There’s something magical about the snow, isn’t there? The way it appears from nowhere and blankets the land. The festive feel during the countdown to Christmas. The marvel of each individual snowflake…

…of course, then everything stops working, you can’t travel anywhere and it’s freezing. Snow in December is lovely in many ways, but it brings problems. My inbox is heaving this week with questions from readers about snow and frost related problems. So without further ado, let’s tackle them…

Do I have to work?

Cast your minds back six months when I was writing about whether you had to work in 40°C temperatures. That seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it?!

As a general rule there isn’t a definitive law that sets a minimum temperature under which you don’t have to work. There are rules about health and safety that employers must follow though, which you can find on the Health and Safety Executive website.

The Approved Code of Practice on workplace health, safety and welfare

suggests that the minimum working temperatures inside should be at least 16°C indoors or 13°C if your job involves ‘rigorous physical effort’. If you get in to work and feel the temperature is too cold to work – even if it meets minimum standards – you should raise it with your manager or HR team and ask them what provisions they can make to support you, or give you the option of working from home. I’d love to say that businesses get this right more often than not – they don’t. But if you put the ball back in to their court, their obligation is to address your concerns.

Outdoor working is more complicated. A range of other laws and rules kick in at this point, including the safety of carrying out the work itself (if you operate heavy machinery, for example). You can find out more about the obligations of your employer here: https://www.hse.gov.uk/temperature/employer/outdoor-working.htm

Of course, one of the first things to go out of the window when it comes to cold weather is public transport. So if you can’t physically get to the office then let the boss know. There are also rail strikes on this week and the official guidance is not to travel unless it’s absolutely necessary, which makes life a little easier. Finally, don’t assume that the office will be open, or functioning properly. Call to check before you leave the house. Speaking of which…

What if my train is cancelled?

The cold weather comes at the exact point the train network around the UK is facing a near shutdown as a result of strikes, overtime bans and under investment. Some of the strikes may been called off, but the advice is still to check and not to travel on or around previously announced strike days. Keep an eye on the Network Rail website along with your train company’s advice: https://www.nationalrail.co.uk/service_disruptions/industrialaction.aspx

If you’ve already bought train tickets then you should be able to get a refund. However, the system for doing this is hopelessly complicated and clunky. In short, you need to apply through your train operator’s website in most cases. Transport Focus, the industry watchdog, called for a single website for all refund claims this week. As it stands, the process is such a faff that over £100 million was estimated to have gone unclaimed in 2019. So don’t give up, claim back your cash.

If you do manage to get on a train but it doesn’t run on time then ‘delay repay’ compensation could apply. Once again, you’ll need to apply for this through the business. Disappointingly, some train firms do try to get out of paying claims for a variety of spurious reasons. Don’t forget you can make a complaint and take it to the Rail Ombudsman if you aren’t happy.

What about burst pipes and insurance claims?

The outrageous cost of energy has meant that people have held out till the last minute before putting the heating on this year. That’s problematic, because when you finally turn up the thermostat, things can go drastically wrong.

This is the peak time of year for boiler or home emergency claims. I covered your rights with this type of insurance in my previous column for Times Money Mentor. However, now it’s even colder, you may find that you have a problem with a burst or cracked pipe.

Claims for damaged pipes are a bit of a nightmare as you home insurance may cover damage caused by the leak, but not the problem itself. Home emergency cover might help you with the broken pipe, but only if the pipe is on your property. If not, then the problem becomes the responsibility for whoever ‘owns’ the damaged section.

If you need to make a claim, take a deep break and note down a few key facts. How much of an emergency is this? Do you have water cascading down the walls? Go to the front of the queue. Can’t see a leak but you have no heating? Do some troubleshooting to see if there are other problems (a damaged thermostat, a boiler that needs rebooting) then seek help. Call your home insurer first and explain the situation. If urgent, ask if you can call out your own engineer if the insurer’s contractors are not available.

If you do have a cracked or damaged pipe, then repairs can be the source of much gnashing of teeth. Finding the leak can leave you with holes in the walls, damage to property and other issues. I recently helped a reader whose contractor managed to knock a toilet through the floor in to the hallway below. Make sure the insurer explains what their policy is for repairing both necessary and accidental damage.

Finally, not all cold weather problems are boiler or pipe related. Heavy snow can result in your roof, fence, shed or garage suffering damage. As a general rule of thumb, if the structure was a bit rickety then the insurer might say the claimable event is as a result of ‘wear and tear’ and turn down your claim. If you don’t think this is fair, don’t put up and shut up. Make a complaint and go to the free Financial Ombudsman if you are unhappy.

My car insurance claim has been turned down

‘Tis the season of the opportunistic car theft. When it gets colder, defrosting the car is an additional chore to add to already hectic mornings. So people tend to pop outside, slip the keys in the ignition and leave the engine running while they watch the car through the window. Only to turn away to hear the sound of the car being driven off.  Every Winter, countless people heating up their car find out the hard way just how quickly it can get stolen.

‘Keys in car’ thefts occur outside the home, shops, post boxes, by cash machines, even at petrol stations. And when it comes to making an insurance claim, you might find you get a frosty response. All isn’t lost though. While most insurers include clauses in their contracts about leaving your car unattended with the keys in (or even open) you can still appeal if your claim is turned down. It’s on the insurer to prove that the car was left unlocked too, so if the way the thief got access is inconclusive, make a complaint. It’s been repeatedly proven that even the most modern car systems can be outwitted by enterprising robbers.

I’m due to fly abroad for Christmas, but what happens if snow or strikes result in flight cancellations?

There are two factors at play here: do you get compensation and does the airline have to get you to where you need to be? Very broadly speaking, the answers are: no and yes.

If your flight is cancelled it’s likely that you won’t get compensation. That’s because the law that governs flight compensation only kicks in when the problem is ‘within the control of the airline’. So if airline staff go on strike, then you are covered. But if airport staff, border control employees or air traffic control walk out, chances are you won’t be. Snow shutting an airport is also likely to result in flight cancelation or delay compensation to be refused as ‘extreme’ weather usually falls in to the category of an ‘extraordinary circumstance’.

However, the rules also say that the airline should do all it can to get you to your destination. This means putting you on its next available flight or that of a competitor if the airline doesn’t have any spaces or alternatives. The problem here is the lack of options. By all accounts, flights are pretty fully booked over Christmas, so you could be in for a long wait for an alternative flight. The same goes for your rights if stranded at the airport. You may qualify for food and drink vouchers (don’t get too excited) or even overnight accommodation. But finding someone to help in the midst of all this chaos is the big challenge here.

If you are flying away for Christmas, take battery packs for your phone and tablets (essential as updates will come through email or the airline apps). Have a credit card handy with enough cash to cover you for unexpected costs. And do try to contact the airline before forking out extra cash. I know this isn’t easy, so see if you can message them on social media if all other options fail. Check to see what the cancellation options are with your hotel abroad too, just in case you can’t travel.

And, of course, this is where a good travel insurance policy proves vital. A study by Which? earlier this year found that 40% of policies did not cover strike action. So I’d give your insurer a call today, so you know what support is available (if any).

I’ve seen a heating hack on TikTok – why don’t you write about it?

No. Almost every heating ‘hack’ I’ve seen on social media – and TikTok in particular – has been at best ineffectual and at worst, downright dangerous. So from putting house bricks in the oven to heat your home to using tealights on terracotta plant pot bases to defrost your car, ignore that influencer.

Featured in Times Money Mentor – Martyn James

What are my workplace rights during cold weather and strikes?

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