/ Home & Energy

Coronavirus pandemic: tell us your consumer concerns

We’ve been publishing key information around COVID-19. But in this unprecedented situation, you can help: what consumer issues matter most to you?

Get all the latest news and advice from our coronavirus hub

27/03/2020: The impact on your life

Thank you to everyone who took part in the polls on 17 March – the results help inform our research and shape our advice content.

Today we’ve added three more questions in the polls below. Please do let us know how the situation has impacted on your day-to-day life in the comments.

How often are you shopping for groceries during the lockdown? (either online or in store)
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Are you able to find all of your essential items when grocery shopping?
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Taking into account the government's announcements about financial support, how worried are you about your personal finances?
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17/03/2020: Are you clear on the latest advice?

Yesterday the government announced that everyone should avoid ‘non-essential’ travel and contact with others. But are you clear on what the new advice means for you?

Answer the questions below as we continue to address how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting people’s lives.

These polls have now closed.

13/03/2020: Tell us your consumer concerns

Experts from all corners of Which? have been putting their heads together to ensure we’re giving you the key information you need to protect yourself, protect your money and make important decisions.

You’ll find more information on how to manage the consumer impact of the pandemic across which.co.uk, including:

How you can protect yourself and others

What each supermarket is doing to manage and avoid supply issues

What the pandemic means for mortgages, savings, and other investments

What it means for your travel plans, or if events are cancelled

Guidance for parents whose children may be affected, including infant pain relief, taking a child’s temperature, and how to identify a rash

Which? Members can also get tailored one-to-one legal advice from Which? Legal

We’ll keep updating this list as more advice is added.

What questions do you have?

We need to know what you want to know. Tell us how the coronavirus is impacting you, especially:

Your travel plans: are you still planning your holidays? Had issues with rebooking for later, or perhaps have had to cancel?

Your experience of the pandemic: are you spotting price gouging, shortages, dodgy products, or other issues online or in shops that aren’t being reported?

Self-isolation: what problems or challenges are you coming up against whilst staying in doors? How are you managing your finances? What information would you find useful?

Any other consumer questions: what would you like to know that you haven’t found an answer for yet?

Comments

Hi, we are due to go on a package tour to Borneo in five weeks, flying via Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia has reported a significantly lower infection rate of COVID-19 than the UK. If Malaysia decide to stop entry of passengers from Europe does our tour operator have to offer a refund?

I got out our digital thermometer and took our temperatures while we are still healthy, partly to make sure the thermometer worked and partly to find out what our normal temperatures registered that are nearly a degree apart.
I also found we have a spare battery.

In Which’s latest article on the effects of coronavirus on travel insurance, you state that “the FCO itself doesn’t have a definition of what counts as essential travel”. This is not true.

You quote the FCO website that:-

“Whether travel is essential or not is your own decision. You may have urgent family or business commitments to attend to. Circumstances differ from person to person. Only you can make an informed decision based on the risks.”

What you omit to say, is that the above clause is specifically headed “Definition of essential travel” (https://www.gov.uk/guidance/how-the-foreign-commonwealth-office-puts-together-travel-advice)

So the Government HAS defined what constitutes essential travel, i.e. that only you,the individual, can make an informed decision about this!

My own insurers (Rock Insurance) tell me I am not covered for cancellation of my long-booked holiday if the FCO is advising against all but essential travel. Are they implying that a holiday is essential travel?

If this specific circumstance arose (it hasn’t yet, but likely to), I would be minded to challenge the insurers and still claim for cancellation – on the basis that I personally regarded my holiday as ‘non-essential’ and that the FCO was therefore advising against it. Any thoughts welcome.

Hi Keith. Thanks for pointing this out. We took their definition as kind of a non-definition (there are no concrete examples!) but as you say it is a definition nonetheless. I imagine Rock Insurance isn’t trying to suggest your trip is essential travel, but just that your policy doesn’t cover for cancellation in light of FCO advice. Check the wording as that might be wrong, but unfortunately for some policies this will be the case.

Isla says:
13 March 2020

Home grocery delivery services are sometimes the only option for people with mobility or other disabilities who want to maintain their independence. I discovered the value of these services some months ago following a severe accident, and now use Ocado and Waitrose for much of my food shopping.

Since last Saturday, the lead time for booking a delivery slot is worse than at Christmas – which we can at least plan for and get assistance from family or friends. Neither website is functioning without errors. Even some normal items are out of stock, not just the obvious toilet rolls, rice and pasta, always assuming you can find a slot to have the essentials like milk and eggs delivered.

