MSE News

Coronavirus Life-in-Lockdown Help

Cancelled events, train refunds, shop return rights, MOTs & more

Coronavirus Life-in-Lockdown Help

The majority of the UK is back in some form of lockdown, 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.

What are the current lockdown rules?

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

Lockdowns are in place across the UK, as coronavirus cases surge

Following an increase in coronavirus cases and the discovery of a more transmissible strain, tighter restrictions have been put in place across much of the UK. These are the latest rules:

 

  • In England, the whole country is now in lockdown until at least mid-February. This means you must stay at home except for permitted reasons, such as essential medical needs, food shopping, exercise and work that cannot be done at home. Schools are closed to most pupils. For full info on the rules, see the Gov.uk website.

  • In Northern Ireland, the whole country entered a six-week lockdown on 26 December, which includes the closure of non-essential retail and hospitality venues (except for takeaway and delivery). Schools are to remain closed 'for an extended period'. For full info on the new restrictions, see NIdirect.gov.uk

  • In Scotland, lockdown is expected to last until at least the end of January. Restrictions are being tightened from Saturday 16 January, including new rules around click and collect services and takeaways. For full info, see the Gov.scot website.

  • In Wales, the whole country moved into lockdown on 20 December, with non-essential retail and hospitality closed, except for takeaway and delivery. All schools have moved to online learning until the February half term (due to be reviewed on 29 January). For full info on the current rules, see Gov.wales.

You CAN still move house and get an MOT

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.
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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 last year, and the 2020 Glastonbury Festival was cancelled.

    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. Weddings CAN take place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (with restrictions), but not in England unless in 'exceptional circumstances'

    A new lockdown was announced for England on 4 January, which means weddings can't take place, except in 'exceptional circumstances'.

    You're currently allowed to have at least a small ceremony in most other parts of the UK, though restrictions vary, and things can change quickly. For example, the whole of Wales moved into 'alert level four' on Sunday 20 December, which means you can have a wedding ceremony but not a reception.

    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. 

  3. Gyms are closed across the UK

    Currently, gyms are closed across the UK due to coronavirus restrictions. 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.

  4. Cinema chains are freezing memberships during closures

    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.

  5. National Trust member? You may be able to stop paying temporarily

    National Trust properties were largely closed at the start of the pandemic, though some coast and countryside car parks remained open. Where gardens and parklands have reopened, there's been a limit on entrant numbers and advance booking is required.

    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 was Monday 30 November, but we're checking whether this will be extended again.

    • The National Trust isn't offering a refund but you can get 25% off your renewal. You must apply for the discount by 31 March 2021. 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.

Motoring & transport, incl MOTs & train tickets

One of the most obvious effects of the UK lockdown was a huge drop in the number of vehicles on the road. Train companies also operated a much-reduced service, though they are now running more trains to allow for social distancing on board. Below are the need-to-knows on face coverings, train ticket refunds, what happens if you can't MOT your car and more.

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

    It's now 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 Government 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. Christmas train refunds are available, but you'll need to claim

    Following the scrapped easing of travel restrictions over Christmas announced on 19 December, many people were no longer able to travel during Christmas. You can get refunds for tickets valid in England, Scotland and Wales. In Northern Ireland, unfortunately no special rules are in place.

    For journeys which begin or end in England or Wales, you're entitled to a cash refund for tickets which are valid for travel on any date between Wednesday 23 December and Sunday 27 December providing you bought the ticket on or after Tuesday 24 November (when the Christmas travel window was announced) and no later than Saturday 19 December, when the new coronavirus rules were announced.

    In Scotland, the same rules as above apply for cross-border services (eg, LNER or GWR), but if you've booked travel with ScotRail, you're entitled to a full refund on all ticket types valid for travel on or after Sun 20 Dec. You'll get the refund regardless of when you bought the ticket, as long as it's unused.

    See our Cheap Train Tickets guide for full help and info.

