MSE News

Coronavirus Life-in-Lockdown Help

Cancelled events, train refunds, supermarket restrictions, MOTs & more

Coronavirus Life-in-Lockdown Help

Lockdown has fundamentally changed the way we live. While many restrictions have been eased, in some areas tighter rules have been reimposed, and across the country it remains an anxious and upsetting time. Of course, the primary concern is health, but many are also worried about cancelled events, subscriptions, gym memberships, postponed weddings, free school meals, MOTs and more. This guide looks at what lockdown means for you, plus your rights if you've been affected.

Important: This is a fast-changing situation, and the info below is the best we have currently. If you've a question that isn't covered, let us know at news@moneysavingexpert.com (though sadly we can't respond to every email). 

In this guide

What are the current lockdown rules?

Here's a summary of the lockdown rules – and the latest developments:

Lockdown latest – some reopenings allowed from Saturday

Restrictions have been eased, but different rules still apply in EnglandWalesScotland and Northern Ireland. Some areas such as Aberdeen, Leicester and Greater Manchester have seen local rules imposed.

The Government has just announced an easing of lockdown rules – eg, sit-down wedding receptions for up to 30 people can now go ahead – from Sat 14 Aug. Many of these reopenings had been planned for 1 August but were postponed for two weeks. 

If you'd paid for a concert, event or other booking that was arranged for before Saturday and wasn't able to go ahead, you should get a full refund (full info on your rights below).

Here's a summary of the main lockdown rules in England:

  • You must wear a face covering in shops and on public transport. On 8 August this was extended to more indoor settings, including museums and cinemas.

  • The social-distancing rule has been relaxed to 'one metre plus'. Two metres where possible, or else one metre with other measures in place (eg, face coverings, screens).

  • Non-essential shops, hairdressers, pubs, gyms and pools can reopen. As of Sat 14 Aug, the list will expand to include casinos, skating rinks, bowling alleys, indoor and soft play areas, indoor performances and any remaining 'close contact' services such as eyebrow threading. Wedding celebrations can now consist of a sit-down meal for up to 30 people.

Your rights on cancelled events, subscriptions & more...

The coronavirus outbreak is having 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

    Public gatherings were banned during lockdown, which means events big and small have been cancelled across the UK. For example, rock band The Who's UK tour was postponed, and this year's Glastonbury Festival was cancelled.

    However, outdoor gigs and shows can now go ahead, and indoor shows are allowed from Saturday 15 August (postponed from 1 August).

    If you've bought a ticket for an event that has been cancelled, you should usually get a refund, though double-check the terms and conditions. For example, Ticketmaster has confirmed that 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. Some weddings can now go ahead, though others may not be able to – if you've one booked, check your cancellation rights

    Weddings had been stopped as part of the Government's restrictions, but with the easing of lockdown measures in England, wedding ceremonies - and as of Saturday, sit-down wedding receptions - of up to 30 people are allowed, and in Northern Ireland indoor and outdoor weddings can take place, with limited numbers of guests.

    The Government had planned to allow wedding receptions of up to 30 people in England from 1 Aug but this was postponed until 15 Aug. If you had a reception booked which couldn't take place because of the postponement, your rights and the step-by-step help in the guide below should still apply.

    See our guide What are your rights if you need to change or cancel a wedding? for full help.

  3. Most gyms and cinemas automatically paused memberships and froze payments while closed

    Outdoor pools were allowed to reopen first, and indoor gyms, pools and leisure centres have been allowed to follow suit since 25 July.

    Cinemas are also allowed to reopen, though you should check first as not all have taken the opportunity just yet. As of 8 August you now need to wear a face covering in cinemas in England, though the big chains say you'll be able to remove this once you're in your seat, so you can still enjoy your drinks and snacks.

    We've checked with the major chains and most are simply pausing all memberships for the whole time they're closed – and will freeze monthly payments automatically. If you've paid upfront for an annual membership, it'll be extended by the number of days the venue was shut for at the point of reopening.

  4. Got a football season ticket? You should be able to get a refund

    Footie fans with season tickets won't have been able to watch all the matches they'd paid for, with the top-flight professional football season in England having finished without fans being able to attend games, and other leagues across the UK completing fixtures the same way or finishing prematurely.

    In general the clubs we've checked, particularly those in the English Premier League, have confirmed they will give refunds to season ticket holders. Some are giving this directly as cash, others are by default offering a credit that can be redeemed against a future season ticket, but allowing fans to ring for a refund if they prefer.

    • It's worth remembering that some clubs, particularly those outside the Premier League, may be struggling financially and relying on ticket sales to keep going.

