Claer Barrett’s Consumer Advice 


Household budgets have been hit by the disruptive effects of the coronavirus, making it harder than ever for families to manage their day-to-day finances.

In the quest to save money, here are some suggestions for how to trim yours — but this is not a straightforward process. For every cut you try to make, there could be consequences for someone else.

Live Q&A

FT Money editor Claer Barrett will be online on Wednesday April 1 between 12 and 1pm and 5 and 5.30pm UK time to answer your questions about claiming refunds on school and nursery fees, travel costs, gym memberships and much more. Post your comments below this story and return to join the discussion

We look forward to debating these issues with FT readers and hearing your money-saving tips during Wednesday’s live Q&A session. 

Commuting
Train companies say annual season tickets will be refunded pro-rata, but to get any money back commuters must have at least 12 weeks remaining on them. This is because they effectively get 12 weeks of free travel on an annual season ticket. Monthly season tickets need at least six days remaining and weekly ones at least two days. The £10 administrative fee will be waived.

Someone who bought an annual season ticket for £4,980 at the beginning of the year should be able to get a refund for six months’ travel or £2,490. Refunds should be paid within 28 days. Full refunds can also be claimed for advance and off-peak tickets booked, but not used — apply via train company websites. 

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Transport for London is slightly more generous. It requires six weeks to remain on annual season tickets, seven days on a monthly ticket and three days on a seven-day ticket, and does not charge an administrative fee. Apply for a refund via its website.

Holiday refunds 
Social media is boiling with rage as travellers seeking refunds on flights and holidays find it impossible to contact airlines and travel companies. Telephone helplines are overwhelmed and most airlines advise customers not to get in touch unless their original departure flight is less than 72 hours away. 

If your flight or package holiday was scheduled before April 16 and is cancelled, you do not have to accept a voucher or credit note or be forced to rebook. You are legally entitled to a refund. The advice not to travel abroad from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) also means you should be able to claim from your travel insurer for consequential losses, such as booked hotel rooms or car hire.

However, UK consumer groups have found that many companies are ignoring this requirement and are only offering credit vouchers or the chance to reschedule.

If firms insist on providing vouchers instead of refunding, Martyn James, of online complaints website Resolver, advises: “Ask the firm to send you the terms and conditions where it says they can do this. If you don’t think it’s fair, make a complaint.”

Waste not, want not
The “panic buying” of food over recent weeks has unfortunately resulted in many perishable items ending up in the bin. Thrifty FT readers will be batch cooking, filling the freezer, and testing the limits of “best before” labels with old-fashioned methods such as floating eggs in a jug of water to see if they are still fresh. Go on — confess your most frugal habits in the comments below. 

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This is part of a new daily series enabling you to interact with FT writers and editors on what to read, watch, eat and drink under lockdown — and how to tackle your garden, home and finances

Sports and fitness
With no live football likely until June at the earliest and many other major sporting events cancelled or postponed, subscribers to Sky Sports can pause their sports subscription online and it will automatically resume when live football and other major sporting events return.

A message on Sky’s website reads: “While we expect that many of the recently postponed sports events will eventually go ahead, if you wish to pause your sports subscription in the meantime you will not be charged a fee to do so or be held to any notice period.”

BT Sport says that customers on its new “flexible TV” package can pause their subscription and make other changes by logging on to bt.com/tv.

It may also be possible to cancel or pause your gym membership — chains including Virgin Active and Gymbox have automatically frozen monthly memberships. 

Private school and nursery fees 
With children stuck at home, readers report that they are negotiating with private schools and nurseries over the level of fees they have to pay. Parents will be bound by the terms of contracts they have signed but, in practice, many are offering discounts while children cannot physically attend.

Some private schools could even give fee assistance to those who can demonstrate a steep drop in income. However, nursery owners are already warning that if all parents stop paying, their businesses may not survive. 

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Private members’ clubs
As the FT reported last week, some traditional London establishments such as the Athenaeum Club and the RAC are not planning to offer any reimbursements of subscriptions to their members (who pay upwards of £1,500 per year). 

Soho House, one of the best known of a new crop of clubs set up in the past 25 years as trendy alternatives to the old guard, is offering members credits for the pro-rata value of their membership during the coming closure.

After reopening, the money can be spent on food, drink, spa treatments or accommodation. With annual subscriptions of up to £1,750, that could quickly add up to a serious amount of champagne.

FT Money editor Claer Barrett will be online on Wednesday April 1 between 12 and 1pm and 5 and 5.30pm UK time to answer your questions about claiming refunds on school and nursery fees, travel costs, gym memberships and much more. Post your questions in the comment section below this story.



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