How to make sure you don’t lose your money as a result of the pandemic.
Normally I’d be encouraging you to claim back all the money you’re owed, but right now there’s a fine line between doing this and doing what we can to keep businesses going.
Already we’ve seen Laura Ashley call in administrators, and even with the government announcing funds to support some businesses it’s likely we’ll see the end for many businesses – large and small.
So should you be doing what you can now to claw back any owed cash, or should you be taking a risk to help keep our high streets and arts scenes active?
I think it really comes down to what you can afford and how much money you could possibly lose as a result.
If you think there’s a high chance you could lose your job during this crisis you absolutely should prioritise your own situation.
But if you can comfortably work from home and think your job is safe then you might want to think about whether you chase a refund – or if there’s a better way for you to support those struggling businesses.
Here are my thoughts on each of the main places you might be owed cash. As with all Covid-19 coverage, things can change very quickly.
Obviously we’re talking about a lot of money if you can’t go on your holiday. Probably more than you can afford to lose.
First of all, you should be checking to see if you can claim on your travel insurance. Now that the Foreign & Commonwealth Office has warned against all foreign travel for the next 30 days those with insurance will now be able to claim – as long as it includes cover for disruption caused by a pandemic.
But if you don’t have travel insurance, or your trip is outside these dates, it’s more of a waiting game.
You might already find that your flight has been cancelled, in which case you are entitled to a refund. Some airlines, including BA, are giving you the option of a voucher to use later.
This does help the airline, but I’d personally get the refund due to the amounts of money likely in question. There’s no guarantee the airline will survive (it’s likely a number won’t), and if that happens your voucher is worthless.
Plus, when you finally do get a chance to reschedule it could be another airline is offering better prices on the dates you want to go.
It’s similar with any hotel, car hire or other bookings you’ve made. Many will let you cancel without a penalty, or move your dates.
I’m meant to be going to London in a few weeks for a couple of events that are no longer happening, which means I don’t need to take my already booked train. Fortunately, LNER has already emailed saying people can cancel or rebook, so I will be getting my money back.
If you have similar journeys, find out what that train operator’s policy is. There could be a small fee, but hopefully this will be waived.
If you have a season ticket, you can ask for a refund, though you might get back than you expect. That’s because it’ll be calculated based on what the cost would have been for the time you’ve used it.
So let’s say you’ve used six months of an annual season ticket, rather than get half back, you’ll actually get the total you paid minus the cost of six separate monthly season tickets.
In terms of cancelled events you need to decide if you can afford to wait for it to be rescheduled, or whether you need to get your money back now.
I’ve already had one event postponed(a concert by my favourite Britpop band Ash) and another cancelled (one I was due to speak at).
And I’m almost certainly going to have more go the same way. I’m meant to see some Crystal Palace football matches in April and May which will almost certainly be postponed, and I expect another couple of gigs in July won’t go ahead – especially now Glastonbury has been called off.
With all these events, I’ll happily wait for them to be rescheduled, and then make a call about whether I can attend or not.
But if you don’t have that flexibility in your budget, make sure you do get your refunds.
Plus, some events will just be cancelled outright, so you should apply to get your money back if it’s not done automatically.
Remember if you want to support specific arts venues and establishments such as theatres and galleries you can often make a donation.
Memberships and subscriptions
There’s a huge range of services you could have signed up to but won’t now be able to use.
Sky Sports and BT Sports have very little live sport to broadcast. Sky have said they’ll let you pause subscriptions, and I’d hope BT Sports do the same soon.
Odeon and Cineworld have closed their doors which means you won’t be able to use unlimited passes, however both are pausing memberships so you will still get the same amount of time to use it once they reopen.
It’ll be similar for other memberships and more will follow. English Heritage has emailed me to say it has shut down ticketed locations.
It’s worth taking a look at where you’ve paid for things you can’t use and deciding whether you can wait to see how things develop or whether you want to try for compensation now.
If you’ve bought something recently and you know you don’t want it, then you absolutely should return it for a full refund while you can – and before you potentially have to self isolate or shops are forced to close.
If bought from an independent retailer then there’s no reason why you can’t use the refunded cash to buy something else you like. I think that’s a much better option than having something you’re only going to bin or leave at the back of the wardrobe.
You should hunt down any gift cards you have and use them up ASAP. If a business does go under then that gift card is useless.
This also means I don’t think you should be buying gift cards right now. I’ve seen a few people share on social media that this is a good thing for small businesses, but you’d be better off just shopping with them.
Credits on accounts
While you’re at it, check your online accounts, for example cashback sites, to see if there’s any money there ready to pay out. If there is, I would cash it out now.
There’s no protection for these funds if they close down permanently, as we saw last year when the popular gift card app Zeek went under.