      In Scotland, for example, Hibernian said: "Some fans have generously indicated they would not be seeking a refund, recognising that financing refunds when your club has had no income for several months will compound the scale of the economic pressure we face. We want to be honest – if you are able to take this course then please do."

      ​To find out the situation with your season ticket it's best to check your club's website and your emails if you're signed up to receive alerts, or you could phone and check what it's offering. Bear in mind you may need to take action to get a cash refund rather than a credit.

      Here are some examples we've seen so far:

      • Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur say they're automatically giving fans a credit equivalent to the value of the portion of their season ticket that hasn't been used, but you can request cash if you prefer – you'll be contacted directly about how to do this. 
      • Liverpool is simply giving season ticket holders a full pro-rata refund – you'll be contacted about this so don't need to do anything. 
      • Everton says season ticket holders can get a credit or refund but can also choose to donate their refund to the charity Everton in the Community instead.

      We haven't found any clubs denying refunds – though if you know of one, let us know at news@moneysavingexpert.com.

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

    National Trust properties have been largely closed during the pandemic, though some coast and countryside car parks remained open. Now many of its gardens and parklands have reopened, with more to follow in the coming weeks, but there's a limit on entrant numbers and advance booking is required.

    Lots of the most popular places are fully booked, but you can check online every Friday, when tickets are released for the following week.

    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:

    • You can arrange a three-month payment break. That means three months completely free, which you don't have to pay for later. The deadline to apply has been extended until Monday 31 August. You'll get the three months free as standard – if all trust locations were to open during your payment break, it wouldn't matter.

    • 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.

  6. Got a Merlin Pass? You should have payments frozen or be able to get a refund

    Merlin Entertainments owns most of the UK's main theme parks and various other attractions. While all its venues closed in mid-March, many have now reopened. Hygiene and distancing measures are in place and certain rides will remain closed for the time being. All guests will need to book online so that Merlin can manage its lower capacity.

    • Your payments should have been automatically frozen as of 1 April and won't restart again until September. If you want to cancel your monthly membership, you can only do so once your 12-month contract finishes, as per the standard terms and conditions. This is 12 months from the date you began your membership.

    • It will be extended for free for five months to make up for the time the attractions were closed. Again, there's nothing you need to do – it should be automatic. The exceptions are, if your pass expired before 19 March (prior to the closures), you won't receive any extension, and if you purchased a pass during the closure, it will be extended by the time lost during that period.

    What if I want a refund instead of an extension?

    If you're an annual pass-holder and you'd prefer a refund for the unusable period instead of extra months added, Merlin says it will honour these requests. It has begun processing refunds.

    It says the best way to get in touch about refunds is by calling customer services on 01372 751411 or emailing info@merlinannualpass.co.uk.

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.

    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.

    The official advice in England is still to work from home if you can, although employers have been given more discretion about whether to open workplaces since 1 August. The UK Government says you can now use public transport even for non-essential journeys in England, but you should still consider alternative methods if possible.

    Face coverings are also compulsory on public transport in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales (where a three-layer covering is advised).

  2. You can get a refund for nearly ALL train tickets online

    On 23 March, the Government temporarily took over rail operators. With reduced train services and restrictions on travel during lockdown, new rules have made it much easier to get a refund for nearly all types of ticket. In many cases, you also don't have to pay any admin fees (usually £10).

    The flexible refund rules are due to end on Wednesday 26 August, but this is how it works until then:

    • Advance, off-peak and anytime tickets – these are now fully refundable and you won't need to pay any admin fee. You should also be able to get a partial refund on any part-used return tickets, again with no fee.

    • Season tickets – you should be able to get a partial refund for the bit you haven't used, so long as you have at least three days left on a seven-day ticket, or at least seven days on a monthly or longer season ticket. Many firms have waived the usual £10 admin fee for this – although contrary to what was initially announced, some have said they will still charge it, so check.
    • All train operators have put systems in place so that people can claim refunds remotely and are now asking everyone who is claiming not to visit a ticket office.

      To claim a refund, go to the website of the operator or company you bought the ticket from. See our MSE News story for full info.

      While nearly all tickets are now refundable, in a few cases (eg, with carnet tickets on some lines) you may need to check the situation with your train operator. Advance tickets purchased after 7am on 23 March – when the Government made its announcement – also won't be eligible for a fee-free refund.

      If you've bought a Transport for London travelcard which is loaded on to your Oyster card, TfL has said it will waive its usual £5 admin charge if you request a refund as a result of being told to self-isolate.

      And if you need to travel and your service has been delayed or cancelled, you can travel on the next available service with any operator as train operators are accepting tickets for each other's services.

