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Coronavirus business advice - your questions answered

This page reflects questions asked by traders and consumers to the business advice line at Buckinghamshire and Surrey Trading Standards. You can ask your question, if we have not answered it below, to us at:

Telephone 0300 123 2329 and Email business.advice@surreycc.gov.uk

COVID-19 toolkit considerations for restarting your business safely

See our downloadable guide for information on how to restart your business safely.

Restarting your business safely (PDF).

Barrier or social masks

See our downloadable guide for information on what constitutes a barrier or social mask

Barrier or social masks (PDF).

Business guides - getting back to work

In response to the current pandemic and the recent easing of restrictions, the Chartered Trading Standards Institute has produced a set of guides to help businesses get back up and running and workplaces operating as safely as possible. The Coronavirus Bulletins are specific guides providing clear guidance for travel and tour operators, food businesses and the housing and home improvement sector. These free business in focus guides are available on the Business Companion website and are updated regularly.

Checklists for Personal Protective Equipment

See our downloadable guide for information about:

Contracts for work or supply

The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented situation and there isn't any specific legislation to cover contracts affected by such an event. Therefore, regarding consumer rights, we can only refer to Contract Law, the Consumer Rights Act 2015 and Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013.

With businesses and consumers facing serious restrictions, these are leading to financial issues for all. It is hoped that both businesses and consumers will be reasonable and understanding of each other's difficulties during this time.

We encourage you to maintain excellent communications with your customers so they are aware of any complications to the work that they are anticipating. If they feel informed and confident that you are looking after them, hopefully they are less likely to seek to make changes. If you have kept a record of this communication, then it will assist you to show you have acted reasonably should the need arise.

The majority of answers to specific questions will require consideration of the circumstance in each case, including:

  • the reasons a consumer may wish to cancel
  • whether either party is unwell
  • whether the consumer is self-isolating or shielding
  • whether a solution can be negotiated that would suit both parties.

No work can be carried out by any tradesperson or engineer who has coronavirus symptoms, however mild. The government has also stated that no work can be carried out in any household which is isolating due to possible infection or where an individual is being shielded, unless it is to remedy a direct risk to the safety of the household, such as emergency plumbing or repairs, and where the tradesperson is willing to do so.

Frequently asked questions

A customer wishes to cancel a contract that was entered in to within the last 14 days. Are they entitled to do so?

Providing the contract was not for goods that were to be made to the customer's specification, and the contract was made off trade premises or at a distance, then the customer is entitled to cancel without penalty

A customer has entered in to a contract for "bespoke" goods or services and now wishes to cancel. Can they do so?

Where goods are made to the customer's specific requirements or specifications, then there is no automatic right to cancel

What is the situation where a contract has been made where time is of the essence and now can't be fulfilled because of government restrictions?

Communication here is key. We cannot say that the consumer cannot cancel in any circumstance but we would hope that people will be understanding and could be asked to wait until the restrictions have been lifted.

I have missed a deadline to complete work for a customer due to delays from my suppliers. Can they cancel the order?

If time was not of the essence as part of the original contract, the consumer may specify "a period that is appropriate in the circumstances" and require the trader to deliver the goods or service before the end of that period. In practice, this request is likely to be in a written form. The decision as to what is "appropriate in the circumstances" will take into consideration all the circumstances. So, the customer should allow a reasonable amount of time, consider the current difficulties we are facing. However, all circumstances surrounding the case will need to be considered and the consumer may have a valid reason why they require supply within a shorter timescale.

If the customer specifies a period considered to be appropriate and delivery cannot be made before the end of that period, the consumer will be entitled to treat the contract as at an end. If the consumer treats the contract as at an end, the trader must without undue delay reimburse all payments made under the contract.

I have a clause in my contract that says I am not liable in the situation where I can't do the work because of "force majeure". Does this mean my customer is not entitled to cancel even if the work can't be completed?

The answer to this depends on how clearly the clause is written. It needs to be written in plain and transparent language and may need to specify a pandemic or epidemic. If it fulfils these criteria, the consumer may not be entitled to cancel and should wait until the work can be carried out - provided of course that it is completed within a reasonable time of any restrictions being lifted. As an aside, we would respectfully point out that the use of the phrase "force majeure" is considered to be "legal jargon" under the unfair terms aspect of the Consumer Rights Act 2015. The use of such jargon puts the term at greater risk of being considered unfair and unenforceable.

What if the customer wishes to cancel the contract because they don't want to take the risk of having a tradesperson at their property?

This situation is understandable and may be essential if they have underlying health conditions but doesn't necessarily give them a right to cancel. Discuss the situation with your customer and see if they would be willing to wait until after the restrictions are lifted when you can safely carry out the work. They may be able to argue that the contract has been "frustrated" which means it has been ended by something outside anyone's control. Ultimately, a court would have to make a decision as to whether or not this was the case.

