MSE News

Coronavirus Life-in-Lockdown Help

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

Coronavirus Life-in-Lockdown Help

Restrictions are beginning to be eased, but lockdown has fundamentally changed the way we live. It remains an anxious and upsetting time, and while the primary concern is health, 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 new lockdown rules?

Here's a summary of what it means to be under lockdown in the UK:

Lockdown's starting to be lifted – the new rules 

Lockdown restrictions across the UK are in the process of being eased, though different measures apply in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and social-distancing measures still apply everywhere.

In England, you can now go out for the following reasons (for full details see the Government's lockdown FAQ pages):

  • To shop for essential items. For example, food or medicine. 
  • To do exercise or sport. You can go outside for exercise more than once a day. You're allowed to drive somewhere to exercise, and use outdoor sports facilities, such as a tennis court or golf course – with members of your household, or one other person as long as you stay two metres apart.
  • To spend time outdoors. For example, sit in a park, have a picnic or sunbathe.
  • For any medical need. This includes collecting prescriptions, or to help a vulnerable person.
  • To travel to and from work. If you can't work from home, and your workplace is open, the Government is encouraging you to go to work. Public transport should still be avoided where possible.

From Monday 1 June you'll be able to meet in a group of up to six people from different households, in a park or your own garden. Outdoor markets and car showrooms will also be allowed to reopen.

All other non-essential retailers – such as shops selling clothes, books or furniture – are expected to be allowed to reopen on Monday 15 June.

You're encouraged to wear a "face covering" in enclosed public areas where it's harder to follow social-distancing rules, eg, in some shops, or if you need to use public transport. Police have the power to enforce lockdown rules, including through fines and dispersing gatherings.

Each part of the UK is following its own timetable for easing lockdown measures, and restrictions vary in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

For example, Scotland started easing its lockdown measures on Friday 29 May. People can now sunbathe and do some outdoor activities such as golf or fishing, while garden centres and drive-through takeaways can also reopen. Two separate households (up to eight people) can meet outdoors, in a park or garden, while observing social-distancing rules.

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 have been banned, 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 has been cancelled.

    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. Weddings have been stopped and insurers are no longer selling cover – if you've a wedding booked, check your cancellation rights

    Weddings have been stopped as part of the Government's restrictions, but it says it intends to allow "small" wedding ceremonies from Monday 1 June (though exact details are sketchy). Weddings booked for later this year could still be affected if the coronavirus outbreak continues or the ban on public gatherings is extended.

    Debenhams and Wedding Plan Insurance have said that weddings WON'T be covered for cancellation if the wedding or reception venue is closed by the council due to Government restrictions.

    However, John Lewis has confirmed that its wedding insurance customers WILL be covered for cancellation if their wedding venue can't hold the wedding due to the current Government restrictions. So there should be cover for weddings scheduled at least until 1 June (subject to the policyholder minimising their costs, for example checking if any elements of the wedding are refundable) – and possibly after this, if the restrictions are extended.

    For weddings further ahead, whether you'd be covered would depend on the circumstances (assuming the blanket wedding ban was lifted but coronavirus continued to cause some disruption). Check with your insurer directly, but as a general rule you're likely to be covered if the venue cancels due to coronavirus, or if a member of the wedding party or close relative falls ill with coronavirus – but not if they're simply self-isolating, or if guests can't attend due to travel restrictions.

    In all cases, you should contact your insurer before making any decisions or cancellations – and stay in touch with any wedding suppliers to see what they can offer you.

    It's also worth noting that several leading providers, including the three above, have stopped selling wedding insurance due to coronavirus. So unfortunately if you've not yet bought cover for your wedding, you're unlikely to be able to do so now.

    If this is the case with you, and you don't have a policy in place, or you find that your wedding insurance doesn't cover you, the first thing to do is to check whether any of the elements of the wedding are refundable.

    Sadly, if you're not covered by insurance and you won't get a refund if you cancel, you may have to make some tough decisions – depending on how far ahead your wedding is and how much money you've already paid towards it.

