Coronavirus Q&A: 15 questions on work, dog grooming and allotments answered

We know you have many questions about coronavirus and how it's impacting your life - so ITV News is putting your questions to the experts in a special weekly programme, called Coronavirus: Q&A.

The programme is broadcast every Monday at 8pm on ITV.

In this week's programme, Consumer Editor Chris Choi answered some of the many questions ITV News viewers and readers sent in about how the outbreak is affecting your work, holidays and exercise.

These are the answers to the questions Chris answered on the programme, plus other questions we didn't have time to include on air.

Mariama: I’m a single mum with three kids and I work full time. I received a letter from the Government that means I need to stay at home because my six-year-old daughter’s asthma puts her at high risk from coronavirus.

My manager said I can take parental leave but this will be without pay, because the letter is about my daughter’s health not mine. They also say I don’t qualify for the furlough scheme because we’re key workers.

What can I do now - or how can I get financial help?

Answer: You can technically be furloughed if you need to stay at home to care for an at-risk child in these circumstances – that’s the Government scheme that pays 80% of salary. However, your employer has to agree to put you on this scheme. Maybe Mariama’s boss doesn’t realise that she is eligible, so there is a conversation to be had. Otherwise she may qualify for Universal Credit benefits.

Asthma is a reason to stay home. Credit: PA

Christine: I’m 71 and want to make a will in case anything happens to me, but I’ve been told this is not possible as solicitors can’t see clients face-to-face for identification during lockdown. Surely not having a will is causing extra distress to families at this time?

Answer: You don’t have to see the solicitor, they can draft your will and post it to you. However, the snag is that wills must be signed in the physical presence of two witnesses. People have managed this by signing on one side of a window and passing the will through to witnesses; or neighbours have stood at one end of a drive to witness the signing and added their signatures once the will maker has withdrawn. Law firms and will writers will give you suggestions over the phone or online about how a will can be witnessed.

Many people have had holidays cancelled. Credit: PA

John: Before the lockdown, I had booked Easter week as annual leave. My employer then refused all holiday cancellations and is forcing everyone to take at least two weeks annual leave before the end of June. Can they do this?

Answer: Government rules say that firms can now carry up to four weeks holiday over into the next two years. However, your employer has to agree to this and bosses are still able to give you notice to take leave within specified dates. So, sorry John, try to enjoy the break even if it is not what you’d hoped for.

Anon: Can I tend my allotment? It’s a three-minute walk from my home.

Answer: Well, drum roll... step forward the unlikely champion of allotments... Government minister Michael Gove. He says you can still tend an allotment. Exercise is allowed once a day and allotments are great for that. You might also get some decent sprouts out of it – perhaps consider sending some to Mr Gove after his intervention.

Tending to allotments is permitted. Credit: PA

Bernie: If people are allowed to go to their allotments, can we go fishing?

Answer: The thought of isolating on a river bank is lovely, but the Canal and River Trust and the Angling Trust say refrain. Anglers always have to be patient, now more than ever as they wait for things to get back to normal.

Pauline: I know we all have to be very careful at the moment, but being a dog owner I worry about my dog being groomed. He should have gone to the groomer the week that lockdown was announced, but obviously he couldn't. My dog is a llaso and is usually groomed every five weeks, so I'm sure you can imagine how uncomfortable he his feeling. Surely this can be done safely and without contact – dogs are part of the family and need to be looked after too.

Answer: This is actually more than just pampering pooches – rising temperatures can cause overheating and even ear infections. Dog grooming parlours are closed, but mobile groomers can operate if they don’t go into your home and as long as social distancing precautions are taken. This may be Pauline’s best option, and the dog may soon be the best groomed member of the family.

Dogs can still be groomed. Credit: PA

Tracey: Would I be breaking the law by not allowing my ex-partner to have my seven-year-old daughter to stay every other weekend? There is a child arrangement order in place, but I am very concerned as we have not been mixing with anyone outside of our home, and my ex-partner lives with someone who is still out and about working as an NHS manager.

Answer: Officially, the decision about whether a child is to move between parental homes is for the child’s parents, after a sensible assessment, including about the risk of infection. If both parents agree, the usual arrangements can be varied. If parents can’t agree, one parent can vary the terms, but could later be challenged in the Family Court (which would decide whether the variation was reasonable). If it is decided that Tracey’s daughter does not go to her father’s, alternative contact should be arranged - for example video meetings and phone calls.

Patti: Why are there still thousands of people flying into our airports without any controls or checks? This is not possible in other countries. People returning from abroad are going straight back into our communities while we're listening to the guidelines.

Answer: Airports remain open for essential travel and for UK citizens returning from abroad. Airports do look quite different – shops and restaurants are now only open for takeaway, and airports say they have stepped up cleaning regimes and social distancing.

You won’t see temperature checks being done in UK airports though, as you might in some countries. Airports say this is because they’re following public health advice – and that temperature checks aren’t required.

People are not being screened at UK airports. Credit: PA

Linda: I live in a semi-rural area with several local public footpaths and rights of way. I have noticed some of the paths have been barricaded off and notices put up by local homeowners to say footpaths are closed in the interest of shielding elderly residents. Do residents have the right to do this if normal practice of social distancing is adhered to by both residents and walkers using the footpaths?

Answer: Under normal circumstances, owners can’t close public footpaths. However, new guidelines say owners can display a notice encouraging social distancing or suggesting an alternative route. A kind of new outdoor etiquette is forming and the underlying message is to fully respect social distancing and each other.