    • Train firms have doubled the time you have to apply for a ticket refund – you can now do this up to eight weeks (56 days) after your planned journey – and crucially you can also backdate claims for season ticket refunds by up to eight weeks. So if you haven't used your season ticket in ages, you can get a partial refund for that period as well as the time still remaining on it.

      You can backdate a season ticket refund for up to 56 days OR whenever it was last used (if that is more recent).

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

    While train tickets and season tickets are being refunded, it's been decided (at least for now) that 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 to cover the initial upfront cost. And even if not, it said you should be able to do so when you're able to travel again (which is now the case for most parts of the UK), as railcards can be used for at least 12 months.

  4. 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 on 18 May. 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.

    Bear in mind that while trains are running, you should only be using them when it's essential to do so. If you don't need to travel, leaving space on the trains will help those making essential journeys to practise social distancing.

  5. Compulsory MOTs have restarted in England, Scotland and Wales

    With lockdown restrictions being eased, mandatory MOT testing for cars, motorcycles and vans restarted across England, Scotland and Wales on 1 August – meaning if your MOT's due from now onwards, you'll need to sort the test as usual. Though if your MOT was due before then, you'll still receive the six-month extension granted to drivers since 30 March because of the pandemic.

    In Northern Ireland, MOT testing has been suspended for most vehicles, and there's currently no date for when it will become mandatory again. But unlike the rest of the UK, you get a 12-month extension.

    If your MOT was due to expire BEFORE 1 August...

    If the expiry date on your vehicle's MOT was on or after 30 March and before 1 August, you automatically get 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 90% of garages now 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 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.

    If your MOT expired or is due to expire AFTER 1 August...

    If your vehicle's MOT was due on or is due after 1 August, you are required to get a new MOT done to prove your vehicle's safety and roadworthiness have been tested so you're able to drive it legally.

    According to the Department for Transport, MOT testing capacity across the country is now at 70% of normal levels but increasing, and it's still encouraging drivers to book their test in advance.

    Yet if your MOT was or is due after 1 August and you're shielding or self-isolating, the Department for Transport suggests contacting local test centres as many are offering to pick up and drop off cars so they can be tested without their owners having to leave their homes. For full help with booking a test, see our Cheap MOTs guide.

  6. Private-parking ticket appeals are now being considered (previously on hold)

    The appeals process for many private parking tickets was put on hold as a result of the coronavirus crisis, but independent adjudicator Popla started considering appeals again on 1 August.

    Popla (Parking on Private Land Appeals) adjourned all new appeals as of 6 April, but with travel restrictions easing, it believes motorists and car park operators are now better placed to submit or deal with appeals.

    Any new appeals made on or after 1 August will follow the normal process. That is, if you challenge a private parking ticket issued by a firm that's a member of the British Parking Association, but your challenge is rejected, you then have 21-28 days to lodge an appeal via Popla's website.

    People who submitted appeals during the adjournment will be contacted by Popla and will get the chance to provide any additional evidence they may have. Popla said it would start writing to motorists on 3 August, starting with the appeals that have been adjourned the longest. When the motorist responds, normal procedure will resume. Motorists who don't respond within 21 days will simply have their initial submission taken forward.

    This may be good news if you launched an appeal during the downtime and hadn't yet gathered evidence (eg, photos of car park signs), as in normal times you would have had to submit all evidence to Popla within 21-28 days.

    For more info on how to appeal, see our Fight unfair private parking tickets guide. 

  7. TfL is charging again for London bus journeys

    After temporarily allowing passengers to travel for free, Transport for London (TfL) has gradually reintroduced payments on bus routes. Towards the start of the pandemic, passengers were not required to tap in (and therefore pay) for bus journeys in London; they were also only able to board buses via the middle or back doors – not the front – to help protect drivers.

    TfL now says ALL London buses are taking payments again and on most buses you'll need to board via the front doors again. It's also introduced limits on passenger numbers, to help with social distancing.

    Double-decker buses now have a maximum capacity of up to 30 passengers, while single-decker buses can carry 11-14 passengers depending on the bus's size. Drivers can choose to allow more passengers on if they're from the same households. 

    While you can now use public transport for non-essential journeys in England, you should first consider walking or cycling where feasible, and if catching a bus, for example, avoid the busiest times if you can. Remember, face coverings are now compulsory on public transport. 

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

    If your car isn't being used, 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.

    Lighter lockdown rules in some parts of the country mean maintaining cars is now easier for those able to leave home, but 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.

  9. NEW. Fix up your bike with a free £50 repair voucher

    On 28 July, bike owners in England were able to apply for the first batch 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, to help make older bikes rideable again. The aim is to encourage people to cycle rather than use public transport during the pandemic, particularly as more people start returning to work. 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.

