As the government releases details of changes to coronavirus regulations coming into effect in England, Consumer Editor Chris Choi answers your questions.
Jo: What should workers forced to return to work do if their employers ignore distancing guidelines?
“Employers have been told they must ‘make every effort’ to ensure that workers can maintain social distancing- along with implementing other measures including increased cleaning of the workplace, screens and masks where appropriate.
“If there are problems, speak to your bosses about your concerns.
“The government says that in the coming days, it will be publishing specific guidelines for employers on how to make workplaces safe, so it might be helpful to refer to those when they’re made available.
“You can also raise issues formally within the company if you need to.
“If all that fails, you can raise issues with the Health and Safety Executive, which has powers to impose enforcement notices.
“You can ask officials there to treat you as a whistleblower – whereby your name isn’t divulged to the company.”
Emma: If lockdown goes on for a while longer, will the 80% furlough scheme be extended longer after June?
“Currently, the furlough scheme is scheduled to run for four months from March 1 – but it may be extended beyond that.
“However, there could be changes as part of any extension.
“At the moment, the government pays 80% of a worker’s salary on the furlough scheme, but that could be reduced as the scheme is scaled back.
“The chancellor is expected to make an announcement on this on Tuesday – with workers and firms watching very carefully.”
Lisa: My son came home from university at the beginning of lockdown. Are we allowed to travel back to his accommodation to collect all his belongings? He has a new job to start in Brighton at the beginning of June and is going through the process of renting a flat. Can he move to Brighton to start his job?
“On collecting belongings, government guidelines still contain the phrase: ‘You should only use a private vehicle to make essential journeys.’
“That includes: for medical reasons; to do necessary shopping; to travel to work and to go out for exercise.
“By travelling, you would be creating the risk of breaking down or having an accident, so officially it would be better to see if those belongings can be stored somewhere for now.
“As far as moving to Brighton goes, the government has said: ‘Home buyers and renters should, as far as possible, delay moving while emergency measures are in place.’
“Consider whether it is a job that can be done from home, or whether your son can delay the start of the new job.
“The main thrust of official advice would be to put this on pause for the moment if at all possible.”
Paul: How soon can we start going camping and fishing – as long as we keep our distance?
“The advice on camping has not changed – we are still being told that we should not be travelling to campsites at the moment.
“There is good news on fishing if you’re in England though – from Wednesday, when step one changes come into effect – fishing will be allowed.
“As you said though, it’s very important that you make sure you stay two metres away from other people while you’re out.
“There isn’t such good news for anglers elsewhere in the UK – Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are sticking to stricter guidelines on exercise, so it’s still the case that only walking, running and cycling are allowed – although in both Scotland and Wales you are now allowed to exercise more than once a day.”
Angie: Are we able to travel to another county to a holiday home – obviously still abiding by social distancing rules?
“The rules on travelling to second homes have not changed.
“In fact, the government guidance released on Monday specifically says that leaving the place where you live to stay at another home is not allowed for any purpose.
“In England from Wednesday, you can travel to another county for exercise or for a day trip in an outdoor space – but not to stay.
“Remember though that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have separate guidance and are still enforcing stricter guidelines – which say that you should aim to exercise in your local area.
“That means that you do need to be careful not to cross a border into a part of the UK with different rules from where you live.
“Even within England, the ‘Stay Alert’ message could be important if you’re visiting a different destination.
“If you travel to a popular beach or beauty spot that turns out to be crowded, you’ll need to make a decision about whether you can safely distance yourself from others while you’re there.
“If you can’t do that, it might not be a good idea to stay there.”
Mandy: I would like to know when dentists will be allowed to open. I have a broken tooth and I’m desperate to get it fixed!
“The British Dental Association told us on Monday that they are in almost daily contact with the NHS and with ministers, but said that at the moment, they have no time frame for when dentists will reopen to start operating normally.
“Dentists are currently providing a telephone service – through which they can provide antibiotics, painkillers and advice as needed.
“Patients with very severe problems are being referred to urgent care centres for treatment, but there are only around 200 of these in the country and they have very limited capacity, so only the most urgent cases are being referred.
“Sadly, a broken tooth wouldn’t necessarily qualify you for treatment at an urgent care centre, but speak to your dentist or NHS 111 if you’re worried – or if you’re in extreme pain or your face is swollen.”
Maggie: When can hairdressers return to work – can they start now or in June?
“Although many of us are very keen for hairdressers to start work again, they can’t re-open just now.
“The personal care sector – including hair, beauty, tattoo and nail salons – has particular proximity issues.
“The new timetable in England means salons there will only be considered for a phased re-opening from July 4 ‘at the earliest’.
“Timetables have not been released for when hairdressers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland might reopen.”