    Competition watchdog launches probe into coronavirus refunds

    On 30 April, the Competition and Markets Authority launched an investigation into firms that fail to give customers proper refunds for coronavirus-related cancellations, and will be partly focusing on wedding providers.

    It's also said it would usually expect customers to be given a full refund if restrictions mean a service can't be provided or accessed, or if a firm cancels without providing the goods or service – so you could use this to argue for a refund if the provider refuses.

  3. Most gyms and cinemas are automatically pausing memberships and freezing payments until they reopen

    During lockdown, you may have found you no longer need or want goods and services you've subscribed to and are paying for – eg, membership to a gym or cinema that's now indefinitely closed.

    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.

    A few of the big gym chains have confirmed any days already paid for in March that could not be used due to closure will be refunded or put towards future payments once they open up again, but others haven't confirmed this either way.

    It's a good idea to contact your gym directly for confirmation of what's happening, particularly if you've not heard from them and can't find their information below (we'll update this with more info as we get it):

    Gym Will my membership automatically be paused? Will my payments automatically be frozen? Will any days I paid for but couldn't use be refunded?
    Anytime Fitness TBC TBC TBC
    Bannatyne's Yes Yes Yes, when gyms reopen
    Better Gyms Yes Yes TBC
    David Lloyd Yes Yes TBC
    DW Fitness First Yes Yes TBC
    The Gym TBC Yes Yes, when gyms reopen
    Nuffield Health Yes Yes TBC
    Pure Gym Yes Yes Yes, when gyms reopen
    Virgin Active Yes Yes Yes, when gyms reopen

    Some of the cinema chains have membership schemes where you pay an annual or monthly fee for unlimited cinema trips. Here's a summary of the information we've been able to gather so far:

    Cinema scheme What will happen with my membership?
    Cineworld Unlimited

    Automatically paused and payments frozen until cinemas reopen, likely in July. We've asked Cineworld for a specific date and will update here when we hear back.

    Odeon Limitless Automatically paused and payments frozen until cinemas reopen

Motoring & transport, incl MOTs & train tickets

One of the most obvious effects of the UK lockdown is a huge drop in the number of vehicles on the road, and train companies are generally operating a much-reduced service for the few who still need to get about. Below are the need-to-knows on train ticket refunds, what happens if you can't MOT your car and more.

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

    On 23 March, the Government temporarily took over rail operators. Services have been cut – and now you can get a refund for nearly all types of train tickets, in many cases without paying any admin fee (it's usually £10 to amend a ticket):

    • 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 that is claiming not 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 make an essential journey 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.

    Claim a backdated refund on season tickets

    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.

    As above, you can backdate a season ticket refund for up to 56 days OR whenever it was last used (if that is more recent). So on 18 May you could have claimed as far back as 24 March, on 19 May to 25 March, and so on.

  2. 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 in the current lockdown situation. 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 normal travel advice resumes as railcards can be used for at least 12 months.

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

    On 18 May, east coast train operator London North Eastern Railway (LNER) introduced mandatory seat reservations for all passengers. The new 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. 

    It's worth noting that you won't be given a specific seat number. Reserving a place on the train is simply a measure to limit the number of people on board – you'll be able to choose your own seat, but you'll need to follow LNER's social-distancing guidelines to ensure you stay two metres apart from other passengers.

    Other train companies, including Avanti West Coast and Chiltern Railways, are encouraging passengers to reserve tickets, but haven't made it compulsory. They're also advising passengers to wear face coverings when they travel.

    Bear in mind that while trains are still running at the moment, you should only be making train journeys where 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.

  4. All National Express and many Megabus coach services are being suspended – but the Govt's giving cash to help local bus routes

    On 5 April, travel company National Express fully suspended its coach services, while Megabus has suspended all England and Wales coach services, though those in Scotland will continue to run.

    If you've a trip booked, here's what you can do:

    • If you've a journey booked with National Express, you can request a full refund via this online form. Alternatively, you can choose to hold the ticket and amend the date to some point in the next 12 months, free of charge and regardless of the terms and conditions. If you choose to do this, National Express says you don't need to get in touch with it until you're ready to rebook. 