  10. Photocard driving licence expiring? You’ll have an extra seven months to renew it

    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 has now said that if your licence expiry date is between 1 February and 31 August 2020, you'll automatically be given a seven-month extension. So for example, if your licence expires on 1 July, you'll actually have until 1 February 2021 to renew it.

    You don't need to do anything to get the extension, and you'll be sent a reminder to renew before the extension ends. During the extension, you can continue to drive with your old licence.

    The DVLA says the extension is to "help drivers to make necessary journeys without having to obtain a new photograph", and it should also ease pressure on the agency, which currently warns those applying to renew via its website that "it may take longer than three weeks for you to get your licence because of coronavirus".

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

    This extension only applies if it's just your photocard that is expiring. If your actual entitlement to drive is expiring (for example, if you're over 70 and need to renew your entitlement every three years) you'll still need to renew this as usual before you can drive with a valid licence.

  11. Driving lessons and tests in England have restarted

    Driving lessons and motorbike training were put on hold during the coronavirus pandemic, but they've been allowed to go ahead in England since 4 July – though if you want to practise privately, it should be with someone you live with or who's in your 'support bubble'. 

    Meanwhile, driving theory and practical driving tests have restarted in England, but are still suspended in Scotland and Wales. In Northern Ireland, tests for motorbike, lorry and bus drivers have resumed. Car driving and theory tests are still suspended (though critical workers can request a theory test).

Families, food shopping, return rights & more

Since 15 June, many non-essential shops have been allowed to reopen their doors. Here's what you need to know about how things are now operating when it comes to shopping, picking up groceries and looking after your household...

  1. Supermarkets are giving priority to the vulnerable, elderly and NHS workers, with restrictions in store and online

    Supermarkets have faced a surge in demand during lockdown, with many shoppers stocking up on essentials. This initially led to empty shelves and queues at some stores. While most supermarkets brought in maximum item limits per customer, many of these have now been removed or relaxed as stocks are replenished.

    It is now mandatory to wear face coverings in all supermarkets in England and Scotland.

    Most supermarkets have introduced priority shopping times or online delivery slots for the elderly and vulnerable as well as key workers, such as those in the NHS. Some have now scrapped dedicated slots but still allow priority entry ahead of queues. The exact way it works varies between supermarkets, so check. And if you are a key worker, don't forget your ID as you may be asked for it.

    It remains difficult to arrange online delivery, though slots are becoming more available. Some supermarkets are reserving their delivery slots for the elderly, vulnerable and those self-isolating. If you're vulnerable, and struggling to get a delivery slot, see How to access groceries if you're vulnerable and 'shielding' due to coronavirus.

    The information below shows the latest on what supermarkets are doing:

    • Please note: The info below was the latest we had as of 4pm on Friday 7 August. If you've spotted something else or something that's changed, please let us know at news@moneysavingexpert.com.

                                          Supermarket                                               Max no. of same item you can buy (in store & online) Priority shopping for elderly / vulnerable / NHS workers Still accepting online orders? Changes to opening times
      Aldi All restrictions have been lifted NHS, police, fire service & anyone entitled to Blue Light card get access 30 mins before stores open on Sun & priority ahead of queues into stores at all times. Elderly/vulnerable get access 30 mins before stores open Mon-Sat – browsing only in Eng & Wales, for shopping in Scot. Food parcels for vulnerable customers who can't get to stores. New cashless vouchers for volunteers buying food for others Doesn't do home delivery directly, with exception of new food parcels. New partnership with Deliveroo to offer 150 essentials, but only available in select locations in Eng for now
      Almost all stores 8am-10pm Mon-Sat. On Sun it's 10am-4pm (9am-6pm in Scot). Check your local store
      Asda All limits lifted online & in stores except on hand sanitiser & eggs NHS & care workers get priority in larger stores 8am-9am Mon, Wed & Fri. Also 9am-10am Sun for browsing only. New cashless Volunteer Shopping Card allows people to shop on behalf of elderly/vulnerable/self-isolators. £30 delivered food boxes for vulnerable/self-isolators Yes. Showing slots 14 days ahead, with some availability when we checked on Fri Many stores have now been extended to close at 11pm/midnight Mon-Sat, with some open 24 hrs. For Sun, check your local store
      Co-op 2 on selected items in store, eg, hand sanitiser & eggs Vulnerable customers, their carers & NHS workers get priority 8am-9am Mon-Sat, 10am-11am Sun, in all stores
      Yes, 30-item limit per shop. Also partnered with Deliveroo for fast delivery from local stores Most reduced to 7am-8pm (24hr stores with petrol stations close 11pm). Check your local store
      Iceland All limits lifted online & in stores Dedicated priority slots have been scrapped, but the elderly & vulnerable may be able to get priority entry at the discretion of store managers where there's sufficient local demand
      Yes, but prioritising elderly & vulnerable customers, or those self-isolating. It's contacting existing customers who are on the Govt's shielded list. Register at Gov.uk
      Most stores back to 9am-6pm (6pm-7pm for NHS etc) or longer. Sun hours as normal. Check your branch for details
      Lidl Limits have now been lifted on all items
      No special measures Doesn't do home delivery Most (but not all) stores are back to normal opening hours – check your branch for details
      M&S 2 on some homecare & baking items, eg, antibac gel, flour & eggs First hour of opening on Mon & Thu dedicated to vulnerable & older customers. On Tue & Fri this is dedicated to NHS, emergency, health & social care workers. Food boxes* for vulnerable customers who can't get to stores Has partnered with Deliveroo* to offer basics from local BP M&S stores. Now offers food boxes* for vulnerable customers Changes to some stores – check your branch for details
      Morrisons

