New coronavirus restrictions in England, Scotland and Wales mean that tens of thousands of people won’t be allowed to take the UK holidays they’ve booked, including over the half-term break.
In England, a complex three-tier system of restrictions has come into force which means that you need to check the rules for both where you live and where you’re planning to stay to see if your holiday can still go ahead.
And from 6pm on Friday 23 October, travel to and from the whole of Wales is banned as part of a national lockdown until 9 November. All hotels, pubs, restaurants and leisure activities will close for just over two weeks, during which outdoor gatherings with people from different households will also be banned.
Additionally, restrictions on the number of people you are allowed to see in a group in different parts of the UK mean that many extended families will no longer be allowed to stay together in the self-catered accommodation they’ve already paid for.
As new measures and restrictions are likely to remain in place for some time, bookings for the October half term, as well as Christmas holidays are likely to be affected.
Find more unbiased advice on travel and coronavirus, award-winning investigations and legal advice on holiday refunds and cancelled flights with Which? Travel
- Can I still take a UK holiday?
It depends on both where you live and where you are travelling to. The advice and rules are significantly different in each country, and within those countries.
Tier 1 restrictions – can I take a holiday?
Yes. Tier 1 level restrictions are similar to those which were already in force across the country, so travel is still allowed to and from these areas. You can mix with other households, meaning holiday cottage or other accommodation booked with another household can go ahead, but the rule of six still applies – meaning no more than six people can stay together.
Tier 2 – can I take a holiday?
It is a grey area. Travel is also allowed to Tier 2 areas, but you can only stay in self-catered accommodation with people you normally live with. The government hasn’t banned those living in Tier 2 areas from travelling, but the advice is to “reduce the number of journeys you make”. As the government has only issued advice, you may not be able to get a refund.
Tier 3 – can I take a holiday?
No. The government says people should avoid travelling to “high risk” areas covered by Tier 3 restrictions, such as the Liverpool City Region. People living in Tier 3 areas are told to avoid staying overnight anywhere else in the UK.
Which? believes people with bookings affected by Tier 3 restrictions should be able to get a refund.
Tier 2 and Tier 3 holiday rules explained – read our full guide
Wales holidays and travel
A national lockdown from 23 October means no non-essential travel will be allowed in or out of Wales until 9 November.
Wales is the first of the four UK nations to introduce a “circuit-breaker” lockdown, ordering people to stay at home in an attempt to control rising cases of coronavirus.
All holiday accommodation will be forced to close from 6pm on Friday, meaning anyone already holidaying in Wales when the lockdown comes into effect will have to leave the country.
People from high risk areas of the UK, which means those living under Tier 2 and Tier 3 restrictions in England and residents of the central belt of Scotland, were already banned from visiting Wales. Holidays to part of Wales already covered by local lockdowns were also banned. The areas are Bangor, Llanelli, Cardiff, Swansea, Merthyr Tydfil, Bridgend, Blaenau Gwent, Newport, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Caerphilly, Neath Port Talbot, Torfaen and Vale of Glamorgan, Denbighshire, Flintshire, Conwy and Wrexham.
If you are due to travel to Wales from these areas, or to any part of Wales between 23 October and 9 November, Which? believes you should be entitled to a refund. The Welsh government is clear that travelling into Wales for a holiday is not one of the permitted reasons for entering the country under its lockdown regulations.
Scotland holidays and travel
In Scotland, there are no mandatory travel restrictions but First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has advised people not to travel to or from five areas in the central belt, which are Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Lanarkshire, Ayrshire and Arran, Lothian, and Forth Valley “if they don’t need to”. However, as this is guidance rather than a legal lockdown, it’s unlikely holidaymakers can claim a refund. Additional restrictions have been introduced in these areas, including the closure of pubs and indoor entertainment venues, until 25 October. Hotels are allowed to remain open.
Can I get a refund when lockdown or tier restrictions prevent travel?
We believe that if you had booked accommodation in or were going on holiday from one of the Tier 3 areas of England or locked down Wales, or any other area that introduces similar restrictions in the future, you should be entitled to your money back.
