Measures to limit people’s movements to fight the spread of coronavirus have effectively put the majority of the UK’s population on lockdown. But what if you need a tradesperson or engineer to enter your home?
Where does it leave you if you’re about to have work done on your home, you’re halfway through a renovation or you’re faced with an emergency such as a boiler breakdown?
We talk you through the points you should consider, how you can protect your household and what the industry is doing to handle the situation and keep customers safe.
Keep up to date with all the latest news and advice from Which? on the coronavirus outbreak.
How could you limit the risks of using a trader or engineer?
The current government advice is for everyone in the UK to:
- shop for basic necessities as little as possible
- limit to one form of outdoor exercise a day
- travel for medical needs or to care for the vulnerable
- travel to and from work when ‘absolutely necessary’
And to practice social distancing at all times while in public. This means limiting face-to-face contact with people who aren’t in your household and maintaining a two-metre distance between one another.
The most important question to ask yourself is, is it essential or can it wait? The best way to limit the risk is to postpone the work if it is non-essential.
The Federation of Master Builders (FMB) has stated that only emergency and critical construction work should be allowed to continue. More than half of builders told the FMB they have already ceased at least three quarters of their work. Of those, 80% are in the domestic repair, renovation and maintenance sector.
No work can be carried out by any tradesperson or engineer who has coronavirus symptoms, however mild.
As a first step, find out whether your trader or engineer can offer some services from a distance, either by speaking to you over the phone or using technology. Some of the Which? Trusted Traders we’ve been speaking to reported that they were using tools such as FaceTime, Google Hangouts and Skype to provide quotes or site visits.
But if a trader or engineer needs to visit your home, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and avoid spreading the virus. You should:
- Keep your distance from any visitors and avoid physical contact.
- Wash your hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use hand sanitiser.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in a bin and wash your hands.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces in the home such as door handles, light switches and your kettle.
If someone in the household is vulnerable or has coronavirus symptoms
People who are over 70, pregnant or who have underlying health conditions are most at risk, so you’ll need to be particularly careful if anyone in your household fits these criteria.
The government has stated that no work can be carried out in any household which is isolating or where an individual is being shielded, unless it is to remedy a direct risk to the safety of the household, such as emergency plumbing or repairs, and where the tradesperson is willing to do so.
If you do need to let a trader or engineer in, let them know in advance about any vulnerable people in your home so they can take appropriate measures.
You may also need to further isolate more vulnerable people in your home. For example, they may need to stay in a different room, separated from the rest of the household, while work is underway.
If you or anyone in the household already has symptoms of coronavirus, you need to follow government guidelines on self-isolation.
If the work has to go ahead, you must warn any traders or engineers who are due to visit so that they can assess the risks and carry out the work safely if they do come to your home.
What should you ask your trader or engineer before they start work?
It’s not just you who needs to take steps to avoid spreading COVID-19. Your trader or engineer is responsible for health and safety when working on site.
Before their visit, find out what measures they will be taking to protect you and themselves. Larger companies will probably have a statement online setting out what steps they are taking. You may need to contact smaller companies for more information.
Some of the key things you should look out for are:
- Use of PPE (personal protective equipment) such as disposable gloves and face masks.
- A commitment to regular handwashing or use of hand sanitiser.
- Policies for monitoring the health of anyone who would be visiting your home, and screening customers before visits.
If you don’t feel your trader or engineer is taking appropriate measures, particularly if you have sick or vulnerable people in your household, you may need to refuse entry to your home.
How companies are protecting customers
We spoke to some major utilities companies, trade associations and some of the small businesses in our Which? Trusted Traders scheme to find out what they are doing to protect customers during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Here are some examples of the measures they have put in place:
|Openreach||The telecommunications firm is only entering homes when necessary, asking customers to stay in another part of the home during visits, and calling in advance to check whether anyone has symptoms. It will no longer install new broadband connections when a home visit is involved. Find out more about their processes.|
|British Gas||The company has cancelled routine appointments to limit exposure to the virus, prioritising vulnerable customers and taking extra safety precautions during necessary home visits. Read more about their policies.|
|CIPHE||The Chartered Institute of Plumbers and Heating Engineering is advising its members to act as if every site they visit contains the virus, use PPE throughout (ideally disposable items) and clean tools thoroughly.|
|This Which? Trusted Trader has provided all staff with thermometers and is asking them to measure their temperature every morning and text in a picture before they are approved to work that day. Staff are also asking all potential customers questions about their health when booking appointments.|
|Stoake Ltd||The fireplace and stove installer is providing quotes through FaceTime and Google Hangouts. Anyone entering customers’ homes is wearing gloves and masks and following social distancing guidance.|
and Plumbing Ltd
|The firm has set up a short-term scheme with its local council to drop their call-out charges during the outbreak. Work for vulnerable customers is being carried out free of charge unless new parts are needed.|
Has a trader, engineer or someone else gone above and beyond to help you during the coronavirus outbreak? Help us celebrate the unsung coronavirus heroes.
What to do if you have work booked during the lockdown?
The government is expecting to ‘turn the tide’ on coronavirus within 12 weeks, so it’s likely to be more difficult to get work done on your home during this time (although restrictions may last longer).
If you have a project booked during this timeframe that hasn’t started yet, consider:
- Whether you still want or need to go ahead with the current schedule. For example, does something urgently need fixing, or will planning permission expire in the next 12 weeks? Could you delay the project until later in the year instead?
- If you could effectively practice social distancing while the work is carried out and whether you’re happy with the protective measures your trader will take.
- Do you have a contract or any written agreement for works to be carried out? If you don’t yet have an agreement in writing, it should give you more flexibility to make changes or cancel the work.
- If you’ve already signed a contract, are you still within the 14-day cooling off period, which would allow you to cancel without any penalties if you want to do so?
- If the 14 days have passed, what does the contract say about changing the schedule of work?
Talk to your trader, engineer or utility company as soon as possible about how you want to proceed. Even if your contract doesn’t seem to allow flexibility, there’s likely to be more scope to negotiate and come to a compromise in the current circumstances.
If you plan to go ahead, check whether the trader is willing and able to do the work. Discuss what will happen if one of you becomes ill before the project start date, or if stricter social distancing measures are introduced.
Find out more about how to resolve disputes and your rights when getting work done on your home.
What should you do if you’re halfway through a renovation?
The key things to consider and do if your project is already in progress are:
- Is it essential for the work to be completed at the moment? For example, if you only have half a kitchen installed you may struggle to prepare meals if you have to self-isolate, so it might be important to finish the project.
- Consider whether you can effectively practise social distancing during the rest of the work.
- Talk to your trader as soon as possible about whether it’s practical or possible to continue, how they will carry this out safely and whether you’re happy with these measures.
- Check what your contract says about changing the schedule of work or what would happen if you decide to cancel.
Bear in mind that you may have to be more flexible about the schedule for the project if it continues. Traders working on your project may become ill, need to self-isolate or may have to work around childcare responsibilities now the schools are closed. Delays won’t necessarily entitle you to cancel the contract.
If you decide to cancel for any reason, find out whether you would incur any financial penalties.
If your trader decides not to finish the project, you may have the right to cancel without penalty, depending on the circumstances and the terms of your contract.
Good communication with your trader will be key to managing the situation. Approach any discussions calmly and try to work out a compromise.
If you need to find a trustworthy trader, search for Which? Trusted Traders in your area.