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New coronavirus restrictions and England, Scotland and Wales travel rules: what it means for holidays in the UK

What the tiers, lockdowns and restrictions on travel mean for your holiday, Christmas and whether you can get a refund

New coronavirus restrictions and England, Scotland and Wales travel rules: what it means for holidays in the UK

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock has announced which locations in England face which new tier restrictions from 2 December. Much of England will be in tier 2 and 3, meaning most people will not be able to mix inside or holiday with other households.

Those living in areas under tier 3 restrictions include Greater Manchester, Nottinghamshire and Birmingham, whilst Liverpool has been lowered to tier 2. London also falls back into tier 2, where it was prior to the national lockdown. UK Holidays can take place for those in tiers 1 and 2, however, those in tier 2 must stay only with other members of their household.

Those in tier 3 will not be able to travel to or stay in other areas of the country, similar to pre-lockdown rules. Plus, all hotels and B&BS in a tier 3 area will have to close – but you will be entitled to a refund.

Existing restrictions in Wales and parts of Scotland also mean holidays that cross the borders can’t take place.

While Wales’ national lockdown has now ended and you can once again travel throughout Wales if you live there, you still can’t travel to other parts of the UK.

Scotland also follows a tiered system which has five levels ranging from 0-4. Those in tier 3 and tier 4 can’t leave their local area.

In England, the current national lockdown is set to remain in place until 2 December. Overnight stays away from home are still banned, and you are only allowed to go outside for a limited number of reasons, such as education and shopping. On that basis, all holidays for England residents and holidays in England can’t take place.

[Christmas update] The UK government, including all four nations, has also said that existing restrictions will be lifted during the Christmas period (December 23-27) so up to three households can meet. For those planning to travel, the government has warned that demand may outstrip supply on public transport and advised passengers to book early.

Use our holidays abroad Q&A if you need help with an international flight or holiday.

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?

In England, until 2 December, no. The lockdown rules in England ban overnight stays, such as at holiday cottages and hotels for leisure reasons, and all travel for leisure reasons. Following the announcement of a second lockdown for England, Scotland has advised against travel between the borders unless it is ‘absolutely essential’.

From 2 December, those living in tiers 1 and 2 in England will be able to take holidays within England, but must avoid tier 3 areas unless it’s for a reason such as work.

Those in tier 2 will only be allowed to holiday with members of their household.

Tier 3 residents should avoid travelling to other parts of the UK, including for overnight stays.

Welsh residents can stay overnight in holiday accommodation within Wales, but not elsewhere.

Current England travel restrictions

From 5 November up to 2 December no holidays in England can take place.

After that date tiered restrictions apply. These will be on a regional level. Those in tier 3 should avoid staying elsewhere in the UK unless ‘necessary’ (such as for medical treatment or work). This means no staycations.

Tier 1 restrictions: can I take a holiday?

Yes. The government has confirmed we are returning to previous tiered restrictions, with a few changes.

Those under tier 1 restrictions can travel and mix with other households, meaning holiday cottage or other accommodation booked with another household can go ahead, with no more than six in one accommodation. The other guests must also be under tier 1 restrictions.

Tier 2: can I take a holiday?

Yes. Travel is allowed to and from tier 2 areas.

If going on holiday in the UK, you can only stay in accommodation with people you normally live with.

The government advises those from tier 2 areas ‘reduce the number of journeys you make’ but travel is permitted. As the government has only issued advice, you may not be able to get a refund.

Tier 3: can I take a holiday?

People living in tier 3 areas should not stay overnight anywhere else in the UK. 

Additionally, accommodation in tier 3 areas, such as hotels, B&Bs, campsites, and guest houses, must close – but you will be entitled to a refund.

Those under tier 1 or 2 restrictions should not travel to tier 3 areas unless ‘necessary’.

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

Can I take a holiday from or in Wales?

Although Wales’ national ‘firebreak’ lockdown has ended, new restrictions do not allow people to enter Wales without a reasonable excuse. 

If you reside in Wales normally, you can take a holiday within the country, but not elsewhere.

Can I take a holiday from or in Scotland?

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has banned Scots from crossing the border into England, Wales or Northern Ireland unless it is deemed ‘essential’.

Within Scotland, new regulations came into force on 20 November that restrict travel in or out of level 3 and level 4 local authority areas, except for essential purposes. Plus, holiday accommodation is only open in level 0, 1 and 2 areas.

Scottish residents are strongly advised against any non-essential overseas travel. Going on holiday, including abroad, is not a reasonable excuse to leave a level 3 or 4 area. However, those that live in a level 0 -2 area can travel overseas, even if it means you have to travel into a level 3 or 4 area to reach an airport, train station or ferry port. However, it is not advised.

Scotland is not currently permitting people travelling from England, Wales or Northern Ireland into Scotland unless you have a reasonable excuse to do so. Additionally, England is still in a national lockdown until 2 December, meaning English residents can’t legally travel to Scotland. Welsh residents aren’t in a lockdown, but non-essential travel outside of Wales is not permitted.

Can I get a refund for my UK holiday when lockdown restrictions prevent travel?

We believe that if you had booked accommodation and you are unable to travel due to government restrictions on travel, you should be entitled to your money back. 

It is likely that most holiday accommodation will close if tier 3 restrictions are introduced. If that is the case, you will be entitled to a refund. You can choose to accept rebooking or a voucher, but you have the right to ask for a full refund.

Most 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 23 December 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.

If your provider claims the terms and conditions of your contract exclude refunds in this scenario, they could be challenged on the basis that they are potentially unfair. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has previously stated that refunds should be paid to customers who cannot take up a service because of government regulations.

Will new social distancing rules affect my holiday in England? The rule of six

From 5 November until at least 2 December, all holidays in England will be banned.

From 2 December, tiered restrictions will be re-introduced and the rule of six will apply. If you are under tier 2 restrictions, you will only be able to see people from your own household inside (and support bubble).

These restrictions could affect a holiday you may have booked months ago before these rules were in place.

Will social distancing rules affect my holiday in Wales?

Currently you can’t enter Wales from anywhere else in the UK or abroad without a reasonable excuse.

If you reside in Wales and plan to take a domestic holiday, you can only do so with your own household. Even if you have joined with another to form an extended household, you cannot holiday together.

Will social distancing rules affect my holiday in Scotland?

Currently, you should not enter Scotland without a reasonable excuse, so social distancing measures are irrelevant to holidaymakers from the rest of the UK.

If you reside in a level 3 or 4 area in Scotland, you are not legally allowed to leave your local area as of 20 November. You should also not enter the area except in exceptional circumstances. These rules remain in place until 11 December.

Social distancing rules will affect you if you live in level 0, 1 or 2 areas. In level 0, you can holiday in self-catered accommodation with a group of up to eight people from up to three families. This number can be larger if you are holidaying with only your household or extended household. In B&Bs, only one extended household is allowed per room. 

In level 1, you can stay with a maximum of six people from up to two households or extended households in private holiday accommodation. In B&Bs, you must stay with your own household or extended household.

In level 2 you should only stay with your household or extended household in self-catering accommodation. If you are staying with another household in a hotel or B&B you should not have more than one household (or extended household) staying in each room booked.

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 however 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 were also previously allowing free cancellations or changes for groups that don’t comply with the  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.

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