      Most limits removed online

       

      NHS workers only can shop 6am-7am Mon-Sat & 9am-9.30am Sun. Telesales next-day delivery service launched allowing vulnerable & elderly customers to order by telephone & pay on card at point of delivery. Food boxes* for vulnerable customers who can't get to stores Yes, showing 3 days ahead. Some availability when we checked on Fri. Now partnered with Deliveroo* to offer essentials from 130 stores Most stores 7am-10pm Mon-Sat (6am-7am for NHS workers only) & 9.30am-4pm Sun (9am-9.30am NHS workers only, and from 7am in Scot) but check your local store
      Ocado (online        only) 1 or 2 on some 'essential' items. No longer delivering bottled water N/A Accepting new sign-ups again but newbies won't be able to place an order just yet. Priority access to vulnerable existing customers. Any remaining slots for following day released to other existing customers N/A
      Sainsbury's Limits on some in-demand products, eg, pain relief, cold/flu meds & face coverings 8am-9am Mon, Wed & Fri, priority given to elderly, vulnerable & carers (this remains the same even though some stores now open from 7am). Mon-Sat, NHS & social care workers get priority for 30 mins or 1 hour (either 7am-8am or 7.30am-8am) depending on store opening times, so check ahead
      Yes, but priority to very vulnerable customers as identified by Govt database. Register at Gov.uk 7am-10pm Mon-Sat. Convenience stores extended to close at 10pm or 11pm. Sun hours unchanged, except some stores in Scot. Check your local store
      Tesco 3 on face masks in store, all other limits removed. 3 on face masks, antibac, flour & eggs online.  Max 95-item total per customer At all stores excl Express, 9am-10am Wed & Sun (browsing only) are dedicated to the elderly & vulnerable. NHS workers get priority access ahead of queues at any time. Volunteer e-gift card lets vulnerable/self-isolators allow others to pay for their groceries contact-free Yes, but capped at 95 items. Showing 14 days ahead with fair availability when we checked on Fri Large 24hr stores closed between 10pm-6am, though some with pharmacies will stay open later. Check your local store
      Waitrose 2 or 3 on certain items, eg, toilet roll, UHT milk, antibac & some frozen foods First hour of opening across all stores for elderly & vulnerable & their carers. Priority entry & checkout service after first hour for NHS staff 25% off delivery slots reserved for elderly & vulnerable customers as identified by Govt database. Register at Gov.uk Most stores open as normal but some may close earlier – check with your local store
    • Major supermarkets have stepped up their social-distancing measures. Most have introduced 'safe distance' markers at checkouts – and in some cases throughout the whole store.

      Other measures include installing protective Perspex screens between cashier and customer, restricting the number of open checkouts to create more space between queues, and limiting the number of shoppers in store at any one time. 

      Here's a summary of what supermarkets told us they were doing as of 31 July:
       