Samantha and Lewis: Following the prime minister’s speech, is it safe to say that weddings planned for May and June are now cancelled? Our wedding is due to happen on June 19 with approximately 140 guests. The venue has been insisting it’s going ahead.
“Weddings have been on hold since March due to the ban on gatherings of more than two people.
“There was no specific update in the prime minister’s address last night, but the full document the government released this afternoon does give some more information on this.
“The government has asked Sage – the group of scientists who are advising on many of these restrictions – to look at how they might be able to allow gatherings of slightly larger groups so that small weddings can take place.
“The Government says it aims to be able to allow ‘small wedding ceremonies from June 1’.
“They don’t give a definition of ‘small’ though, so it may be likely that 140 would still be too large a gathering.
“You might need to talk to your venue following that update.”
Sue and David: When can we attend our church services? Social distancing will not be a problem.
“The government has now clarified that opening places of worship in England will not be considered until July 4 at the earliest.
“As you said, even then social distancing is likely to be a major consideration.
“Northern Ireland is reported to be considering new guidelines on allowing individual prayer in churches, and it’s possible we may get an update on that on Tuesday.
“Scotland and Wales have not released information about when they might consider reopening places of worship.”
Sarah: I am a residential cleaner – after Sunday’s announcement I remain confused about whether I should return to work or not. The message was encouraging people who can’t work from home to go back to work, but does this include going into other people’s houses?
“On Monday, the government has specified that in England, cleaners who work in people’s homes can go back to work.
“Remember though that mixing with people from other households does carry risks, so it’s important to think carefully about whether or not you’ll be able to maintain safe social distancing while you’re working in other people’s homes.
“You and your employers should have a clear plan to make sure that you are able to stay two metres away from everyone else at all times.
“Very importantly, if anyone in the houses you’re hoping to go into is shielding or is particularly vulnerable to coronavirus – or if either you or they are showing symptoms of Covid-19 – the clear advice is still that you absolutely should not go in.”
Kirsty: The prime minister said that if you can’t work from home, then you should go to work. How does this affect driving instructors and driving school businesses? They can’t teach from home, but how are they supposed to return to work when they have to keep two meters away from others?
“Monday’s new guidelines for England re-enforce that generally, you should not share a private vehicle with anybody from a different household, and clearly it is not possible to be two metres away from somebody you are teaching to drive.
“For those reasons, instructors have been urged to stop delivering lessons – and that advice remains in place.
“However, there is an exemption for instructors giving lessons to people whose work is critical to the coronavirus response.
“If this leaves you unable to work, there are options available to you.
“If you’re employed by someone else, it’s worth talking to your bosses about whether they’re prepared to place you on furlough for the time you can’t work.
“This means that 80% of your wages will be paid through a government grant while you’re at home.
“If you’re self-employed, you could look into whether you qualify for the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme – where the government provides a taxable grant of 80% of your average monthly profits.”
Dave: I work for one of the largest confectionery companies in the world. Is it right that the government has said that employers must allow us to carry over annual leave because Covid-19 means that we can’t take it? My company has told us that – apart from what we are normally allowed to carry over – we will lose any other holiday.
“New temporary regulations came into force in March – allowing four weeks of annual leave to be rolled over for up to two years if you have been unable to take holiday as a result of coronavirus.
“However, workers are being encouraged to take annual leave if they can – and remember, employers do still have the right to tell workers when to take leave.
“The rule is that your employer has to give you at least twice as many days’ notice as the days you’ll be off.
“That means that if they want you to take five days’ leave, they need to tell you 10 days in advance.”
Emma: Please can you advise when we will be able to go out for a family meal in a restaurant or pub?
“The prime minister referred to the ‘darkened pubs and restaurants’ as a sign of what millions are missing.
“But the government won’t even be considering re-openings in the hospitality industry until July 4 – and only then if they are safe and enforce social distancing.
“No guarantees – no firm date.
“No end yet to the unexpected longing for a bit of pub grub!”
Mark: The prime minister said that you can now use your car to travel further afield – does the same apply to riding your motorcycle? I need to get out for a ride for my sanity.
“The prime minister did announce on Sunday evening that in England people are now able to drive to destinations for exercise.
“A motorcycle counts as a private vehicle and can be used where a car would be – that is for essentials such as shopping, travelling to work or going to exercise.
“On Tuesday, the transport secretary will be giving a statement in Parliament about whether motorbikes and cars can be used just for a leisure ride – at the moment they can’t be.”
Anonymous: When can we go away in our touring caravan in the UK?
“Although the good weather we had over the weekend does make this an appealing prospect, the advice on camping and visiting holiday homes has not changed – we are still being told ‘don’t do it’.
“From Wednesday, if you live in England, you can travel to other destinations within England for exercise or for day trips outdoors, but not for a holiday.
“Remember that Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland still have stricter rules in place, so you must not cross borders into any of the devolved nations either to visit or for exercise.”
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