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Pandemic cancellations - beware ‘refund vouchers’ and ‘admin’ fees

Consumers who have tickets for cancelled flights, holidays and events must have their legal rights to a refund upheld.

Published: Friday, 12th June 2020

Image of Councillor Katherine Dunne

According to London Trading Standards, complaints about travel firms in London were up 280% during the period March to May 2020, compared with last year. Complaints about cultural and entertainment firms were up 218% while complaints against transport operators are up 195% compared to a year ago.

The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) recently published data showing they had received almost 20,000 holiday-related complaints about cancellations and refunds, a further 8,000 complaints about airlines and almost 2,000 relating to events.

Under EU and UK law, companies must provide a refund in the event that no service is provided to the customer.

Some companies struggling to fund cancellation refunds have been attempting to pressure customers into accepting vouchers instead of refunds. Such vouchers aren’t financially protected if the company goes bust. 

If you bought a package holiday, financially protected (by ABTA or ATOL) Refund Credit Notes (RCNs) are available. These offer a safer alternative to vouchers and the consumer should be able exchange these for a cash refund at a later date. However, consumers must legally be offered a cash refund.

Some travel agents have also been deducting significant ‘admin’ fees from refunds, contrary to the law, and this practice should be reported and stopped, according to London Trading Standards.

LTS and the Journal of Trading Standards will broadcast a podcast on the subject on Friday (12 June), with a panel of experts answering questions. Listen to the Made to Measure podcast.

Cllr Katherine Dunne, Cabinet Member for Communities and Climate Emergency said: “This is a challenging time for everyone and it is disheartening to see some organisations/ taking advantage of the situation. Throughout this pandemic Hounslow Council’s top priority has been to protect its residents. Many residents booked holidays, flights and events before coronavirus struck, and they should be aware they have consumer rights when cancelling or changing bookings. The advice produced by London Trading Standards is really helpful in informing consumers about admin fees and refunds.

“We are proud to have supported the month-long campaign run by Trading Standards which has covered important issues including compliance with coronavirus business closures, scams and counterfeit PPE.”

To report concerns about companies which are engaging in unfair practices, contact Trading Standards via the Citizens Advice consumer service helpline on 0808 223 1133 or visit the online chat service website.

Alternatively, consumer crimes can be reported online using the LTS reporting tool.


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