If the terms and conditions of your accommodation or holiday provider exclude refunds in this scenario, they could be challenged on the basis that they are potentially unfair. If the booking contract doesn’t specify what happens in this situation the consumer is entitled to a refund.
The good news is that most of the major UK holiday companies are offering refunds to people who aren’t allowed to travel due to local lockdowns. Sykes Cottages, Hoseasons and Cottages.com, which were all criticised for refusing to refund customers during the nationwide lockdown earlier this year, say they will refund in these circumstances.
Sykes is offering refunds or an alternative holiday to those who can’t travel due to government restrictions for trips booked up to 11 November, and it says it will review this in line with government guidance. However, customers are reporting difficulty claiming refunds as they have to call Sykes to do so and its phone lines are often engaged.
Hoseasons and sister company Cottages.com are offering alternative holidays or refunds to those who can’t travel over the next three weeks due to the restrictions.
Haven and Butlin’s are offering free cancellations or changes up to three days before arrival, or within three days if government restrictions prevent people from travelling. Center Parcs is also offering free refunds.
Will new social distancing rules affect my holiday in England? The rule of six
You can still go on holiday to most of England, with the exception of areas under Tier 3 restrictions, but you must abide by any local restrictions and the new social distancing rules in the region you’re visiting. This might mean you’ll no longer be able to holiday with people you don’t normally live with.
In areas of England covered by Tier 1 restrictions, the ‘rule of six’ allows up to six people – including children – from multiple households to stay together in a holiday cottage. But for those living or staying in areas covered by Tier 2 restrictions, there is a ban on household mingling so you can only stay in self-catered accommodation with people you normally live with.
Will social distancing rules affect my holiday in Wales?
From 23 October, holidays in Wales will be banned until 9 November. Until then, travel is allowed in areas not covered by local lockdowns, but social distancing rules only allow up to six people to stay in the same self-catered accommodation and they must all be from the same household or extended household. Children under 11 don’t count, but there can be no more than six other people, even if they all form an extended household.
Will social distancing rules affect my holiday in Scotland?
Holidays are allowed in Scotland too but, since 25 September, a new, stricter ‘rule of six’ came into force which means that only people from one household, or extended household, can stay in self-catered accommodation together. An extended household can be formed by a person who lives alone – or only with children under 18 – and another household of any size, or a couple who don’t live together plus their children.
What if my accommodation booking breaks the rules?
You need to check the restrictions for the area you are travelling to and if your group consists of multiple households where this isn’t allowed you’ll have to reduce the number of guests or cancel.
In this instance, the bigger self-catering booking sites such as Sykes Cottages, Hoseasons and Cottages.com all say they will give customers the option of refunds, free changes or vouchers.
Sykes is currently allowing refunds or changes for bookings up to 23 December, but it is warning people not to cancel the booking themselves otherwise they’ll forfeit the right to a refund. It says it will contact customers in date order.
Hoseasons and Cottages.com, both part of Vacation Rentals, admit customers are struggling to get through to them on the phone due to ‘an unprecedented volume of calls’, so they are asking people only to contact them two weeks before their holiday.
Butlin’s, Haven and Center Parcs are also allowing free cancellations or changes for groups that don’t comply with the new social distancing restrictions.
Private accommodation owners might take a different view. The government said it ‘encourages accommodation providers to offer alternative dates if this can be agreed with you’. If this isn’t possible, it says it encourages businesses to provide a refund, but says this may depend on the terms of the contract.
We believe you should be entitled to a refund for accommodation in England and Wales on the basis that if you went ahead with the booking you would be breaking the law. If your contract doesn’t specify what happens in these circumstances you should be entitled to most, if not all, of your money back; if the terms and conditions exclude refunds in this situation they could be challenged on the basis that they’re potentially unfair.
Will my travel insurance cover cancellation costs?
Most comprehensive annual travel insurance policies, especially those provided through bank accounts, will cover UK holidays and should include cancellation cover for trips booked before mid-March when coronavirus was declared a pandemic so it’s worth checking the wording of your policy. Standard annual policies are unlikely to cover UK travel and some insurers introduced COVID-exclusion clauses for trips booked after mid-March.