It does seem unfair that retailers are allowing customers to sign up on a whim and raid these resources to supplement the rest of their unnecessary and anti-social panic buying, when modern computer systems can easily detect and prevent unusual purchasing patterns.

Isla says:
13 March 2020

The Ocado website is down as I write this ….

The Ocado website is working again.

Online supermarkets are better placed to ration supply of products in heavy demand than shops, where customers can go back into the store and buy more.

I take your point about unfairness, Isla, but don’t forget that elderly people with respiratory problems are at greater risk in the current pandemic and may choose to stay at home rather than visit a busy supermarket. It would hardly be fair to deny them the opportunity to use online supermarkets even if they have not done so in the past.

Isla says:
14 March 2020

I did not forget; I only said it was “unfair … to sign up on a whim …”. I agree if there are sound medical reasons, which I tried to encompass in the term “… other disabilities … “, they should not be denied access.

However, since my original post, Ocado have announced they are not accepting new customers. Access to their website, apps and phone lines have been overwhelmed, so they couldn’t even deal with new exceptional cases should they want to, hard as that might sound. I very much doubt that “… elderly people with respiratory problems …” are the main cause of this. Another case of horses and stable doors.

Sainsbury’s website crashed this morning and has been offline for the day.

Locally, Iceland have started an ‘0ver-70s’ shopping period, between 9 and 11 am each day. During that period only over-70s will be allowed to purchase.

June says:
19 March 2020

I have been a home delivery customer of Sainsburys for years – can’t now get a delivery slot. I am over 70 and live alone. Seemingly they will be allowing extra slots from Monday for over 70s (if I have that right) – but how do they know how old we are?

This information is not requested when you first register.

L Thomas says:
19 March 2020

Hi
I sympathise. I am seriously ill, immune suppressed and supposed to stay at home but can’t get an online booking for home delivery from any supermarket. I rely on home delivery. I have written to every supermarket Ceo by email and they have crassly replied by saying ‘we’re dedicating early opening to vulnerable customers’, completely missing the point. They have left the home delivery system as a free for all to be abused by unscrupulous hoarding healthy people. It’s disgraceful.

Britchick49 says:
13 March 2020

I have been told to isolate myself as a precautionary measure for corona symptoms . I have a hire car in my possession which I asked them to collect it due to me feeling unwell. They didn’t come and later I got a voicemail saying that due to protocol for anyone who has symptoms they can’t collect the car for 4 days after anyone being in it . Am I obliged to pay for those extra days hire even though I ended the contract the day before . They agreed the contract was over but would collect when they had time . I mentioned in passing I wasn’t feeling well as an aside then got the voicemail saying new protocol says 4 days of no one being in the car. Who has to foot the bill for that ? Am I legally responsible

The company’s new protocol will not be part of the contract that you agreed to. If the company has agreed to end the contract and failed to collect the car as they had agreed to, I don’t think you have anything to worry about as long as you have not continued to use the car. I hope you feel better soon.

I also hope you feel better soon.

When I used to have hire cars dropped off at home for work, the companies involved quite often did not collect the cars until a few days after the end of the hire, so this is nothing new.

I used to experience the same as Derek. It all seemed very casual. I had to wait at home until someone turned up or leave the key with a neighbour.

Check your car hire insurance. I had an unfortunate accident in Italy (not involving the hire car), that required hospitalisation. It meant I was unable to drive and could not return the vehicle to the airport. Although the car hire was terminated three days early, Sixt demanded an extra €350 to collect from the hotel, less that an hour’s train ride away.

I was surprised to find that my annual excess car hire policy from AIG covered this, and they paid out in full within 3 days of my claim.

Well done AIG and a big black mark for Sixt.

Phil says:
14 March 2020

I’ve noticed just not with car hire but tool and plant hire too that the hirers will leave whatever it is with you until they have another customer for it… then try an charge you for the extra time when you should be charging them for storage!

Last year I had a load of scaffolding on the drive awaiting collection until I pushed for it to be removed.

I get asthma so really don’t want to get this virus.

After seeing how the virus has affected China and Italy, I am somewhat perplexed and concerned at what seems a rather laid-back approach to the virus in the UK.

I am very concerned that people are not being tested so the numbers of infected people are unknown and the status of the virus will be completely unknown.

Without hard-hitting figures, people are less likely to take care and self-isolate when necessary.

Not knowing how many people are infected also means we won’t know when the numbers of cases are dropping and those with underlying health problems can breath a sigh of relief and not worry about mixing with other people.

@alfa – I am sorry to hear of your concerns, but testing the population is no longer of much benefit as we move out of the so-called “containment” phase. Testing was required to try and detect every person at risk to themselves and others, so they could be quarantined.