      • Aldi – traffic light signage at entrances to control shopper numbers, two-metre markers at checkouts and throughout stores, protective screens, trolley/basket cleaning stations, limits on shopper numbers at busy times, optional face masks for all store staff.
      • Asda – protective screens at checkouts, counters (eg, rotisserie) closed, 'Scan&Go' app available to allow customers to scan shopping with their own devices, limits on shopper numbers at busy times, one adult per trolley to keep traffic down, 'virtual queuing' (log in to app remotely while waiting in car) but only being trialled in Middleton, near Leeds, currently.
      • Co-op – two-metre markers throughout stores, one-metre markers behind kiosks, limits on shopper numbers, reduced number of open checkouts, protective screens at tills.
      • Iceland  asking customers to observe social distancing, closing every other checkout, may limit shopper numbers at busy times.
      • Lidl – staff-monitored 'crowd control' systems, clear "cough and sneeze-proof" screens at checkouts, pre-bagging bakery items, protective visors for staff, trolley/basket cleaning stations.
      • Morrisons – separate queue for 'speedy shopping' customers (those using just a basket), three baskets allowed in for every one trolley, distance markers throughout store, protective screens at checkouts.
      • Sainsbury's – two-metre markers and protective screens at checkouts, limits on shopper numbers, 'virtual queuing' (log in to app remotely while waiting in car or nearby) but only being trialled in Uxbridge, Pimlico, Dome Roundabout in Watford, Leicester North and Newham Royal Wharf currently.
      • Tesco – on rainy or cold days, staff might ask you to wait in your car, rather than queuing outside, and will let you know when to enter. Distance markers at checkouts, protective screens, limits on customer numbers (varies by store), 'one in, one out' entry systems, floor markings in car parks for customers queuing to enter stores.
      • Waitrose – two-metre markers spaced throughout stores, protective screens, limits on customer numbers, fewer open checkouts, marshals throughout stores ensuring customers observe safe distancing.
    • In normal times, most (but not all) supermarkets offering delivery passes or 'savers' give a guarantee that customers who don't make back the value of their pass will be refunded or given vouchers.

      These terms remain the same or are more lenient during lockdown, so you shouldn't find yourself out of pocket if delivery slots have been a struggle to find.

      Here are your rights if you've a delivery pass/saver with any of the main supermarkets:

      Tesco Delivery Saver 

      On 2 April, Tesco emailed all Delivery Saver customers to confirm it's suspending subscription fees until further notice. It also refunded half of March's fee, which varies depending on your plan.

      As of 1 July, the service is back up and running for existing Delivery Saver customers. Tesco said it would notify customers before payments were due to start again. At the moment, the scheme isn't accepting new sign-ups.

      If you have Delivery Saver 'Guarantee eCoupons' that had been due to expire, don't worry. Tesco has extended the expiry dates by one year.

      Sainsbury's Delivery Pass

      A Sainsbury's spokesperson told us its usual Delivery Pass guarantee still stands. In other words, during your Delivery Pass membership the supermarket will add up the cost of the delivery slots you use. Just before the membership auto-renews or expires, it'll automatically check to see if you've saved – if not, you'll get an online grocery voucher for the difference.

      Morrisons Delivery Pass

      Morrisons' standard terms say Delivery Pass memberships can't be refunded, unless you change your mind within 14 days of signing up and haven't used it. Morrisons told us this is still the case, despite the current circumstances.

      Asda Delivery Pass

      Asda confirms that its usual Delivery Pass terms are still valid at this time. That means if your delivery slots cost less than the pass fee, it'll refund the difference. This is checked automatically at the end of your pass period, which is six or 12 months.

      Ocado

      Within its online coronavirus FAQs, Ocado says it's happy to refund your Smart Pass for March if you had no March deliveries, or if you pay more than £5.99/month for your Smart Pass and had only one March delivery. If you pay annually or biannually, it'll refund a pro-rated amount. Ocado also offers the option to donate your refund to one of its foodbank charity partners.

      To get your refund or make your donation you'll need to submit a request online. It could take up to 14 days to be processed.

  2. You must wear a face covering in shops in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland

    In England, face coverings must be worn in shops, supermarkets, takeaways and sandwich shops (unless you're eating in). The rule came in on 24 July and is enforceable by the police – anyone failing to wear one will be liable for a £100 fine. Children under 11 and people with certain disabilities are exempt.

    It's also mandatory to wear a face covering in shops in Scotland, though children under five, those with certain health conditions, drivers behind protective shields and certain others are exempt. It's now compulsory in Northern Ireland too, as of 10 August. It's not currently a legal requirement in Wales, but is being kept under review.

    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.

  3. Get 50% discounts on eating out in August

    The Government has now launched its 'Eat Out to Help Out' discount scheme. People across the UK can get 50% off meals out at participating cafés, pubs and restaurants, such as Nando's. Though takeaways, alcoholic drinks and service charges are not included.

    The discount is valid on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays throughout August and can be used as many times as you want, but the maximum you'll get taken off your bill will be capped at £10 per person, per meal.

  4. Free food-parcel deliveries now stopped – but we've help towards getting your supermarket shop

    At the start of lockdown, some 2.5 million people were told by the NHS to stay at home because they were 'clinically vulnerable' and so more at risk from coronavirus. These included those living with severe respiratory conditions such as cystic fibrosis, or certain types of cancer. 

    These 'high-risk' people were able to access free deliveries of food parcels. However, these stopped on 1 August, after which the clinically vulnerable are being told they no longer need to shield.

    But if you need further help with your weekly shop, including how to order groceries via Deliveroo, see our blog How to access groceries if you're vulnerable.

