutory rights. An item you buy must be of satisfactory quality, as described, fit for purpose and last a reasonable length of time. If you're returning an item that's faulty, by law the buyer can get a full refund if they return it within 30 days, though it's safest to do it ASAP. After 30 days, the store's obliged to provide a repair or replacement item in the first instance – though of course it may choose to offer you a refund if you ask.
If you bought an item online and have changed your mind about it, by law you have 14 days after you receive your order to notify the seller that you intend to return the item and get a full refund – and if you choose to do this, you then have a further 14 days after notifying the seller to actually return the item. See our Consumer Rights guide for full info.
The timings in the table below apply if you've simply changed your mind about a purchase. However, if you were unable to return an item before the cut-off because you were self-isolating, it's worth getting in touch with the retailer to see if it will be flexible with its returns policy (for example, John Lewis says it will still accept the return if this is the case).
Retailer In-store purchases Online purchases How long do you normally have to return goods? How long do you currently have? How long do you normally have to return goods? How long do you currently have? Argos 30 days Purchases from 18 Oct 2020 can be returned within 30 days of stores reopening
30 days Purchases collected in store from 18 Oct 2020 can be returned within 30 days of stores reopening Dunelm 28 days Purchases from 1 Nov 2020 can be returned up to 28 days from stores reopening Notify within 14 days of receipt, then another 14 days to return Normal policy now applies Halfords 28 days Normal policy now applies (you still have 90 days for purchases from 24 Feb 2020 to 1 Feb 2021) 28 days Normal policy now applies (you still have 90 days for purchases from 24 Feb 2020 to 1 Feb 2021) H&M 28 days Returns can be made 28 days from stores reopening
28 days Normal policy now applies John Lewis 35 days Returns can be made up to 35 days from stores reopening. This includes purchases from 8 Oct - 24 Dec 2020
35 days Normal policy now applies M&S 35 days Purchases from 1 Jan - 26 Mar 2021 can be returned up to 30 Apr 2021 35 days Purchases from 1 Jan - 26 Mar 2021 can be returned up to 30 Apr 2021
New Look 28 days Purchases from 15 Oct 2020 can be returned within 14 days of stores reopening 28 days Normal policy now applies Primark 28 days Returns can be made 28 days from stores reopening
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.
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 tight restrictions across the UK, you'll likely 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...
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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:
- Immediately end all communication with them.
- Contact your bank to tell them you've been scammed, and cancel any recurring payments.
- 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.
- If you want one-on-one help, you can contact Citizens Advice Scams Action by phone or online chat.
Have your say
This is an open discussion and the comments do not represent the views of MSE. We want everyone to enjoy using our site but spam, bullying and offensive comments will not be tolerated. Posts may be deleted and repeat offenders blocked at our discretion. Please contact email@example.com if you wish to report any comments.