COVID-19 Scams, Advice and Guidance

Business Advice

Supporting the Tourist Industry

Scotland’s tourism and hospitality sector, which had been required to cease trading during lockdown, has been allowed to reopen as long as businesses comply with specific Scottish Government health protection legislation.

To support the tourist industry to operate safely and promote sensible staycations, the Scottish Government has produced sector specific guidance for businesses and their customers. This guidance is regularly updated and contains the most up to date information, links to other industry guidance and the proposed Good to Go standard certification scheme.

It sets out the key measures that need to be taken to allow safe and responsible operation, including:

  • establishing physical distancing taking account of organisational capacity, access management, signage and markings;
  • enhanced hand hygiene measures and cleaning practice;
  • advice on workforce planning, including training and equality issues and;
  • guidance for customers to ensure they know how to plan ahead, act responsibly and engage safely with the tourism and hospitality sector and local communities.

Enquiries can be made to envhealth@highland.gov.uk

Face masks and face coverings

The role of face masks and face coverings has evolved since the beginning of the pandemic and citizens are now required to wear a face covering in certain settings. However, there are important differences between the types of face masks and face coverings being used during the COVID-19 Coronavirus outbreak. There are:

  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and Medical Devices such as respirator or surgical masks which protect the wearer (and for medical devices, the patient) against the virus and must be made to a high specification.
  • Face coverings i.e. not anti-COVID-19 PPE or medical devices, including scarves and homemade versions made from t-shirts, handkerchiefs etc; which do not protect the wearer but can to some extent reduce the amount of virus that an infected person emits, thus providing some protection to others in proximity.

It is now mandatory to wear a face covering in shops, on public transport and public transport premises such as railway and bus stations and airports, and in certain other indoor public places such as shops, libraries and places of worship. They are also recommended for enclosed public spaces where physical distancing is more difficult. This obligation does not mean wearing proper anti-COVID-19 PPE. Instead it refers to any low-specification face covering that can help reduce spread of the virus. These types of facial coverings will not protect the person wearing it.

All PPE that is intended to protect against COVID-19 coronavirus, including that sold to the public, must meet very high safety standards. Businesses must not sell low-tech face coverings as PPE or make any claims that such items provide protection for the wearer against COVID-19. Best practice at the present time is for businesses to explicitly state the limitations of such products when selling so that the buyer is in no doubt.

In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the UK Government has issued guidance to small and higher-volume businesses who are wanting to manufacture personal protective equipment (PPE). The British Standards Institution has produced a useful guide to masks and face coverings for use in the UK during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Health & Safety Executive have also issued guidance on the use of face coverings in the workplace.

Consumer contracts, cancellations and refunds – advice regarding cancelled bookings for holiday accommodation, goods and services. 

Certain laws were introduced at the start of the pandemic ‘lockdown’ which created legal restrictions on some businesses who provided holiday accommodation and other consumer goods and services. However, recent changes have meant that most  ‘lockdown’ restrictions have now been lifted and most businesses have re-opened for shoppers. 

Moving forward, it is important that businesses continue to keep up to date regarding changes in ‘lockdown’ and keep an eye on their trading practices to ensure that they treat consumers fairly and responsibly. 

Recently, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has produced a guidance statement to help consumers understand their rights and to help businesses treat their customers fairly in these changing times. The CMA “Statement on coronavirus (COVID 19), consumer contracts, cancellation and refunds” (Updated 28 August 2020) sets out the CMA’s views on how consumer protection legislation applies to these issues. It should be noted, however, that only a court can decide how the law applies in each circumstance.

Consumer rights summary and dispute resolution options.

For most consumer contracts, a consumer should be offered a full refund where:

  • a business has cancelled a contract without providing any of the promised goods or services
  • no goods or services are provided by a business because this is prevented by the lockdown laws
  • a consumer is prevented from receiving any goods or services, because, for example, lockdown laws in the UK or abroad have made it illegal to receive or use the goods or service

However, a consumer may also have other options to claim their money back which they may wish to consider.  These could include:  

  • Where a consumer has paid using a credit card and the amount is over £100, they may be able to claim their money back from their card provider under “Section 75” equal liability rules .
  • If the payment was by debit card, the consumer may be able to make a claim from their card provider under the banking system’s “Chargeback” provisions.
  • The consumer may be able to make a claim on holiday insurance, e.g. an annual policy, more information is available from the Financial Conduct Authority.
  • Any dispute that a consumer has with a financial company over insurance, credit cards or debit cards can be raised with the Financial Ombudsman Service. This is a free-to-use and highly regarded dispute resolution system.

It also may suit both consumer and business to arrange a rebooking of holiday accommodation or a service for a later date.

It is important to note, however, that if a consumer prefers to receive a refund, businesses should provide it and not insist that the consumer pursues other options.

Further information on how consumer protection law has been impacted by the pandemic can be found on www.businesscompanion.info/coronavirus and detailed information for tourist businesses can be accessed from VisitScotland.

Hand sanitiser products (not soap-based etc.)

Hand sanitiser products are in huge demand and some products are no longer available. Demand has led to some businesses (e.g. spirit distillers) diversifying into producing hand sanitising products. Products which are manufactured with the final intention of "destroying, deterring, rendering harmless, preventing the action of, or otherwise exerting a controlling effect on, any harmful organism" are currently controlled under the European Biocidal Products Regulations 2012 under a category defined as Product-type 1: Human hygiene. Biocidal products in this group are used for human hygiene purposes, applied on or in contact with human skin or scalps for the primary purpose of disinfecting the skin or scalp.

Trading Standards enforce these regulations in shops, but the current rules surrounding the manufacture and approval of these products need to be checked with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

The HSE has recently issued specific COVID-19 biocidal products advice to industry. Hand sanitisers made for your own personal use are excluded from the Regulation, however if it is supplied to third parties then the law applies, and advice should be sought from the HSE.

Soap-based or hand softener gels and creams with an antibacterial effect are regulated under cosmetic product regulations. Further advice has been issued by the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association.

Financial protection for small businesses

  • Individuals buying goods or services over £100 and less than £30,000 using a credit card are given additional protection if there has been a breach of contract under “Section 75” equal liability rules.

Businesses who use ordinary (non-business) credit cards facilities may also benefit from the same protections even if it is in relation to items or services bought for the business.

Card users should speak to their provider if they wish to make a claim. If a business has a right to make a claim and this is not honoured by the card provider, small businesses may be able to raise this matter with the Financial Ombudsman Service .

We also provide advice on specific business grants and other coronavirus financial support available.

The Scottish Government has also issued general advice to businesses.

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Business Resilience

The Scottish Business Resilience Centre (SBRC) are hosting a series of short webinars on a variety of topics to help businesses prepare in these unprecedented times. Catch up on the latest SBRC webinars and find future webinars on their upcoming events page.

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) have information relating to COVID-19, including advice, guidance and common questions relating to insurance and long-term savings products.

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