    • In March, the Government temporarily took over rail operators to provide support and ensure services continue throughout the pandemic. With fewer trains running and restrictions on travel during lockdown, new rules were introduced to make it easier to get a refund for nearly all types of ticket.

      The flexible refund rules have now ended for newly purchased tickets, but they still apply to tickets bought before 7 September 2020:

      • Advance tickets. As long as you bought your ticket before 7 September, you can change the time and date of your booking without paying any admin fees (even if it's for travel after then).

        If you bought an advance ticket on 7 September or buy one after this date, and want to change the time or date of your train, you'll have to pay the usual admin fee (most firms charge £10).

      • Off-peak and anytime tickets. As long as you bought your ticket before 7 September these are fully refundable (even if they're for travel after that date). You also have extra time to apply for a ticket refund – you can do this up to eight weeks (56 days) after you were due to travel – and you won't need to pay any admin fees.

        For tickets purchased on or after 7 September, the time you have to claim a refund will revert to four weeks (28 days) and you'll have to pay an admin fee (usually £10).

      • Season tickets. The flexible refund rules allowed you to backdate refunds for season tickets by up to eight weeks. This has now reverted to the normal rules, and you can only backdate a refund if you can prove that illness prevented you from travelling.

      See National Rail for full details of the current refund rules. 

  3. You can claim a refund for many unused coach tickets over Christmas

    The revised Christmas restrictions meant that many who had planned to travel couldn't, and as with trains (see full train refund info), you'll get a refund on many trips. In England and Wales, you'll be refunded for most tickets booked for travel from Wed 23 Dec to Sun 27 Dec, as long as you booked between Tue 24 Nov and Sat 19 Dec.

    The Scottish Government has told us you'll also be eligible for Christmas travel refunds via Citylink but hasn't specified when you needed to have bought your ticket. In Northern Ireland, there are no special rules and normal refund policies apply.

    We looked at the refund policies of big coach companies including Megabus, National Express and Scottish Citylink, and some have indicated they're giving more:

    • Megabus (operates UK excl NI) says you can get a refund for travel between 23-27 December, as long as you booked your journey on or after Tuesday 24 November (when the Christmas travel window was announced). Simply email your booking reference number to enquiries@megabus.com. It may take up to two weeks to be processed.

      Its normal refund policy applies for travel dates outside of the Christmas travel window, but it says all tickets are flexible, so you can amend your ticket up to 24 hours before you’re due to travel.

    • National Express (operates UK) says you can either change your travel date for free for journeys up until 21 March 2021, or get a refund if you can't (or decide not to) travel because you've been impacted by the introduction of tier four in England, or because of the Christmas restriction changes.

      While the rules say it has to give refunds on tickets booked from 23-27 Dec, National Express says refunds will be considered outside of these dates on a case-by-case basis. It told us it doesn't matter when you booked your ticket, so even if you booked prior to 24 Nov, you can still get a refund. National Express says there is no deadline for submitting a refund claim.

      You're also able to get a full refund at any point if your journey is cancelled by National Express, you've tested positive for Covid-19 or have been advised to self-isolate. To apply, you'll need to fill out its online refund form.

    • Scotland Transport says Scottish Citylink is offering full refunds if you're cancelling travel as a result of the Christmas restrictions announcement over the weekend. We've asked Citylink to confirm which dates and we'll update here when it gets back to us.

    Northern Ireland

    Unlike the rest of the UK, unfortunately there are no special rules in Northern Ireland following the announcement of Christmas restrictions and therefore Translink's usual policy applies – see this Translink refund policy PDF for its full terms and conditions per ticket type.

    In general, it charges an admin fee for refunds or ticket changes in most cases (usually £1.50-£5), even for journeys effected by coronavirus restrictions.

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

    While refunds have been offered for train tickets, you won't be able to get a refund on your railcard.

    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. 

  5. 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.

  6. 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. Despite the current restrictions, you'll still 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.

    If your MOT was due to expire BEFORE 1 August 2020 in England, Scotland or Wales...

