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Citizens Advice: What are your rights as consumers and employees in the light of the coronavirus pandemic?

16 March 2020

Citizens Advice has issued the following information to help answer common questions about people's consumer and employment rights.

The information covers flights, accommodation, events, scams, sick pay and people's rights if schools close.

Flights:

In the first instance you should check the terms and conditions of your booking or travel insurance to see if your situation is covered.

Airlines and organisers may offer other adjustments but your legal entitlements are:

If you have a package holiday booked and part or all of it is cancelled by the organiser/airline:

  • You are entitled to a refund to be provided within 14 days. Some organisers are offering alternative holidays or allowing consumers to reschedule but this is not a legal remedy

If you booked flights only and they are cancelled by the airline:

  • Flights that depart from the United Kingdom, European Union, Iceland, Norway or Switzerland OR flights that arrive in these countries if you are flying on a UK/EU airline - You should be offered a choice from three alternatives:
    • Refund
    • Replacement flight
    • Re booking for a similar flight at the passenger's convenience if available
  • Non-EU flights - You will need to check the terms and conditions for the airline

If the Foreign and Commonwealth Office issues travel advice advising against all but essential travel:

  • Anyone travelling to a country or region against government advice risks invalidating their travel insurance
  • In this instance if the airline or travel agent cancels your trip they should, in most cases, offer a refund or replacement. Check what your terms and conditions say.
  • If the airline or travel provider does not cancel your trip, you may be covered by your travel insurance.

If there isn't any FCO guidance and you decide to cancel your trip:

  • If you have booked flights only, you should check with their provider what is being offered but there is no legal requirement for airlines to give a refund
  • If you have booked a package deal, you have the right to cancel the package at any time before the package starts, however, the organiser can charge an appropriate and justifiable fee which should be outlined in the terms and conditions.

Consumers are unlikely to be able to claim compensation for inconvenience or loss of enjoyment as the issue is due to circumstances beyond the control of the airline or holiday provider.

Accommodation:

This will depend on what your terms and conditions are.

  • If you booked a non-refundable room and choose to cancel your booking because you are worried, you are unlikely to be entitled to a refund from either the provider or your travel insurance
  • But if the FCO advises against all but essential travel to the location where your hotel is then you need to check your travel insurance and the terms and conditions of your accommodation
  • If you have booked a refundable room and cancel according to the terms and conditions then you should get a refund from the provider
  • If it is part of a package then you would need to check with the organiser

Event cancellation/ postponement:

  • Ticket holders who change their mind about going to see a concert or event that is still going ahead have no legal right to a refund
  • If, however, you bought your ticket from an official seller and the organiser cancels, moves, reschedules, or makes the event behind closed doors, you should get a refund. The official seller is the best person to ask about how to get a refund
  • If you bought your ticket from a ticket-reselling website, refunds will depend on the site's terms and conditions
  • If you bought from a private seller and the event is cancelled or rescheduled then it is unlikely you will be able to recover your money. We recommend you contact the seller
  • If you're due to go to an event, keep checking the information from the official seller or organiser to ensure you're up to date

Scams:

Unfortunately we've found that in these situations scammers prey on those who are affected. If you're contacted by someone offering to act for you to recover your money make sure that you're looking out for the signs of a potential scam.

If you think you have been scammed, you need to take steps to protect yourself. These could include calling the police if you feel threatened and contacting your bank to let it know what has happened. For more information see what to do if you think you've been scammed.

Sick pay

If you need to self-isolate:

  • The government announced in its Budget that those who are eligible for statutory sick pay would receive this for self-isolating, as well as for those who are unwell
  • It's worth checking your contract - your employer might have its own sickness policy so you might get your usual pay when you're off sick
  • If you're unsure if you're eligible for statutory sick pay, you can check with Citizens Advice

If you are self-employed:

  • You are not eligible for statutory sick pay if you are self-employed
  • If you have to take time off work and you don't get paid while you're off, you might be entitled to claim benefits. If you're already claiming benefits, you might get more money
  • If you already get benefits like Tax Credits or Housing Benefit, tell the office paying you that you can't work because you're sick. You might be entitled to more money while you're off work
  • If you're not claiming any benefits you might be entitled to claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) or Universal Credit to top up your income.

Your rights if you want to work from home:

  • If your employer requires you to be at work, you don't have a right to work from home just because you're worried about catching Coronavirus, for example if you have to travel to work on public transport. However, you may be able to negotiate arrangements directly if you have concerns about coming into the office.
  • If you have a pre-existing condition which would make you very vulnerable to Coronavirus such as an auto-immune illness, it might be more important for you to work from home. If your illness means that you're a disabled person your employer would be required to consider this as a 'reasonable adjustment' under the Equality Act 2010.

Can you be let go from your job because of coronavirus?

There could be situations where you are let go from your job because of a business going into administration or having to downsize, which would create a redundancy situation. Even if it's a genuine redundancy and you've received a redundancy payment, it may also be an unfair dismissal in some circumstances and you should get advice about it.

If you're let go because of something related to coronavirus, such as time off work, you need to get legal advice as soon as possible about whether this was fair or unfair, because you only have three months to take action after your employment ends.

  • Employees with over two years service have the right to claim unfair dismissal, and it will then be for a tribunal to decide whether it was reasonable to dismiss you
  • If you are a casual or zero hours worker and not an employee, or you are an employee with less than two years service, you can't claim unfair dismissal but you should get legal advice anyway

In either case, even if it was completely unreasonable to terminate your employment, and it means you can claim unfair dismissal, there's no legal mechanism for stopping an employer from sacking you.

What if my child's school is closed?

  • If you are an employee you have a right, by law, to take a type of leave called 'time off for dependents'
  • This a right to take 'reasonable' time off to take care of an emergency relating to a child or other dependent, including school closures
  • It's important to note that what counts as 'reasonable' depends on the circumstances - it is a grey area in law as to what might be deemed 'reasonable' in regards to coronavirus
  • The statutory right is to unpaid time off. Your contract may include a term, or your employer might have a policy that gives you paid time off in an emergency, so you should check these.
  • Your employer may pay you for a short period of time off, even if it's not a contractual right
  • Alternatively, you could see if you are able to work from home, change your shift pattern, or take annual leave

Notes to editors

  1. Citizens Advice includes the national charity; the network of independent local Citizens Advice charities across England and Wales; the Citizens Advice consumer service; and the Witness Service.
  2. Citizens Advice is the statutory consumer advocate for energy and post. We provide supplier performance information to consumers and policy analysis to decision makers.
  3. The Citizens Advice Witness Service provides free, independent support for prosecution and defence witnesses in every criminal court in England and Wales.
  4. Citizens Advice offers Pension Wise services at 500 locations in England and Wales.
  5. Citizens Advice’s services are free, independent, confidential and impartial, and available to all regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality.
  6. To get advice online or find your local Citizens Advice, visit citizensadvice.org.uk
  7. For consumer advice, call the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 or 03454 04 05 05 to talk in Welsh.
  8. We helped 2.6 million people face to face, by phone, email and webchat in 2017-18. For service statistics see our monthly publication Advice trends.
  9. Citizens Advice staff are supported by over 23,000 trained volunteers, working at over 2,500 locations in England and Wales.