Mark: Our local cycling club has had a clampdown on the time members can be out each day - a two-hour max limit has been set. However, there are people still regularly cycling or running for ridiculously long times - I've seen many in the six to eight-hour range with distances of over 100 miles, and even an exceptional one that lasted 14 hours! Wouldn’t it be better for the Government to put a clear limit on the length of time we can spend exercising?

Answer: True - there is no specific official time limit. There is an expectation that people will make a judgement about what is reasonable in terms of exercise. Michael Gove recently commented on this – and said that in his view, a reasonable amount of exercise would be a walk lasting up to an hour, a run of 30 minutes or a cycle lasting something in between. It is very much open to interpretation, but 14 hours does seem a long time!

Cemeteries are still open. Credit: PA

Nicky: Is it OK to visit a cemetery to tend the grave of loved one if it’s more than five minutes from where you live?

Answer: If the cemetery is a short distance away from Nicky, a visit could reasonably be incorporated into exercise for that day. Plus, over the weekend, the Government clarified that graveyards should remain open in England for individual visits. However, many cemeteries have closed, with some councils saying that the public had been using them for sunbathing and barbecues. So Nicky, check on how the rules are being interpreted where you are.

Uta: Is it acceptable for a company to ask employees to attend work if two metres distance cannot be kept at all times?

Answer: If work absolutely can’t be done from home, employers are required to take all possible steps to ensure that social distancing can be maintained in the workplace. If employees have to be within two metres of one another to carry out some of their work, employers should think very carefully about how essential those tasks are. If they have to carry out these tasks, where possible workers should work side-by-side, rather than being face-to-face. In some roles, additional protection such as screens or protective clothing may also be advisable. If you have concerns, talk to your bosses. Ultimately, the Health and Safety Executive can issue enforcement notices if employers are not doing enough.

To qualify for the Government’s Self-employment Income Support Scheme you need to have submitted a tax return. Credit: PA

@jdchanelle94: My dad is self-employed but has only just started his business, so he hasn't got a tax return. What's the policy for people who are self-employed?

Answer: The Government’s Self-employment Income Support Scheme pays 80% of average profits, up to a maximum of £2,500 per month. However, to qualify for this, you do need to have submitted a tax return for the last financial year, meaning that you must have been self-employed since the 6th April 2019. Another option is to apply for Universal Credit. Your dad may also qualify for a ‘Business Interruption Loan’ – but this will need to be paid back.

Anon: Is there any financial assistance for people who suffer the unexpected death of a loved one at the moment? In the current medical emergency, a death may occur before that person’s natural time, and their families may not be financially prepared. Is there a provision for this?

Answer: No extra provision has been made to help families pay for funerals if someone dies with coronavirus. The usual finance schemes are operating to help with funeral costs, but you’ll need to qualify - which usually means being on certain benefits - for a ‘Funeral Expenses Payment’. You also need to be a close relative or friend of the person who has died.

Pregnant women have have been advised to shield. Credit: PA

Chris: I usually work in an office but I’m now working from home due to Coronavirus. Can I claim tax relief for the electricity I’m using if I am on PAYE?

Answer: If you are now having to work from home because of Coronavirus - you can claim some money back for extra energy costs. Your employer can pay you an allowance of £6 per week tax-free – which would be paid with your usual wages. Alternatively, you can claim tax relief on £6 of your weekly earnings. This will equate to either £1.20 or £2.40 per week – depending on which tax bracket you’re in. You may also be able to claim for services like broadband, if you have had to purchase them specially to allow you to work from home. Full details can be found on the HMRC website.

Liz: Pregnant women have been advised to self-isolate, but what if a pregnant woman can't work from home and her employer doesn't pay sick pay? In order to qualify for maternity pay, women need to earn at least £118 for a number of weeks. Has the government considered adjusting this requirement to allow for pregnant women who are self-isolating?

Answer: The current advice for pregnant women is to work from home where possible. Where this isn’t possible, talk to your employer about modifying your job so that you are sure you can practice safe social distancing.

If you’re pregnant and in a high-risk group, you may have been advised to ‘shield’ – that is, to stay at home. In that case your employer can furlough you, so you’ll still receive at least 80% of your wages. You do still need to earn an average of £118 per week to qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay. The amount of maternity pay you’ll get is based on your average earnings while you’re working, so depending on what stage of pregnancy you’re at when you’re furloughed, it could be your furloughed wage that’s used to calculate your maternity pay.

Credit: PA

Anon: Why are Police officers not wearing any form of PPE whilst on duty - is this because they have not been issued with it?

Answer: Like the rest of us, police officers are advised to maintain a safe social distance of two metres as much as they can. However, obviously this won’t always be possible - so in situations where it isn't, they’re advised to wear a surgical mask and gloves. Where officers have to get close to an individual showing symptoms of Covid-19, an apron and goggles are also recommended. The National Police Chief’s Council says it has enough PPE for all forces.

Anon: We have a pitch on a campsite, but just two days after we paid the final balance of our fees, the site closed for lockdown. Why can’t we get compensation for loss of use while the site is closed, as we if we’d booked to stay in a hotel or B&B?

Answer: Caravan and campsites are closed to holidaymakers, so they can’t provide the usual services your fees pay for. Sites are still faced with maintenance costs, but that doesn’t stop you requesting at least a partial refund. However, many site operators are saying they can’t give a straight answer yet because they still don’t know what the duration of this lockdown will be. There is perhaps still some chance you will get to use the site this year.

  • Coronavirus: Q&A is broadcast every Monday at 8pm on ITV - you can also watch it here.