    • If you've a journey booked with Megabus within England or Wales, you're due an automatic refund and an email confirming it. Rescheduling is not an option. If you've not received your refund, you should contact Megabus customer services on enquiries@megabus.com.

    Key local bus routes in England are to get emergency funding

    The Government's agreed to provide £167 million in funding between April and June to keep many local bus routes in England operating. 

    The Covid-19 Bus Services Support grant is provided on the condition that bus firms maintain necessary services at a level that allows for much reduced demand but still ensures adequate space between passengers on board. This is expected to mean services run at up to 50% of normal frequency.

    The operators will also have to keep passengers properly informed about revised timetables to ensure that people know which services are running and when. Though do remember, services are being kept running to help those who NEED to travel, for example to get to work or buy food.

  5. Can't get an MOT? You'll get a six-month extension

    Drivers with an MOT due from 30 March have been granted a six-month extension because of the coronavirus pandemic.

    You must have a valid MOT certificate, which proves a vehicle's safety and roadworthiness have been tested, to drive a car, motorcycle or van legally. But there are fears that those drivers with MOTs due could find it hard to get their vehicles tested to keep them on the road, due to the current lockdown.

    So if the expiry date on your car, motorcycle or van's MOT is on or after 30 March, you DON'T have to get it tested by then.

    Instead you'll automatically get a six-month extension to your current MOT – so for example, if your vehicle's MOT expired on 2 April, it will now run out on 2 October 2020. You must still keep your car in a roadworthy condition though and garages will remain open for those needing repairs.

    See our Cheap MOTs guide for full help.

    • 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 because you were self-isolating – or if you are unable to get it tested for another reason linked to coronavirus – then 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.

  6. Many private parking ticket appeals have been put on hold

    The appeals process for many private parking tickets is now on hold as a result of the coronavirus crisis. Though you still need to register any new appeals within 28 days of your initial challenge being rejected.

    This may be good news if you recently launched an appeal – as it buys you extra time to gather evidence (eg, photos of car park signage), which could be made trickier by the lockdown. But it's likely to cause frustration if you already have everything you need and just want to get it sorted.

    Normally, 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 the website of independent adjudicator Popla.

    Remember, you must still do this within 28 days. However, all appeals received by Popla after 6 April are being paused – and at the moment there is no date for when it will start things up again.

    So while you can, and must, still lodge your appeal, it won't go any further for the time being as everything after that point is at a standstill.

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

  7. TfL begins charging again for some London bus journeys

    Since Monday 20 April, passengers haven't been required to tap in, and therefore pay, for their bus journeys in London. They had been only able to board buses via the middle or back doors – not the front – to help protect bus drivers during the coronavirus crisis.

    However, Transport for London has always been clear that this was a temporary measure introduced because of logistics, and as of Saturday 23 May, passengers need to tap in on 85 routes, served by single-door and New Routemaster buses - this is rising to 124 routes from Saturday 30 May. 

    While passengers still won't need to tap in on other routes, payments are being gradually reintroduced on all buses once further safety measures have been brought in to protect drivers. TfL says it expects all buses to use front-door boarding again by mid-June. 

    Remember that buses should only be used if essential.

  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 info, plus more help on looking after your car in lockdown, see MSE Kelvin's Lockdown Motoring Tips blog.

  9. Government set to provide £50 bicycle repair vouchers

    About half a million people will soon be given £50 bicycle maintenance vouchers, allowing them to make old bikes rideable again, the Government has announced. 

    The scheme was first mooted in early May and the Government confirmed it at its daily press conference on Saturday 23 May.

    It's not yet clear how the scheme will work or who will be eligible, though we'll update here when we have more info.

Families, food shopping, return rights & more

While the majority of high street shops have pulled the shutters down, the supermarkets and other stores that sell goods deemed 'essential' by the Government are allowed to remain open. Here's what you need to know about how things are now operating when it comes to shopping for 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, with many shoppers stocking up on essentials. This initially led to empty shelves and queues at some supermarkets, with products such as toilet rolls and tinned goods increasingly hard to get and some online delivery slots selling out weeks ahead. While most supermarkets implemented maximum item limits per customer to address the shortages, many of these have now been removed or relaxed as stocks are replenished.