Enough is known about the epidemiology of Covid-19 to extrapolate the number of cases in the population at large from the number of recorded cases requiring medical attention and deaths. To give a very crude and simplistic example, if 100 people die of the disease today, and the death rate is 1%, we can assume that there are around 10,000 infected today. Those numbers would be based on a level, sustained infection rate, but we know the rate is increasing exponentially at the moment, so even mass testing would not give a realistic figure.

I don’t want to sound alarmist with these numbers. It is likely that the numbers infected with Covid-19 is in practice much larger than this, so the actual death rate is lower, but we can only calculate these statistics based on what we know and can measure.

When people stop being admitted to hospital and stop dying of the disease in significant numbers, we will know that the number of cases in the wider population has reduced by a corresponding amount, and without the need to test the population at large.

Please take care and best wishes.

I found this recent article to be useful and reassuring, see:-https://www.vox.com/2020/3/2/21161067/coronavirus-covid19-china

Kevin says:
14 March 2020

It seems to me that relying on extrapolating the hospital numbers is flawed since the virus is mutating and the mortality could vary between varieties. Without baseline sample testing we won’t have a robust figure to identify any changes in mortality. I’m not saying test on demand here, but statistical community sampling seems like a good idea if we have the test kits.

Phil says:
14 March 2020

Extrapolation is always risky unless you are 100% sure of the relationship of infections over time. It might look linear up to a point but then turn out exponential or logarithmic.

Logarithmic and exponential are synonymous, but yes, we can only guess what will happen.

A belated thanks Em.

Louise says:
14 March 2020

1) I have a Sky Sports package that is a year long deal I am locked into with a different broadband provider. Are these companies going to refund that element due to so many sports events being cancelled? I have Sky Sports purely for the football although aware there are other sports but they seem to be getting cancelled too.

2) I have also bought concert tickets for end of May and June 2020. Both these concerts are American artists is it just a case of wait and see?

Perhaps they will screen repeats of some classic matches from the Third Division North or the Mithras Floodlight League.

Following on from this, we now understand that Sky’s letting people with this package pause their subscription until sports are now back on. Even if you pause your subscription the 11 Sky Sports channels and your recordings will still be availalbe.

More details here: https://www.sky.com/help/articles/pause-sky-sports

@Hdownes is getting in touch with Virgin and BT to see if they’ll do similar.

I wonder how that works when you want contracts to end at the same time?

Sky run contracts for different lengths that kinda locks you in when you have more than one service from them.

Also from Sky:
To make it easier for you to keep in touch with your loved ones without worrying about costs – especially if you are self-isolating or reducing social contact – calls to UK landlines at any time of day will be free for our existing Sky Talk customers from this weekend to the end of April.

We have our landline with Sky for their broadband but no call package as such. If we make calls, we pay for them other than normal free calls. It is unclear whether this applies to customers like us.

debbie says:
16 March 2020

Good that supermarkets are having born before 1950 shopping sessions to minimise risk, BUT what about disabled or high risk born after 1950? Can we have a safe slot to shop in too! Preferably when the shop is stocked because getting out in the first place when disabled is difficult without making the effort and pain only to find empty shelves

Mike FitzGerald says:
17 March 2020

People need practical advice: – Does Milton kill COVID-19 and if yes, at what concentration? Equally, what other bleaches, wipes etc do the job? Best value for money?
Also, what about soaps. Are some more effective than others?
Also, what vitamins /minerals etc are most effective in boosting the immune system of older people? A doctor friend has suggested Vitamins C; D3; B12 / Iron and Magnesium

Looks as though soaps are particularly effective against the virus, see-https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/mar/12/science-soap-kills-coronavirus-alcohol-based-disinfectants

Hence that seems to be a property of the general chemical composition of soaps and we might not expect to be able to observe great differences in effectiveness between different brands of soap.

A further quick search suggests that Milton is essentially a very dilute bleach, so I doubt if it is more effective than unbranded alternatives.

Soaps and detergents destroy viruses as explained in the Guardian article mentioned by Derek. Viruses are not actually ‘alive’ because they cannot grow and replicate outside the body.

Much has been said about washing hands regularly, but it is important to rinse off the soap properly to avoid causing skin conditions such as eczema. With everyone washing their hands more frequently some people are likely to have skin irritation or worse.

As long as we can continue to eat a balanced diet there should be no need for supplements, the only exception being vitamin D3. Most of this vitamin comes from exposure to the sun and if it is not possible to go outdoors then it will have to come from food. I expect that the government will issue advice soon.