    If the expiry date on your vehicle's MOT was on or after 30 March 2020 and before 1 August 2020, you automatically got a six-month extension. For example, if your MOT was set to expire on 31 July 2020, this will automatically be extended to 31 January 2021.

    You must still keep your car in a roadworthy condition, but with most garages open across the country, according to the Department for Transport, getting repairs done shouldn't be a problem.

    • You don't need to worry about anything changing when you buy car insurance, as you don't need to enter your MOT expiry date during the process.

      When you tax your car, your MOT expiry date is already logged on the Government's vehicle enquiry service, so you won't need to do any calculations to work out your new MOT date – it should be extended automatically.

      However, the Government says if your MOT was originally due in the same month as your vehicle tax and is being extended due to coronavirus, you won't be able to tax your vehicle until the extension has been applied. This happens up to seven days before your MOT is due to expire.

    • If your MOT was due before 30 March 2020 and you couldn't get your vehicle tested due to coronavirus, eg, you were self-isolating, it's worth calling the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency on 0300 123 9000 to explain the situation.

      If your MOT has run out and you can't get an extension, you will likely have to make a statutory off-road notification (Sorn) and take your vehicle off the road. It will need to pass an MOT before you can drive it again – though you will be able to drive it to the test centre when you do this.

      The Department for Transport says it's working with insurers and the police to ensure people are not unfairly penalised for things out of their control – so while there's no guarantee you won't have to take your vehicle off the road, it's worth asking if there's another option.

  7. 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.

  8. Fix up your bike with a free £50 repair voucher (more available soon)

    In July and November 2020, bike owners in England were able to apply for the first two batches of 'Fix Your Bike' vouchers – one of these essentially gets you £50 to put towards repairs. For example, you could use it to replace or fix your tyres, brakes or chain. While the vouchers were snapped up fast, another batch will be available soon – we'll update here once a time and date is revealed.

    The scheme was announced by the Government in May 2020, to help make older bikes rideable again. The aim is to encourage people to cycle rather than use public transport during the pandemic. The Government hopes it will also encourage more people to embrace cycling as a hobby, and reduce the number of short journeys made by car.

    You'll need to apply for a voucher and take it to a bike-repair shop that accepts them. There's a map of participating stores on the scheme's webpage, though it says shops are still registering to take part, so it's worth checking back even if your local bike shop isn't on there right now.

    The scheme is only available in England (not in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland).

    In the meantime, if you're taking to two wheels, see our new MoneySaving Tips for Cyclists guide.

  9. 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.

    Though those with licences that expired in February 2020 will now be due for renewal. So be sure to renew it or you could be hit with a heavy fine.

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

  10. Driving lessons and tests are suspended across the UK

    Driving lessons and tests (except motorcycle tests in Northern Ireland), motorbike training and theory tests have been put on hold while each part of the UK is in some form of lockdown:

    In England, driving tests are suspended until at least mid-February.

    In Northern Ireland, driving tests (except motorcycle tests) are suspended until 6 February.

    In Scotland, driving tests are suspended until at least the end of January.

    In Wales, driving tests are suspended while the country is in alert level four.

    If you're affected, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), or the DVA in Northern Ireland, say they will refund payments for tests during these restrictions and will contact you directly to advise on rescheduling the test.

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. Tesco's limiting sales of toilet roll, eggs, rice and more – but supermarkets 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. Tesco re-introduced some of these limits in September and has now extended restrictions further, both online and in stores.

    The restrictions currently include:

    • Only one pack of toilet roll per customer (previously limited to three).
    • No more than three packs each of eggs, rice, flour, dried pasta, and baby wipes.

    Despite this though, it's important to stress that Tesco and its main rivals all insist there are currently no product shortages and customers are urged to shop normally – Tesco 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 recently cracked down on anyone not wearing a mask – Tesco, Asda have confirmed to us that you won't be allowed in stores without one (unless you're medically exempt). We're waiting back to hear from the other major stores.