    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. 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 as available slots are rare. Some supermarkets are reserving their delivery slots for the elderly, vulnerable and those self-isolating.

    The table below shows the latest on what supermarkets are doing. Note – this is changing rapidly. The info below was the latest we had as of 2.55pm on Friday 29 May. If you've spotted something else or something that's changed, please let us know at news@moneysavingexpert.com.

    We're currently trying to find out when new grocery delivery slots are released at each of the supermarkets. What time of day have you noticed slots being released? 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 Scotland. Food boxes 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 East Midlands 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, but no availability when we checked on Friday Many stores have now been extended to close at 11pm/midnight Mon-Sat. 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, 25-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 2 on most products online, 1 on some. Caps on some household, health & baby products in store Elderly & vulnerable get priority in first hour of trading at the discretion of store managers where there's sufficient local demand. NHS staff & social care workers get priority in last hour, Mon-Sat 
    Only for 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 reduced to 9am-5pm (5pm-6pm for NHS etc). Sunday 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

    2 on some items (eg, toilet roll, hand sanitiser & rice). 5 on every item 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 but expect queues online. Has also 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 Scotland) but check your local store
    Ocado (online        only) 1 or 2 on some 'essential' items. No longer delivering bottled water N/A Not accepting new sign-ups. 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, pasta, UHT milk & tinned tomatoes 8am-9am Mon, Wed & Fri dedicated to elderly, vulnerable & carers. 7.30am-8am Mon-Sat dedicated to NHS & social care workers
    Yes, but priority to very vulnerable customers as identified by Govt database. Register at Gov.uk 8am-10pm Mon-Sat (from 7.30am for NHS & social care workers only). Convenience stores extended to close at 10pm or 11pm. Sun hours unchanged, except some stores in Scotland. Check your local store
    Tesco Most restrictions lifted but some may remain, varying from store to store, depending on availability.  Max 80-item total per customer At all stores excl Express, 9am-10am Mon, Wed & Fri is dedicated to the elderly & vulnerable. 9am-10am Tue & Thu is for NHS workers (plus 1hr browsing before checkouts open on Sun). New volunteer e-gift card lets vulnerable/self-isolators allow others to pay for their groceries contact-free Yes, but capped at 80 items. Showing 14 days ahead, but limited availability when we checked on Friday 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 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 are stepping 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 26 May:
       

      • Aldi – New traffic light signage at entrances to control numbers of shoppers inside, 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, limits on shopper numbers at busy time, one adult per trolley to keep traffic down.
      • 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.
      • Morrisons – distance markers throughout store, protective screens at checkouts.
      • Sainsbury's – two-metre markers and protective screens at checkouts, limits on shopper numbers.
      • Tesco – distance markers at checkouts, protective screens, limits on customer numbers, one-way aisles, 'one-in, one-out' entry system, 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' guarantee in their terms 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 what plan you took out. If you're on a six-month plan you should have been refunded 1/6 of what you paid at the start; for 12-month plans, the refund is 1/12.

      Tesco says it'll notify customers once payments are due to start back up again.

      If you have Delivery Saver 'Guarantee eCoupons' due to expire soon, don't worry. Tesco is extending 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 it'll 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. Been told to stay at home to 'shield'? You could get FREE parcels of groceries and other essentials delivered

    Some 1.5 million people have been told by the NHS to stay at home until at least the end of June 2020 because they are 'clinically vulnerable' – for example, because they are living with severe respiratory conditions such as cystic fibrosis, or certain types of cancer – and so are more at risk from coronavirus.

    If you are categorised as vulnerable, you will get a letter from your GP with guidance on how to shield yourself from coronavirus. Though if you think you are part of this group but don't hear anything, you can contact your GP directly.

    The Government says it expects many people will have networks of family and friends nearby who can help them get the supplies they need – but if you're struggling, you can register for completely free regular deliveries of essentials. You can do this online or by phone – you'll find contact details on your GP's letter.   