  5. 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.

    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.

  6. Child get free school meals? You could get food parcels or supermarket vouchers while schools are closed – including in the summer holidays

    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.

    Support should also now be available across the UK during the school summer holidays (see our MSE News story for more). In England, this will be given as a £90 voucher to cover the six-week break (if your child's school holidays last seven weeks rather than six, you could have this boosted to £105). 

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

    • 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, 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 – they're currently available for Aldi, Asda, M&S Morrisons, Sainsbury's, Tesco and 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.


    • Children who usually qualify for free school meals should continue to get them while schools are closed.

      It's up to schools and councils to make their own plans to provide free school meals or alternatives during lockdown – for example, Aberdeen City Council is offering supermarket vouchers worth £25 for each 10-day period, while Clackmannanshire Council is providing 'grab bag' lunches.

      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. These were scheduled to end on 30 June, but it's been announced that the payments will continue over the summer holidays.

      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.

  7. Government to give disadvantaged schoolchildren free broadband

    On 19 April, the Government announced plans to introduce free 4G broadband devices, as well as laptops and tablets, to help disadvantaged children across the country while schools are closed. Local authorities and academy trusts are in the process of applying for these on behalf of schools.

    The free routers are aimed specifically at disadvantaged year 10 pupils, children aged 11-19 who have a social worker, and care leavers (those who have been in care at some point) living in a household without access to broadband. 

    The laptops or tablets will be given to children within the same groups, including those aged under 11 who have a social worker, if they don't already have access to a device. Schools and colleges will get to keep the devices once they reopen.

    Local authorities, trusts and other organisations overseeing schools have received guidance on ordering the tech. It won't be possible for parents, students or teachers to make the order themselves, but they'll be required to work with the organisations to assess which pupils need the devices.

    The first of these orders were delivered in June. Organisations can arrange for them to be collected by families from school or delivered directly to homes.

  8. Need to return something bought before lockdown? Do it ASAP

    Many retailers extended their refund policies so you wouldn't miss out by not being able to return items while shops were closed during lockdown. However, the final few extensions are going to end soon. 

    For example, with Argos, you've until this Saturday (15 August) to return items bought in store or online between 1 March and 15 July. Some John Lewis stores in Scotland and Wales may accept returns for items bought in store until about Thursday 20 August (the deadline's 35 days after the specific store reopens) while Next is still accepting returns for items bought after 16 February and hasn't said when this will end. We've a retailer-by-retailer list of some of the biggest chains below.

    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. 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, if different? How long do you normally have to return goods? How long do you currently have, if different?
    Argos 30 days Until 15 Aug for items bought 1 Mar - 15 Jul 30 days Until 15 Aug for items bought 1 Feb - 15 Jul
    Debenhams 28 days Normal returns policy now applies 28 days Normal returns policy now applies
    Dunelm 28 days
    In Wales, until 17 Aug to return items bought from 1 Mar. In Eng, Scot & NI, normal policy now applies You must tell it you want to return within 14 days of receipt, then return items within 14 days after that

    In Wales, until 17 Aug. In Eng, Scot & NI, normal policy applies

    Halfords 30 days 90 days 30 days 90 days
    H&M 28 days Normal returns policy now applies

    28 days 100 days for items bought 1 Mar - 7 Jun
    John Lewis 35 days 35 days from when a specific store reopens, for items bought from 18 Feb. (This is likely to be about 20 Aug for Scot & Wales. In most Eng stores, normal policy now applies) 35 days 35 days
    M&S 35 days Normal returns policy now applies 35 days Normal returns policy now applies

    New Look 28 days Normal returns policy now applies

    28 days 90 days for items ordered 16 Mar - 1 Jun
    Next 28 days Still accepting returns for items bought after 16 Feb – hasn't confirmed when this will end. We'll update when we know more Must say you want to return within 14 days of receipt, then return items within 14 days after that No change
    Primark 28 days Normal returns policy now applies N/A N/A
    Topshop 28 days Normal returns policy now applies Must say you want to return within 14 days of receipt, then return items within 14 days after that 45 days
  9. 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.

  10. Non-essential shops can reopen – what you need to know

    Shops selling 'non-essential' goods can now reopen their doors across the UK, including M&S, Primark and Topshop. Some other businesses remain closed – see the Government's full list.

    If you're heading for the high street, there are a few new rules to bear in mind. Retailers need to observe Government safety advice. This includes limiting customer numbers (which can mean queues), closing fitting rooms and installing protective Perspex screens between cashiers and customers.

    Reopening dates vary by branch, so do check your local store's open before heading out for something specific.