    Please note: This info was last checked at 3.30pm on Fri 8 Jan. Let us know what's changed at news@moneysavingexpert.com.

                                        Supermarket                                               Restrictions Priority shopping for vulnerable or key workers? Delivery available? Opening times
    Aldi Max 3 on toilet roll, pasta, flour & eggs

    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

    150 items avail via Deliveroo from selected stores across Eng, Scot & Wales
    Check your store
    Asda Max 3 on anti-bac gel & hand wash, 4 on toilet roll NHS & care workers: priority entry any time in all stores Yes – slots avail 14 days ahead Check your store
    Co-op Online: max 3 on toilet roll, max 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 3 on toilet roll, 6 on eggs 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 TBC No, but a new Book & Shop system 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 2 on toilet roll & disinfectant, 5 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) Max 1 on toilet roll, 3 on eggs, rice, soap & hand wash, flour, pasta, baby wipes & anti-bac wipes Elderly/vulnerable: all stores (excl Express) 9am-10am Wed & Sun
    NHS, carers and emergency services: queue priority at all times
    N/A Some reduced hours. Check your store
    Tesco (online) Max 1 on toilet roll, 3 on rice, flour, pasta & baby wipes, 5 on tinned tomatoes, 6 on baked beans. Max 95 items total N/A Yes – slots avail 14 days ahead N/A
    Waitrose TBC 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
  2. Child get free school meals? You could get food parcels or supermarket vouchers while schools are closed

    If your child qualifies for free school meals (Gov.uk has eligibility criteria), you could receive support such as food parcels or supermarket vouchers while schools remain closed during the pandemic. 

    Generally, the support available varies depending on where you live within the UK: 

    • In England, the Government has asked schools to speak to catering teams or providers to see if they can arrange for meals or food parcels to be delivered to or collected by eligible families.

      If this isn't possible, from 18 January you should be given a supermarket voucher worth £15 a week for each eligible child, to allow you to buy food. Your school will email you a code, which you can redeem for an e-gift card of your choice – Aldi, Asda, Company Shop Group, Iceland, McColl's, M&S, Morrisons, Sainsbury's, Tesco or Waitrose – or it will select the gift card for you, print it and post it to you. You then show the gift card at the till, digitally or printed out.

      Your child's school should check which families are eligible for free school meals before ordering vouchers – but if you're eligible and don't hear anything, you can contact the school directly. If your child hasn't received benefits-related free school meals before but is now eligible, you should contact the school or your local authority – once your eligibility has been checked you should be able to receive the parcels or vouchers.

      Get an extra £5 if you choose an M&S voucher

      M&S has said if you choose a gift card for its stores, it will automatically add an additional £5 to the balance, so you'll have £20 to spend. It's worth comparing prices at different supermarkets before you choose though.

    • Children who usually qualify for free school meals should continue to get them while schools are closed. The Scottish Government says it's up to schools and councils to make their own plans to provide free school meals or alternatives (such as vouchers) during lockdown.

      If you haven't heard anything, but you think your child's eligible, contact your council to find out what the provisions are in your area.

    • The Welsh Government has said it expects schools to continue to provide lunches for children who are eligible for free school meals.

      It has suggested schools should provide food parcels, supermarket vouchers or gift cards (worth £3.90 per child, per weekday), or direct payments into families' bank accounts.

      If you think your child's eligible but haven't yet been contacted, get in touch with their school to find out how it will be offering this support. 

    • Families with eligible children will receive payments directly into their bank accounts. If your child is eligible, you'll get a fortnightly payment of £27 per eligible child.

      Payments will be made automatically, so if your child already receives free school meals you shouldn't need to do anything to apply. However, if you're not receiving the payments and think you should be, get in contact with the educational authority for help.

      The Northern Ireland Executive also confirmed in November, it will fund free school meals for eligible children during all school holidays until April 2022.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. Need to return something to a store? Retailers are offering extended returns policies

    With many non-essential retailers closing across the UK, you may not be able to pop into your local store to return something. Helpfully, a number of retailers are offering extended returns policies (usually on top of already-extended Christmas returns periods).

