Thousands of jobs, holidays and future plans have been thrown into chaos due to the coronavirus outbreak – and with the UK heading for lockdown, people are being warned to stay on top of their rights.
On Monday, several major airlines announced plans to ground all of their flights – with Virgin Atlantic sending pilots home unpaid, Norwegian axing 7,300 jobs and Ryanair cutting 80% of its routes.
School closures are now also on the cards – meaning many parents could find themselves having to take emergency time off for childcare.
And while the Government has promised statutory sick pay from day one, thousands of those who earn below the threshold or are self-employed could still find they lose out on wages if they're forced to self isolate.
If you've got a flight booked, the latest advice is to check the status of your destination with the Foreign Commonwealth Office.
If it's not, and you choose to cancel your journey for safety measures, you could find yourself out of pocket.
Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, explains: "With mass flight cancellations and dozens of countries introducing restrictions to deal with coronavirus, it looks increasingly unlikely that holidays outside the UK booked in the coming weeks will go ahead – and many people will be worried about losing large sums of money as a result.
"Thanks to increased flexibility being offered by airlines and travel operators during the crisis, passengers are likely to be given the option to rebook for a later date, or claim a refund. It’s important not to jump the gun and cancel your plans too far in advance though. You won’t automatically be due rebooking or a refund if you cancel when travel is still weeks away.
"Airlines and travel operators' customer services are under immense pressure at the moment, so if you’re not due to travel in the coming days, consider waiting to contact them for information about your travel plans."
As the outbreak continues to sweep through Britain, we teamed up with charity Citizens Advice to take a look at your rights.
Coronavirus flight cancellations
If your flight has been cancelled, check the terms and conditions of your booking or travel insurance first, to see if your situation is covered.
Airlines and organisers may offer other adjustments but these are your legal rights:
If you have a package holiday booked and part or all of it is cancelled by the organiser/airline:
- You are entitled to a full refund 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:
- If your flight was due to depart from the United Kingdom, European Union, Iceland, Norway or Switzerland or was due to arrive in one of these countries via a UK/EU airline, you should be offered a choice of three alternatives.
- If it was a non-EU flight, you will need to check the terms and conditions for the airline.
If the FCO advises against all but essential travel to your destination:
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 flight, there is no legal requirement for the airline to issue a refund.
However, if you have booked a package deal, you have the right to cancel the package at any time before the package starts. 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, as the issue is due to circumstances beyond the control of the airline or agent.
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.
However, 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.
We've got a full guide on your coronavirus travel and refund rights, here.
What about cancelled and postponed events?
Ticket holders who change their mind about going to 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, it is unlikely you will be able to recover your money. In this event, you should 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.
Sick pay rights
The Government announced in its Budget that those who are eligible for statutory sick pay (SSP) will be covered during any periods of self-isolation or illness from day one.
Currently, the SSP rate for employees who are eligible is £94.25 per week, for up to 28 weeks.
But it's worth checking your contract as your employer may have its own sickness policy which may pay your normal rate.
If you are self-employed, you are not eligible for statutory sick pay .
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 – log in to your online portal to find out more on this.
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.
Can my employer stop me working 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.
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.
Alternatively, you could see if you are able to work from home, change your shift pattern, or take annual leave.
We've got a full guide on your rights to emergency time off work during the coronavirus outbreak, here.
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