From vacation to sick pay… Where will you be when Omicron strikes?
Mixed messages about the new virus variant, Omicron, are causing chaos in the run-up to the holidays.
Ministers have tried to reassure households that there is no need to panic. But many of Britain’s biggest companies have opted to cut office parties, while other Christmas events have been canceled and the travel industry has been hit by additional testing and quarantine rules.
It means small businesses and the self-employed are once again losing vital revenues, with families also at risk of being left out.
If your vacation destination is moved to the government ‘red list’, you should receive a full cash refund within seven days
Here, Money Mail outlines everything you need to know about your rights…
Worrying at work
According to existing rules, you must isolate for ten days if you test positive for Covid.
You should also stay home if you have not been vaccinated and have been warned by NHS Test and Trace that you have come into contact with someone with the virus.
New rules mean that if that person has the Omicron variant, you must also isolate for ten days, even if you are vaccinated.
Most employers will normally pay staff if they get the virus or have to self-isolate.
If not, you may be eligible for up to £96.35 statutory sick pay, as long as you earn at least £120 a month.
You may also be able to claim a one-off payment of £500 in England and Scotland or £750 in Wales if you are on a low income and unable to work from home.
To make a claim, contact your local council and make sure you have bank statements and proof of employment to hand.
Travelers who isolate themselves until they get a negative PCR result after returning from abroad are not eligible.
According to existing rules, you must isolate for ten days if you test positive for Covid. You must also stay at home if you have not been vaccinated and have been warned by NHS Test and Trace
If employees in England and Wales want to work from home in the run-up to Christmas, they should ask their employer.
The official work-from-home guidance has ended, so companies may insist that you just go to work.
Jemma Fairclough-Haynes, of Orchard Employment Law, says, “It’s worth having this conversation with your employer, but you could be subject to a disciplinary hearing if you don’t attend without permission.”
Scotland brought back home work guidance yesterday so that employees there have more influence if they want to stay away from the office.
As a self-employed person you are not entitled to statutory sick pay. And the self-employed Income Support Scheme, which paid grants of up to £7,500 in three months, closed last month.
But if you have a low income and you need to isolate yourself, you may be entitled to the same one-off benefit as working people.
Small and medium-sized enterprises in difficulty can invoke the government’s Recovery Scheme until June 30 next year.
The loans, currently 80 percent backed by the government, are available from all major High Street banks.
If your destination is moved to the government’s ‘red list’ and your flight is cancelled, you should receive a full cash refund within seven days.
You may prefer to opt for a voucher or move your flights to a new date. But if your flight still departs as scheduled and you no longer wish to travel, your money back is not guaranteed – even if your destination has strict quarantine rules in place. Instead, it’s up to the individual airline.
Infection risk: The official work from home support has ended, so companies may insist that you just go to work
British Airways allows customers to cancel their bookings in exchange for vouchers, which are valid until 30 September 2023. But you may have to pay extra if your new fare is more expensive.
Ryanair allows people who have made bookings between November 20 and December 11 to reschedule free of charge to a new date until January 14.
However, changes must be made at least seven days before the original departure date.
For accommodation, your right to a refund is subject to the company’s cancellation policy.
The Competition and Markets Authority says companies must refund you if they can’t provide the paid service, but enforcing it is difficult for hotels abroad.
If you paid by credit card, you may be able to make a claim under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act if your flight is canceled and you are unable to reach your destination.
Travel coverage may also vary. About 93 percent of insurance policies pay out if you have to cancel your trip because you contracted Covid, analysts Defaqto said.
Call for help from companies on the brink
Concerns: Chris and Vicky Saynor have lost £2,500 in bookings since concerns over the Omicron variant arose
Vicky and Chris Saynor have lost £2,500 in accommodation bookings since concerns arose over the Omicron variant.
The couple have three self-contained studios in Cottered, Hertfordshire, which are usually fully booked over the festive period.
But in the past two weeks, they’ve had to rearrange four bookings for guests who feared it wouldn’t be safe to leave. Another three have requested a new appointment.
Vicky, 45 and mother of four, says: ‘It was a lot more black and white with previous lockdowns, but now you just don’t know where you are.
“The government should reduce subsidies or some other form of support to help companies through this period.”
By now, beautician Claire Hattrick has had more than 40 unsubscribes in the past two weeks.
The mum of two normally earns up to £4,000 in December when clients rush to book treatments ahead of the festive season.
But she now believes she will be lucky enough to earn £800. Claire, 53, says: “Since the new variant was announced, I’ve been texting or calling people to cancel.
‘Some are elderly or frail clients. Others booked because they were going away or attending an office party and now they don’t.’
Claire, who runs her salon from home in Andover, Hampshire, says: ‘I think if you lose business because of this, you should be able to get some form of financial support.’
But only 55 percent provides standard coverage if you’re instructed to insulate, and just 3 percent. pays out if you can’t travel because official guidelines change or if you test positive abroad and have to delay your return.
And no insurer will cover quarantine bills if your destination is on the red list.
If you booked through Airbnb, it depends on the provider. Some bookings are non-refundable, while others allow cancellations up to 24 hours before check-in.
If you have booked a package holiday, you are entitled to a refund if the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office advises against traveling to your destination or if your holiday is ‘substantially changed’.
This may include being asked to isolate when you arrive or if your flights are rescheduled for another day.
However, you will not be eligible for a refund if you simply do not want to pay for two tests and are isolated on your return.
According to UK Hospitality, more pubs and restaurants are now asking customers for a deposit when booking a table.
If you cancel, you will lose this money unless the company allows you to move your booking. Companies can also be fined for canceling office parties.
However, if you bought tickets to a Christmas pantomime or carol concert that is canceled by the organizers, you should get your money back.
If the show is moved, you can also request a refund if you can’t make it to the new date.
But many households are still waiting for refunds for events canceled during previous lockdowns. Complaint site Resolver received 2,632 complaints about ticket sellers last year, an increase of 171 percent from 2019.
If you are unable to attend because you contract the virus, you have no legal right to redress.
But you may be allowed to sell your ticket through the organizer’s website or be offered a voucher.
Resolver’s Martyn James recommends calling the company’s helpline early in the week when they’re not so busy.
Food store fears
Vulnerable shoppers looking to avoid crowded supermarkets can still take advantage of Tesco’s priority hours on Wednesdays and Sundays between 9am and 10am.
The supermarket now offers 1.5 million delivery slots for those looking to order online, more than double the number available before the pandemic.
Asda has also extended its priority pass for those who are clinically extremely frail until March 2022.
This gives shoppers the opportunity to book a delivery time every week at the same time.
Sainsbury’s says it’s “offering more slots than ever this year”, while Waitrose says shoppers who may need “extra support” can book deliveries in advance.
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