    For example, John Lewis says you can return items purchased between 8 October and 24 December until 28 January 2021. But if your nearest store is closed due to coronavirus restrictions, you can return items up to 35 days after it reopens.

    If you're unable to return an item before the cut-off because you're self-isolating, it's worth getting in touch with the retailer to see if it will be flexible with its usual returns policy (for example, John Lewis says it will still accept the return if this is the case). And remember, stores' policies are on top of, not instead of, your legal rights – see our Consumer Rights guide for full info.

    • 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 Store closed? Can return to Argos in Sainsbury's, or within 30 days of non-essential stores reopening (applies to purchases from 18 Oct 2020)
      30 days Purchases from 18 Oct 2020 can be returned up to 24 Jan 2021
      Dunelm 28 days

      Xmas policy: Purchases from 19 Oct - 24 Dec 2020 can be returned up to 31 Jan 2021
       

      Store closed? Returns can be made 28 days from reopening.

      Notify within 14 days of receipt, then another 14 days to return Purchases from 19 Oct - 24 Dec 2020 can be returned up to 31 Jan 2021
      Halfords 30 days 90 days (for all purchases from 24 Feb 2020) 30 days 90 days (for all purchases from 24 Feb 2020)
      H&M 28 days

      Xmas policy: Purchases from 1 Nov 2020 - 3 Jan 2021 can be returned up to 31 Jan 2021

       

      Store closed? Returns can be made 28 days from reopening.

      28 days Purchases from 1 Nov 2020 - 3 Jan 2021 can be returned up to 31 Jan 2021
      John Lewis 35 days

      Xmas policy: Purchases from 8 Oct - 24 Dec 2020 can be returned up to 28 Jan 2021

       

      Store closed? Returns can be made up to 35 days from reopening.

      35 days Purchases from 8 Oct  - 24 Dec 2020 can be returned up to 28 Jan 2021
      M&S 35 days

      Xmas policy: Purchases from 4 Oct - 27 Dec 2020 can be returned up to 31 Jan 2021

      35 days Purchases from 4 Oct 2020 can be returned up to 31 Jan 2021
      New Look 28 days

      Xmas policy: Purchases from 15 Oct - 24 Dec 2020 can be returned up to 31 Jan 2021

       

      Store closed? Returns can be made once stores reopen, but it doesn't give a specific time limit.

      28 days Purchases from 15 Oct to 24 Dec 2020 can be returned up to 31 Jan 2021
      Primark 28 days Will be extending returns period for purchases from 8 Oct 2020 - 4 Jan 2021. Exact details TBC N/A N/A
      Topshop 28 days Xmas policy: Purchases from 2 Nov - 31 Dec 2020 can be returned up to 31 Jan 2021 Notify within 14 days of receipt, then another 14 days to return
      Purchases from 2 Nov 2020 can be returned up to 31 Jan 2021
  6. The contactless card spending limit's now £45

    The amount you can spend on a card in a contactless transaction has gone up, from £30 to £45. This was brought forward in a bid to encourage contactless transactions and help combat the spread of coronavirus, minimising the number of times you'll need to touch a keypad to pay.

    For transactions over £45, 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.

  7. 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 restrictions tightening across the UK, and the weather getting colder, 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 so far...

  1. NEW. The BBC is putting lessons on TV during lockdown

    The BBC is showing educational programmes on TV for primary and secondary school pupils. This could be particularly useful if you're struggling with data usage, or don't have enough devices for the whole family to work on, while schools are closed.

    Programmes aimed at primary school pupils will be shown on CBBC from 9am, for three hours each weekday. Programmes for secondary school pupils will be on BBC2 for at least two hours a day. You can also access BBC Bitesize programmes via the red button, or catch up on iPlayer.

    See the BBC TV guide for more info on programmes and timings.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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).

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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 10+ FREE ways to learn something new at home.

  9. 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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