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Coronavirus: Can I get travel insurance, or a holiday refund and what are my travel rights?

Kevin Peachey - Personal finance reporter
Bournemouth Pier

Coronavirus has meant most people have been forced to abandon or hastily rearrange holiday plans for 2020, whether in the UK or abroad.

Foreign Office advice against all non-essential travel in being lifted on 4 July for countries where the public health risk is no longer "unacceptably high".

Should I book my summer holiday?

Different parts of the UK are relaxing restrictions at different times, but this opens the option of a staycation.

The planned reduction of social distancing from 2m (6ft) to 1m plus in England means that hotels, campsites, self-catering accommodation and B&Bs can operate again, with restrictions, from 4 July.

Self-catering holiday accommodation is opening again now in Northern Ireland, and hotels will follow on 3 July.

A decision will be taken in Wales on 9 July on whether to open up the country to tourists again. If this is given the go-ahead, it is likely to take effect from 13 July.

In Scotland you can book self contained accommodation from 3 July. All other holiday accommodation can reopen from 15 July.

What about going abroad?

This is more complicated.

Foreign Office advice against all non-essential travel overseas is being lifted on 4 July.

Travel advice is being eased for countries and territories where the public health risk is no longer considered to be "unacceptably high".

A security guard walks under palms at a deserted Camps Bay beach, South Africa

But this official travel advice from the Foreign Office is separate from so called "international travel corridors".

These would be agreements with other countries - starting on 10 July - where anyone returning from those nations would not need to self-isolate for a fortnight upon their return.

At present, this is only valid for people returning to England, with the rest of the UK still to confirm what their rules will be.

The 14-day quarantine rules may rule out an overseas break for people who need to get back to work or school.

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Will travel insurance cover me if I get coronavirus?

Where the Foreign Office advice states UK residents should not travel, it is very unlikely that any travel insurance will be valid.

In countries where travel is acceptable, according to the Foreign Office, there will be different cover depending on your policy.

While most policies will cover treatment for illness and injury while overseas, not all will do so for coronavirus-related illness.

A number of policies are now being sold that will cover people for emergency treatment or repatriation for Covid-19 contracted while in a resort, but not cases that arose by getting it beforehand in the UK.

What about insurance if I have to self-isolate?

Anyone still faces testing positive for the virus, or coming into contact with somebody who has it, and being alerted by the new test and trace systems being used in the UK.

The government has said it is a "civic duty" for people to self-isolate for 14 days after being notified of a contact.

This could lead to cancelled or delayed holidays, but insurance broadly falls into three categories:

  • Anyone who already had a travel insurance policy bought or renewed prior to around early March may still be able to make a claim for such a cancellation, but they should check their policy
  • Renewals of annual policies may now be unavailable, or have coronavirus exclusions. In other words, the terms may have changed and cover reduced
  • People buying travel insurance now are unlikely to be covered for any coronavirus-related delays or cancellations

Can I rearrange my package holiday if I develop symptoms?

Again, there will be relatively little protection for those who cannot travel because they are told to self-isolate or who develop symptoms just before they are due to travel.

Travel companies are unlikely to give a refund or allow people to rearrange in those circumstances.

People will also need to make a claim on their travel insurance if they are affected by the virus while abroad.

However, if the UK or a destination country announces fresh restrictions on travel, then a refund for the whole holiday or the opportunity to rearrange should be granted.

Can I get a refund for cancelled flights or package holidays?

Yes, but there have been delays for many people who have been seeking refunds for holidays cancelled while restrictions were in place - both abroad and in the UK.

The Association of British Travel Agents (Abta) told BBC News that people "absolutely have the right to a refund" for package holidays cancelled by a provider, but payments would take longer than the 14 statutory days.

Plane taking off from Heathrow Airport

If your flight is cancelled, you are also entitled to a full refund to your original form of payment, within seven days. Huge backlogs mean these have been delayed considerably, prompting complaints to airlines and the regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority.

Many customers have reported their airlines have been offering a voucher for another flight instead of a refund.

And trade body Airlines UK told BBC News in early April, vouchers were its preferred method of compensation in a "very grave" financial situation.

If you are offered a voucher, or a free rebooking instead of cash, you can accept or refuse it.

But if the airline later folds, the voucher will probably become invalid.

If you rebook and later decide against going on a flight that has not been cancelled, you will have lost your right to a refund and are unlikely to be covered by your travel insurance.

The Association of British Insurers said travel insurance was to cover losses incurred by unforeseen circumstances and coronavirus no longer met that criteria.

People should also pay attention to "disruption cover" in terms and conditions, which may, or may not, pay out for costs such as unused hotel bookings or car hire.

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