    The parcels include basic supplies such as pasta, cornflakes, tea bags, tinned fruit, apples, loo roll and biscuits. If you receive one it'll be left on your doorstep (your local authority should be able to bring it inside if you need help). You can also get help with basic care needs, as well as any medicines you need delivered by community pharmacies. 

    We've asked what evidence, if any, you'll need to provide to prove that you need these parcels, and will update this guide when we hear back. 

    For more tips, including how to order groceries via Deliveroo, see How to access groceries if you're vulnerable and 'shielding' due to coronavirus.

  3. 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.

  4. 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 are closed during the pandemic.

    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, 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. 
    • In Scotland, 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.

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

      It's working to develop a national voucher scheme – but in the interim, 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. 

    • In Northern Ireland, 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 until 30 June 2020 or until your child's school reopens. 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.
  5. 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 Government says orders will be delivered in May and June. Organisations can arrange for them to be collected by families from school or delivered directly to homes.

  6. Shops are extending their return rights policies

    With all shops selling non-essential goods now ordered to close their doors, a number of major retailers have said they'll extend their returns policies during the outbreak.

    For example, H&M has extended its returns policy from 28 days to 100 days for in-store and online purchases, while New Look has extended its returns period to 90 days.

    Meanwhile, TK Maxx says if a customer is unable to return an item within the usual 28-day window due to store closures, it will accept returns for 30 days from when its stores reopen. John Lewis says if you made a purchase on or after 18 February, it will accept returns for 35 days from when its stores reopen.

    If you're unable to return an item in time because you're self-isolating or the store in question has closed its branches, it's worth getting in touch with it 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.

  7. 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 in the pipeline anyway, but it's been 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.

  8. 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
  9. 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

We've been told to stay indoors for much of the day, but that 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. Lots of normally paid-for things are now FREE

    To help the millions of people having to stay at home, one of the uplifting aspects of the current crisis is a number of companies have made stuff free that you normally pay for, for children and grown-ups.

    We've rounded up some of the best freebies we've seen, including a coding programme for teenagers, box sets, kids' audiobooks, online fitness programmes, guitar lessons, home-schooling resources, wellbeing apps and more.

    See MSE Sarah's Paid-for things they've made FREE blog.

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

    Gyms are closed across the country, but that doesn't mean we can't stay fit. 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.

  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, including a seven-day trial of the new Disney+ streaming service*. It offers classics such as The Lion KingSnow White and Frozen, plus every Pixar film, including Toy Story 4 and Finding Nemo. It also has the entire back catalogue of Star Wars, as well as Marvel films such as Avengers: Endgame.

  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

    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.

  7. Free virtual globe-trotting, tours and experiences

    We may be stuck indoors, 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. While we aren't able to travel the globe physically at the moment, there are ways to do it virtually – and for free. 

    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.

  10. Watch Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals for free

    If you're missing nights out at the theatre, composer Andrew Lloyd Webber has been putting recordings of some of his biggest West End musicals – including Cats and Phantom of the Opera – on a new YouTube channel for anyone to watch for free.

    A different show is released at 7pm each Friday, but is only available to watch for 24 or 48 hours (so you can catch up over the weekend). Keep an eye on the channel for announcements about future shows.

    Previously there's been Joseph & The Amazing Technicolor DreamcoatJesus Christ SuperstarPhantom of the Opera, Love Never Dies, By Jeeves and Cats. 

  11. Watch National Theatre performances free

    Similar to the Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals above, the National Theatre is releasing full-length plays on YouTube every Thursday, available to watch for seven days.

    Currently you can watch A Streetcar Named Desire, starring Gillian AndersonSee the National Theatre website for full details and announcements about future shows.

    Our Cheap Theatre Tickets guide has more ways to watch online for free, including Broadway shows such as Kinky Boots, and performances from London's Hampstead Theatre.

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 hideous situation, but it could at least be a minor 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 over 1,200 reports of fraud relating to coronavirus since February, with victims' losses totalling more than £2.7 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 19+ 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.