The governments in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are preparing to impose additional restrictions to try to limit the spread of coronavirus.
With what we know at present, these are the key issues.
I have a holiday booked elsewhere in the UK, but restrictions in my area mean I cannot go. What are my rights?
First, you need to establish what the rules are for leaving your immediate area. We already know, for example, that some towns in South Wales – including Bridgend, Merthyr Tydfil and Newport – are going into lockdown at 6pm on Tuesday 22 September.
The Welsh government says: “People will not be allowed to enter or leave these areas without a reasonable excuse, such as travel for work or education.”
Going on holiday would not be regarded as a reasonable excuse. Therefore your holiday agreement is a “frustrated contract”.
In plain English: it’s nobody’s fault, but the agreement cannot be fulfilled and you are entitled to your money back.
In less plain but more lawyerly language, the Law Reform (Frustrated Contracts Act) 1943 says: “When there is a change in circumstances after the contract was made which is not the fault of either party which renders it impossible to perform or deprives the contract of its commercial purpose … each party is discharged from its future obligation under the contract and neither party may sue for breach.”
The only latitude the property owner may have is if they have spent money specifically in advance of your stay – for example, if they can demonstrate that they engaged a supplier because of a requirement you made, eg breakfast in what is normally a self-catering property.
Is it still possible to travel to an area that’s in lockdown?
In England, yes. The government says: “You can travel into an area with local restrictions on holiday.” But you must not stay in a private home there with people you do not normally live with. That includes sharing self-catered accommodation such as holiday cottages, apartments or boats.
If you are not allowed to stay as planned, the principle of a frustrated contract applies: the deal is off and everyone goes back to the financial position they were in had the contract never been entered into.
The property owner says she will allow me to re-book but I cannot have my money back. Is that allowed?
No. You can point out that the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is on your side. A refund is due, says the CMA, when “a consumer is prevented from receiving any goods or services, because, for example, lockdown laws … have made it illegal to receive or use the goods or services”.
But I hope that most people with bookings that have been thwarted will liaise with the property owner, hotelier or B&B proprietor to try to find an amicable solution – whether that is a credit note with some incentive (eg a discount or an upgrade) or a postponement to a time that would normally be more expensive (eg June 2021 rather than October 2020).
Obviously that comes with some risk, and if you really need the money then simply ask for it.
We have rented a space for a big family get-together of 10 people which cannot now go ahead because of the “rule of six”. The property owner is offering us only half our money back, or a postponement. But the family event is not postponable, and we simply want our money back.
You could try citing the CMA ruling. Were I the owner, though, I might contend that the contract is not frustrated at all.
The fact that you are now limited to six people is regrettable, but you have simply rented a space.
This is legally questionable – but the fact that I have your cash strengthens my hand.
Again, resume negotiations with the owner. Perhaps six of you could still hold a worthwhile gathering – in which case refunding one-third of the cost looks an equitable solution.
I have a rail trip booked that is not now feasible because of the new measures. What are my options?
Train operators, which are now simply outsourcing suppliers to the government, have generally been reasonable about bookings that cannot now take place. It is worth contacting them by phone or on social media to discuss the situation, but there is every likelihood you will get a full refund.
Will we be told once again not to use public transport unless essential?
In specific locations affected by lockdowns that is highly likely to be the case. But any such rule is unlikely to include travelling through, say, Newport on a Swansea-London train.
However, one or more of the UK nations may opt to impose a countrywide insistence against non-essential travel.
I have a domestic flight booked …
That could be trickier. If, for example, you were planning to fly from Edinburgh to Bristol to see family in Newport, the airline could argue that it can fulfil the contract to deliver you safely from Scotland to the West of England. The fact that the original purpose of your trip is no longer feasible is not its problem.
Having said that, a discussion with the airline could well result in you getting a credit note.
There’s no actual travel restrictions where I’m going, but the early closure of pubs, etc, means that it no longer appeals. Do I have any rights?
If you have booked a pub-crawl trip based on enjoying the hostelries in your destination, I think you have the law on your side. But that is frankly unlikely. The fact that the destination has lost some of its allure is unfortunate but not the travel/accommodation provider’s fault – and they would probably argue that you can still enjoy the destination. Again, though, have a conversation.