Covid: 12 life tasks in lockdown – what has changed?

By Kevin Peachey
Personal finance correspondent

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image captionRules on registering a birth have been relaxed

When the first national coronavirus lockdown was announced last Spring, some of life’s most basic household tasks suddenly got a lot harder.

We listed 12 of them. Now, with the various parts of the UK back under the strictest of restrictions, it is time to revisit those practical questions.

A lot has changed since the start of the pandemic, but most things are still far from straightforward.

Can I register a birth?

In normal times, it is a legal requirement to register the birth of a child, in person, within 42 days.

That deadline has been relaxed since the outbreak of the pandemic.

In the first national lockdown, it was impossible to register a birth. Now there may be some online booking options but, again, many parents may find they have to wait. In Scotland, you are still permitted to go out to register a birth.

Parents cannot usually apply for child benefit or universal credit until a birth is registered, but that rule has also been relaxed.

Sadly, but inevitably, registering a death is still possible, and can usually be done on the telephone.

Is writing a valid will still possible?

The pandemic has led to an amendment of a law in England and Wales that has been in place since 1837.

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This law was strict. For a will to be valid, it needed to be signed in front of two witnesses, and have two people sign it in your presence.

Now, witnessing a signature can be done by video link, but it must be in real time. The Law Society says that the conventional method (at a social distance) remains better and safer – but until the end of January 2022, video-witnessed signing is permitted.

How do I pay in a cheque?

Among the premises that can stay open – as with the first lockdown – are banks and the Post Office.

Opening hours may be shorter, and those shielding should not be making such a trip.

Many banks allow people to pay in cheques by submitting a photograph of it via their mobile app. Others accept cheques sent, with a paying-in slip or account number, through the post.

Bank customers can also pay in cheques, check their balance, and withdraw cash at the Post Office.

How do I top up the electricity meter?

Four million people have prepayment energy meters and pre-pandemic would normally have gone to a shop to top-up their credit. Many of these shops remain open.

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However, in mid-December new rules from the regulator Ofgem required suppliers to offer emergency credit to customers who cannot top up prepayment meters.

If customers are in debt, suppliers must put them on “realistic and sustainable” repayment plans.

This formalised a voluntary agreement in place over the summer.

My sink is blocked, can I call a plumber?

Your individual circumstances will determine how much of a risk it will be to call in professional help. Clearly, if you can unblock it yourself, or even leave it if possible, then that would be better.

Guidance means tradespeople should follow social distancing rules, wear appropriate face coverings, should not work if they show any symptoms, and should not accept refreshments such as a cup of tea.

In Scotland, tradespeople are permitted to visit homes, but only for essential services.

Surveyors can visit and house viewings are possible – because this time people can still move home during lockdown.

Will the bailiffs still come calling?

The threat of bailiffs coming to the door to enforce an eviction of tenants has been an unnecessary risk, according to some charities.

The rules can vary in the devolved nations of the UK, but there have been temporary bans in place for bailiff action of this kind in areas with the highest level of restrictions.

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Some of those temporary bans are set to end in the coming days.

Bailiffs chasing unpaid bills such as parking fines or council tax generally use other ways to chase payments and there are industry guidelines on how they should behave – including a requirement not to shout.

Can I still collect my pension from the Post Office?

People who like to collect their pension in cash may be shielding and unable to do so.

However, they will usually have a Post Office card account, so they will still be paid the money.

Thousands of people have a nominated trusted friend or family member who can withdraw cash from this account on their behalf. That option is now possible to set up via the phone – a change from the start of the first lockdown.

Do I still have to pay my regular bills?

Bills cannot be ignored, even in these financially difficult times, otherwise there is a serious risk of spiralling debt.

Last year, with the agreement of lenders, some 2.5 million people deferred mortgage payments, two million deferred credit card or loan repayments, and many thousands delayed the payment of rent.

Support, such as reduced repayments, is still available for those struggling to pay but with strings attached. Unlike much of last year, continuing to take a so-called payment holiday can affect your credit rating which may make borrowing harder in the future.

I’ve lost my job, how do I sign on?

Those claiming universal credit – the main collective benefit for unemployment and housing support – do not need to visit a jobcentre.

Applications can be made online or over the phone.

There are a wide range of benefits available, and they can be different depending on where you live in the UK.

It is particularly important to to do your research, or seek independent and free advice, before starting an application, partly because any existing benefits you receive may be affected.

My MOT is due, what should I do?

During the first national lockdown, the government granted car, motorcycle and van owners a six-month exemption from MOT testing.

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This time, MOT centres are allowed to stay open, and you are permitted to go out in order to take your vehicle for its test.

How do I pay my doorstep lender or rent-to-own?

Borrowers have the option to take a one-month payment holiday with payday loans any time before the end of March, assuming they have not taken one already.

Anyone who has already done so and is still struggling to repay must contact their lender to organise a repayment plan. Simply failing to pay can bring heavy charges.

For rent-to-own products, the rules are the same – except a payment holiday can be extended to six months.

My hair is getting really long, can I get it cut?

For now, hairdressers are shut, just as they were during the Spring months of last year.

Some people may have taken the chance to get their hair cut fairly recently. Others may be returning to the style of last spring – or getting the scissors and clippers out again.

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