As Derek says, Milton is just dilute bleach. It’s much cheaper to buy thin bleach and dilute it.

wavechange, thanks for “peer-checking” my posts 😀

As I have now figured how to cut and paste on an Android smartphone, I can easily now post replies with pasted in links without having to go to a proper PC.

Yesterday, I also learnt how to do matrix arithmetic in Excel, but I’m not sure I’ll be needing that skill for W?C.

I forgot to mention that frequent use of hand sanitisers could be more damaging than soap, and unless they contain a high alcohol content (isopropanol or ethanol) they will not be effective. I see that there are some critical Amazon reviews about products that don’t have a photo showing the alcohol content.

I can copy and paste selected text on the phone by dragging over it. What I’ve found most useful with my new phone is that it is easy to take screen captures, which are stored with normal photos. We might have plenty of spare time to learn more in the next few weeks….

I can’t remember if I linked to an extraordinarily useful source for why soap works far better than alcohol. If I did here it is again.

Richard M says:
17 March 2020

Is this a good time to buy a new car? I have been planning to do just that, and now I’m not so sure.

Anything could happen now. I could wait forever for delivery if factories shut down, or maybe delivery would be very quick because I’m one of very few remaining customers. Manufacturers could go bust and perhaps my dealer, involving me in a loss of deposit. Old car or new one, will I be able to go anywhere in it?

In the grand scheme of things my problem is pretty minor, so perhaps I’ll carry on and drive my old car into the ground and stop worrying.

Annabel Baker says:
17 March 2020

I have booked a venue for a party and they are refusing to refund despite what the government have said about not socialising in groups

Hey Annabel, unfortunately the Government’s guidance does not actually call for them to shut the venue (it is only to avoid gatherings, not requiring places where such gatherings occur to close), so they would not be obliged to refund you at this time.

You can find all of the guidance we have on how your rights are affected on this here: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2020/03/coronavirus-outbreak-cancelled-or-postponed-events-can-i-get-my-money-back/

I would hope you will be able to get a refund for any consumables [less the profit element] not actually supplied but room hire and charges for other services will probably have to be forfeited.

Jonathan S says:
18 March 2020

Thank you for the advice. We are in the same situation having booked a venue some months ago for an Easter weekend wedding anniversary party. When we booked it we knew that it was 100% advanced payment and no refunds for cancellation. My question is what happens if the government change the advice soon and ban such gatherings (rather than advising against) but the venue refuses to cancel and refund?

Moving across the Irish sea in the middle of a pandemic is possibly one of the most stressful things I have had to do. I have a few days in London on my own to get some of the last bits and pieces sorted. I’ve changed my plans about staying with friends for these next few days and will be staying in a hotel. I’ve also cancelled things like drinks with friends. I have been meeting friends in a local park that has a coffee kiosk. They thanked me yesterday for continuing to support them. There is so much fear about what it is going to do to businesses because they can’t claim on their insurance. I have three afternoons free. I’ve cancelled all my plans for those and will be sitting in my hotel room feeling rather sorry for myself and everyone else who is facing this.

DerekP says:
18 March 2020

Abby, it is nice to hear from you in these rather difficult times.

Over the years, I’ve done enough work away from home to be fully aware of the downsides of being stuck in a hotel room. I used to stay a lot in Premier Inns, but I think the rooms there are designed to encourage us to spend any free time in the nearest bar or restaurant. Later on, I tended to prefer more agreeable country house hotels, where there was more space in which guests could relax. Either way, I got to read a lot of books, as there was often not much else to do.

I think all of us are adjusting to a new but hopefully non-permanent new normal. Whilst those in the health, food and logistics industries are being asked to carry on much as before, many others are being asked to work from home or to not work at all.

I hope all your move progresses smoothly, in spite of the current epidemic.

I’d add only that it’s good you’re staying in touch, and I can only imagine how you must be feeling at the moment. Good luck for the future.

Email/whatsapp us if you need anything Abby. Stay safe.

Hi Abby – I’m sorry that life has been a bit of a challenge recently. Problems don’t last for ever. All the best and please keep in touch with us.

BBC.com has run an article specifically about how long Covid 19 remains viable on different surfaces. The summary (as it’s a long and not that well laid out article) is this:

1. It’s no longer being thought the virus is transmitted through hands touching your face.
2. Airborne transmission seems the main vector.
3. In still air, the virus can remain viable for several hours, but with air con systems only an hour or so.
4. It can survive for 24 hours on cardboard, so we need to be careful with online deliveries.
5. It can last up to 2-3 days on plastic and stainless-steel surfaces
6. Copper surfaces destroy the virus within four hours.
7. All coronaviruses can be inactivated within a minute by disinfecting surfaces with 62-71% alcohol, or 0.5% hydrogen peroxide bleach or household bleach containing 0.1% sodium hypochlorite.

