Citizens Advice East Herts: Your rights as consumers and employees in the light of the coronavirus pandemic
Written by Bishops Stortford Independent Reporter on 24 March 2020
Rachael Williamson, of the Citizens Advice East Herts office in South Street, Bishop’s Stortford, rounds up the major issues on which their volunteers have been fielding queries in recent days…
The situation around the coronavirus pandemic is changing all the time. Citizens Advice has issued the following information to help answer some common questions about consumer and employment rights. It covers work, school, sick pay, benefits, rent, travelling abroad, event cancellations/postponements and scams. Please note this is correct as of March 19.
Going to work
Government advice is to avoid any unnecessary contact with other people. This is known as ‘social distancing’, which includes working from home, if you can.
If you can’t work from home, your employer should help you find ways to avoid unnecessary contact. That could be:
- letting you travel when public transport is less busy
- not asking you to go to big meetings, or arranging to hold them online
- finding car parking spaces for more vulnerable employees
You can check other ways you and your employer can support each other on the Acas website. Acas provides free advice to employees and employers.
Taking your children to school
Schools, nurseries and sixth-form colleges will be closed for most children from Monday. You should still take your children to school if:
- you’re a ‘key worker’ – which means your job keeps important services running, like the NHS, police or food deliveries
- your children have a social worker or special educational needs
You might need to take them to a different school than the one they normally go to. You can read the Government advice on GOV.UK.
If you need to take time off to look after your children
Speak to your employer if you need to take time off work to look after your children. Read more about taking time off work to look after a dependant on GOV.UK.
If you’re off sick or told to stay home because of coronavirus
If you’re following Government guidance because you have coronavirus symptoms, you’ll be considered unfit for work. You’ll also be considered unfit for work if you’re staying at home, or ‘self-isolating’, because you’ve been in contact with someone with coronavirus.
You’ll get statutory sick pay (SSP) if you’re considered unfit for work and are usually entitled to it – check if you’re entitled to SSP.
It’s worth checking your contract – your employer might pay you more than SSP when you’re sick.
If you’re not sick but have been told to self-isolate and can’t work from home, you should still get your contractual sick pay on top of SSP.
You can also check your rights to sick pay if you get coronavirus on the Acas website. Acas provides free advice to employees and employers.
If you’re self-employed
You can’t get SSP if you’re 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. Check if you can claim ESA. Check if you can claim Universal Credit.
If you can’t pay your rent
The Government has announced a ban on evictions – your landlord can’t start court action for at least three months.
You should explain the situation to your landlord straight away – they might give you more time to pay.
You still need to pay your rent. If you’ve fallen behind with your rent, you should start dealing with rent arrears. You can also check if you can get extra financial help.
If your landlord doesn’t offer to be flexible with your rent payments, it’s a good idea to pay as much as you can afford and keep a record of what you discussed.
Contact Citizens Advice – an adviser can help you explain things to your landlord.
If you’re claiming benefits or asked to go to a medical assessment
You should go to your usual appointments – for example, at the Jobcentre Plus. The Government has postponed all face-to-face medical assessments – for example, for ESA, Universal Credit or PIP.
If you can’t go to your appointment because you’re ill or are following guidance to self-isolate, call the office paying your benefit. You’ll need to explain why you can’t go.
If you’re claiming Universal Credit, you’ll need to use your online journal to explain why you can’t go to your appointment. You can find out more about getting Universal Credit if you’re sick.
If you call the office paying your benefit or update your online journal, you won’t be sanctioned if you don’t go to your appointment.
If you’re already getting the benefit, you’ll continue to get it if you have to cancel your appointment because of coronavirus.
If you’re planning on travelling abroad / need to cancel
Government advice is not to travel right now unless you really have to – you can read more about if you have to travel on GOV.UK.
If you really have to travel abroad you should check up-to-date travel guidance on GOV.UK. It’ll tell you which countries you shouldn’t go to because of coronavirus. You should also contact your insurer and make sure you’re covered to travel – get the details of your cover in writing.
If you already have a holiday booked it’s worth checking guidance from your travel agent, airline or other holiday provider. You might be able to rebook your holiday and go later in the year.
If you need to cancel your holiday because you’re ill or you’re following Government advice, get in touch with your travel insurer to see if you’re covered for cancelling.
You can also find out what to do if your package holiday is cancelled. If you need more help, you can get advice from the consumer service.
Event cancellation/ postponement
If 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.
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.
* Citizens Advice East Herts is part of the national network of Citizens Advice charities.
For more advice…
- Go to citizensadviceeastherts.org.uk
- Call Adviceline on 03444 111 444 Monday to Friday
- call Message Line on 01920 459944 and an adviser will call you back as soon they can
- Complete an online form at citizensadviceeastherts.org.uk/webadvice
Please note that Citizens Advice East Herts’ face-to-face service is closed until further notice, but it can help with phone/email/webchat advice. This is a small, volunteer-led service dealing with a large number of queries so it may take a little longer than normal to get back to you.
See also the national Citizens Advice page on coronavirus for future updates.