The Omicron variant and your rights: Travel, shopping and latest restrictions

6 min read
November 29, 2021

The news is full of warnings about the arrival of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 – and predicting what might happen next is an inexact science. 

Things will change quickly so keep an eye on the news for all the latest updates. 

For now, we take a look at some of the things that are affected by the Omicron variant and tightened restrictions in the UK – and what your rights are if we’re confined at home again. 

Don’t forget that the rules vary depending on whether you live in (or visit) England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Travel out of the UK

Many of the foreign travel complaints Resolver has seen recently have arisen due to confusion over the Covid measures in place in the destination country. This can range from vaccine passports for under 16’s (the NHS app doesn’t currently provide vaccine passports for 11 to 15-year-olds) to unexpected mask-wearing requirements in public places.

But for most people, the big question mark for overseas travel is what happens if restrictions mean you can’t go on holiday? Airlines and holiday firms have tightened the rules considerably since 2019, so don’t automatically assume you’ll be able to get a refund, even if Government travel advice is ‘not to travel’. 

What you can do

 A bit of advance planning could save you much heartache if the rules suddenly change. Make sure you read the cancelation terms on an airline or travel agent website before you book. If anything isn’t clear, email or message the firm and ask them to confirm in writing what your rights are. Don’t assume you’ll get vouchers or be able to move the holiday forward without charge either.

 Travel insurance is a must for foreign holidays. There are lots of policies available with Covid cover, but this usually depends on you being diagnosed with Covid, not just having symptoms.

Travel into the UK

Many UK tourists or residents due to arrive back in the UK from the latest red list countries are discovering to their cost that the quarantine hotels are back. In fact, many are already booked up, meaning people in these countries have to delay their flights. 

If you’re arriving from a non-red list country and you are fully vaccinated, then you will need to take a PCR test – not a lateral flow test – on arrival or in the first two days of your return. You must self-isolate until you get a negative result and you’ll also need to fill out the standard passenger location form. 

If you arrive and are unvaccinated, then you’ll need two tests on day two and day eight and you’ll need to self-isolate for ten days.

What you can do

You can book a PCR test at the airport but expect high demand and high prices. Alternatively, you can book a test online. Don’t just pick the first one you come across – go online and see what people are saying about delays, missing test results and poor service. It’s worth spending a bit more to minimise the risk of being confined at home for days waiting for results.

Getting around the UK

It looks likely that there will be a requirement to wear masks again in shops and on public transport, though pubs and restaurants are likely to be exempt.

Many people will be turning to public transport for Christmas family visits. If you’ve not been on the trains, ferries or buses and coaches, be prepared for a surprise or two. Trains in particular have been badly affected by financial losses since the pandemic and as a result, lots of trains are shorter than usual or less frequent – and there’s not much in the way of bargain tickets to be had.

What you can do

 Get online now and book if you want the best deals – but check out the cancellation rules should circumstances mean you are not able to travel. You might want to see if you can transfer tickets to other people or move the travel dates forward, which broadens your options, but expect to pay a moderate fee for this if it is offered.

 Think about what you are comfortable with when traveling. It’s going to be busy over Christmas so try to travel off-peak, take disinfectant wipes and order your free lateral flow tests now if you’re worried about visiting more vulnerable relatives.

Credit cards

If you’re going to pay for goods or services – and you are disciplined with money – then a good tip that applies to most of the situations we outline here is to pay using a credit card, if you can. 

If you spend more than £100 and buy directly from a provider of goods or services, then you might be able to claim a refund from the card provider if things go wrong. There are – of course – catches, so check out Resolver’s guide 

Gifts and goods

Did you have a Black Friday blowout? It seems that many of us did based on the current retailer reports. You may be experiencing a bit of buyer’s regret though – so don’t worry, you might still be able to cancel and get a refund (you’ll have 14 days to do this if you bought goods online in most instances).

The big Covid threat to gifts, goods and services is getting your hands on them. Aside from the already well publicised lack of HGV drivers, businesses need to have people to process deliveries, prepare food and make the items you’re buying. Don’t assume that just because you bought something it’s in a warehouse in the UK waiting its turn to head your way. Last year we saw some major delays after retailers oversold without having stock.

If you’ve bought goods and services then check the delivery date with the retailer now. Retailers must try to honour the delivery date – or if there isn’t one, try to get you the gifts within 30 days. If the date doesn’t match what you were promised, make a formal complaint. If you can get the goods quicker elsewhere then do so. Check out all your shopping rights.

If you’re planning a supermarket delivery for your Christmas groceries, book a slot now if you can. If you are classed as vulnerable, don’t forget you get priority if you’re ‘on the list’. 

Boiler breakdowns, repairs and financial concerns

Lots of things can go wrong at this time of year. If you’ve not had your boiler serviced, don’t wait for it to pack in. Book an appointment asap. Covid restrictions will ground many engineers and specialist service providers. So have a look around the house and think about what you can’t cope with if it breaks or packs in (broadband in particular). Get your repairs now, just in case.

There are a lot of unknowns if further restrictions kick in. Don’t panic, prep. If you think you’re going to struggle financially, then seek help now before the rush. The same goes for concerns about energy bills and other rising costs.

There are lots of schemes in place to help you if you can’t afford your outgoings and free services such as StepChange  and Money Helper can offer guidance and payment plans too. 

Resolver helps people make complaints and learn more about their rights every day. Find out more at

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