DerekP says:
18 March 2020

Ian – thanks, that’s good to know.

Soaps and detergents inactivate viruses by damaging their lipid membrane, so wiping surfaces with a soapy cloth should be effective at dealing with the virus. The government advice on washing. hands with soap and water makes good sense, though it should stress the importance of adequate rinsing to prevent frequent hand washing resulting in cases of eczema.

The link to that page is no longer working.

It’s working for me. The virus membrane or envelope is the part that is susceptible to soaps and detergents. The spike protein (S in the diagram) was sequenced recently and this will help those trying to produce anti-viral drugs.

Yep; it’s still working.

Mike says:
20 March 2020

This is what we are doing!

Jim Evans says:
18 March 2020

As an over 70 I am obliged to stay at home though the food chain is scaring me to death, but it is my mental health that 3-4 months alone will affect. Sky charges approximately £21 a month for sports and yet there are no sports to televise. The very least that Sky should do is charge £10.50 and give me free movies for the duration of this pandemic.

Mark says:
19 March 2020

You can temporarily suspend Sky Sports, even if in contract, until sporting events resume. You must ring to do this at the moment although it is apparently difficult to get through due to reduced staffing levels. Sky claim that you will soon be able to do it online.

Mike says:
18 March 2020

Personally, I think the majority of people are not taking the current situation seriously. I have a neighbour who is ill (nothing confirmed) and is self-isolating, but he is constantly popping out to the shops to buy stuff?! Maybe we need clearer instructions on what should and shouldn’t be done if ill. (Even if it is a cold, as this could weaken one’s immune system). A few people at work just don’t get it, last week some were booking holidays in Europe to go in a couple of weeks!

Ms K Felton says:
19 March 2020

Given that the epidemic in China in December spread so quickly, it seems the British Government was very complacent and did not learn from other countries affected. It is behind the curve in putting in place what is required. Testing in curtailed (how else is a virus tracked?), the NHS does not have sufficient resources ((retired staff are themselves at risk, being elderly), and it is worth remembering that many of the elderly did NOT vote in this government. Being at the end of line for support and help is not fun.

All directives seems to be urban based, with little support or direction for those in rural areas who cannot ‘pop quickly to the shops’, but have to undergo longer journeys, often by public transport.

My feeling is that the Government has shown a complete dereliction of duty to the population.

Mike says:
20 March 2020

Not exactly dereliction of duty – but lacking urgency and decisiveness. They have shown huge largess toward banks and businesses (and ultimately investors) but failed to demand some big personal contributions from those who have taken more than a fair share of all the wealth that all of us have worked to create! Why aren’t billionaires’ being required to pay back some of their massive wealth – in return for taxpayer aid? (Bearing in mind the Chancellor & Boris are not dishing out their personal cash but public money!) Will a careful check be made of how the special grants are used? Will public funds be refunded later? Why did they come on TV with truly scary statements and set the selfish and greedy off panic buying? They had quite some time to put restrictive purchasing plans (rationing) in force first. Many poorer people in our area can’t get any of the cheaper foods and all the paracetamol and hand sanitizer has been seized by the “me first|” brigade. What did our Government expect when it suddenly announced that we were in for a much longer haul than most expected and how did they think anyone would be able to self isolate (stupid phrase!) if they had made no provisions to supply food, fresh produce and household necessities? What about our repeat prescriptions? How do we get them without joining big queues at pharmacies, finding the shops are struggling to make orders up and having to keep going back and joining the queue again? Boris and co have failed to anticipate the realities of the panic and supply chain problems before telling people to keep away from one another! 5 out of 10 needs to improve!

James Tolley says:
19 March 2020

Why are Amazon allowing venders to use their platform to rip off consumers in the UK. Hand gel at £21.99 for 50ml bottle or £28.99 for a 250ml bottle.

ADAM B says:
19 March 2020

Ticketmaster – no customer service whatsoever! the event was postponed to autumn but not able to request any refund!!!!! they just don’t reply – no contact!

Are Which able to start a campaign to investigate the closure of childrens nurseries who find they are not insured for enforced closure due to Coronavirus.
Apparently the small print of some insurers only covers for some specific pandemics – and one would have to be a soothsayer to anticipate this pandemic.
The small local nurseries are in danger of closing and never reopening – thus causing even more long term damage to the economy.

Graham Markham says:
19 March 2020

Supermarkets are seeing thousands of people coming together every day. Why have they not been made to put hand sanitizers at their entrances?