What should happen if my customer says they can no longer afford the work they have contracted for?

The financial problems are hitting many people hard and there may well be customers who fear they are unable to afford the work they have contracted for. Once again, we stress that communication is vital here. If customers are concerned about being able to pay for their goods or services, you should explore alternatives with them, for instance postponing any work until life is back to normal. If it is possible that you will not be paid for your work, you may wish to consider releasing them from the contract.

The government has forced many businesses to shut down, what is the status of contracts in this situation?

Some contracts will need to be put on hold due to restrictions placed on the business and personal quarantine issues. These contracts should be able to be resumed once things return to normal. We recommend all businesses keep good communications with their customers to let them know what is happening with their services. Keep records of these communications for future reference. When life gets back to normal, consumers will be expecting their contracts to be fulfilled within a reasonable length of time. You will need to keep them informed and ensure the work can be carried out.

What reassurances can we give to customers?

Do reassure customers that as soon as restrictions are lifted, the business will be back to normal and you will be in touch to discuss the way forward.

What measures do I need to take if I do carry out work at a customer's home?

You must follow the government advice on social distancing.

Delivering to customers

Home delivery advice has been produced by the Association of Convenience Stores which is publicly available via its website.

Delivery charges

  • It is completely acceptable to charge a fixed, reasonable delivery fee to consumers. This should be made known to the consumer in advance.
  • You may wish to reduce or waive this delivery fee for vulnerable consumers or other groups (your ordering processes should include information about how these consumers can identify themselves).

New Small-Scale Manufacturers of COVID-19 Personal Protection Equipment (PPE)

Guidance for businesses, organisation and individuals wanting to manufacture PPE

PPE supply - face shields and visors

See our downloadable guidance on technical compliance relating to face shields/visors (PDF).

Pricing and changing prices

  • Businesses should not raise prices unless they absolutely have to (for example, due to higher supply or transportation costs).
  • Businesses should let consumers know the reasons for higher costs and be transparent about this. For example, by explaining on the shelf the cost of sourcing the product.
  • There are no guidelines on acceptable levels of price/mark-up increases during COVID-19. Instead, businesses should focus on fairness and transparency.
  • Buckinghamshire and Surrey Trading Standards supports all businesses in these difficult times and believes they are doing a great job by supporting our communities.
  • If businesses do have information about other businesses that are overcharging, then they should report them to Competition and Markets Authority. This is not only to give all businesses an equal chance of succeeding but also to protect consumers.
  • Consumers should also be encouraged to make complaints to the Competition and Markets Authority.
  • Businesses should be mindful that consumers will remember all the great things being done for them (home deliveries, deferred payments etc) and will stay loyal after COVID-19. Crucially though, consumers will also vote with their feet after COVID-19 if they feel they are being exploited now.
  • Any price displayed on the image of the product shown on your website or advertising material must be the actual price you charge consumers for the goods.
  • If you advertise the goods online and the picture doesn't have a price shown on the goods, then you can set the price (as long as it is reasonable).
  • There may be times when the consumer receives goods that have a price marked on them but have paid a higher price. If this does happen, you should provide information with the delivery or on your website explaining the reasons for this (for example, having to use different suppliers during COVID-19). You should be aware that this practice may attract consumer complaints so communication and transparency are key.

Social distancing

COVID-19 (Coronavirus) posters for retailers have been developed by the Association of Convenience Stores and can be downloaded from its website.

Tradespeople and working in people's homes

  • If you are a tradesperson carrying out essential repairs and maintenance in people's homes, you can continue to work providing that you are well and have no symptoms. You should notify all clients in advance of your arrival. If you are not sure if your activity falls into the permitted work, contact Trading Standards for advice.
  • On entry to the home, you should wash your hands using soap and water for 20 seconds. You should wash your hands regularly, particularly after blowing your nose, sneezing or coughing, and when leaving the property. Where facilities to wash hands are not available, hand sanitiser should be used and you should carry this with you at all times.
  • You should maintain a safe distance (at least two metres) from any household occupants at all times and ensure good ventilation in the area where you are working, including opening the window.
  • No work should be carried out in any household which is isolating, or where an individual is being shielded, unless your work is to remedy a direct risk to the safety of the household, such as emergency plumbing or repair.
  • No work should be carried out by a tradesperson who has coronavirus symptoms, however mild.

Workplace Guidance

See the latest Government guidance on working in someone's home

Contact details

If we haven't answered the question you want to raise, then please contact us at:

Telephone: 0300 123 2329
Email: business.advice@surreycc.gov.uk

Files available to download

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