     

    Retailer

    When are stores reopening? What to bear in mind
    Apple Store All stores now open across the UK
    Staff will do a no-touch temperature check on arrival
    Argos It's reopened "a number" of stores across the UK – use its store locator to check yours It recommends ordering online for collection, to minimise the amount of time spent in store
    Debenhams All stores now open across the UK
    Hand sanitiser will be available, and disabled and baby change toilets will still be open
    Dunelm All stores now open across the UK
    If you don't fancy popping in, you can tell staff outside what you want & they'll bring it to you. Hand sanitiser will be available
    H&M All stores now open across the UK
    Only a limited number of tills will accept cash
    John Lewis It's now reopened 43 of 50 shops. See list of stores Hand sanitiser will be provided & number of entrances limited. No changing rooms, personal styling or beauty appointments
    M&S All stores now open across the UK
    Cafés are closed, but some do takeaway coffees. No bra fitting
    New Look It's reopened most stores across the UK – check the list It asks customers to pay by card if possible. Lifts will be limited to one person (or household group) at a time. Hand sanitiser will be provided
    Next It's reopened 485 of 500 branches. See list of opening dates You will only be able to pay by card. Hand sanitiser will be available
    Primark All stores now open across the UK
    Toilets will be closed & payment by card is preferred. Hand sanitiser will be available
  11. Free tool to measure kids' feet for new shoes

    With children growing at the rate they do, you may need to order 'em new shoes during lockdown. But how do you know you're buying the right size if you can't visit a shoe shop to get their feet measured?

    Helpfully, if you've a printer, you can download free cut-out shoe size gauges such as this one from Start-Rite (just be sure for accuracy the document's set up to print at 100% size). Alternatively, take careful foot length and width measurements (see 'how to' below), then refer to the site you're buying from to see if it has its own size guide online. If not, convert your measurements using the standard sizing guide below.

    • 1. Get them to stand up straight (assuming they can), wearing the type of socks/tights they'll wear with their shoes. Use a tape measure or ruler to take the distance from back of heel to tip of their longest toe. Repeat for the other foot and record the longer of the two measurements – it's normal for kids, and grown-ups for that matter, to have two slightly different-sized feet.

      2. Check the conversion chart below to see what shoe size your measurement relates to, rounding up if it falls between sizes. It's wise to add about 1.5cm extra space for wriggle room and growth. If you think they're growing especially fast, consider choosing one half-size bigger than you need.

      3. If your child needs a width other than the industry standard 'F' (which fits the majority of children), choose 'D-E' for narrow, 'G' for wide or 'H' for extra-wide feet. This doesn't need measuring each time – once wide-footed you're generally always wide-footed, so go with the width of previous shoes they've been measured for.

    • Standard UK children's shoe sizes vs foot length (cm)

      Shoe size 2 2.5 3 3.5 4 4.5 5 5.5 6 6.5 7 7.5 8 8.5 9 9.5 10 10.5 11 11.5 12 12.5 13
      Foot length (cm) 10.5 10.8 11.4 11.7 12.1 12.7 13 13.3 14 14.3 14.6 15.2 15.6 15.9 16.5 16.8 17.1 17.8 18.1 18.4 19.1 19.4 19.7

      Standard UK children's shoes width guide

      Width code D-E F G H
      Description Narrow Standard Wide Extra wide
  12. 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

Staying indoors doesn't have to mean feeling bored. The MSE team's rounding up lots of free and cheap ways to have fun, get your exercise and even learn new skills while following social-distancing rules or self-isolating at home. Here are some of our best tips so far...

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

    While gyms in England have been able to reopen since 25 July, not all have. So if you can't go back or aren't ready to, you can 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 stuck at home. See How to keep fit for free while staying at home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    As the country is spending more time indoors, games consoles are selling fast (and sometimes selling out), and in any case they tend to cost £100s and the games themselves ain't cheap.

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

  6. Free virtual globe-trotting, tours and experiences

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

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

  7. Learn something new at home

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

    MSE Laura B has picked some of her favourites – including language courses, hair and beauty tutorials and Open University qualifications. See 10+ FREE ways to learn something new at home.

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

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

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

NHS staff freebies & discounts

While everyone in the country's doing their bit, it's our NHS staff, emergency services and healthcare workers who are on the frontline dealing with the spread of Covid-19. MSE Rhiannon's compiled a list of big chains that are now offering freebies and discounts to help NHS staff (and there are a few that other workers can get too).

Freebies include 10% off at Morrisons stores and free parking at NCP car parks. Plus you can get 20% off WHSmith outlets in hospitals, and a free premium subscription to mindfulness and meditation app Headspace to help reduce stress.

Help for 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 has already identified thousands of reports of fraud relating to coronavirus since February, 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.

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.