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Travel agents breaking the law by refusing to refund holidaymakers, says Which?

Travel agents that are refusing to refund customers for cancelled holidays are breaking the law, according to a Which? investigation.

Holidaymakers have been in touch with the consumer champion to report that some travel firms are insisting they accept a rebooking or future travel voucher, rather than returning their money, after trips were derailed by the global coronavirus pandemic.

The Package Travel Regulations mean those who have booked package trips including accommodation and travel are entitled to a full refund within two weeks of a cancellation by their agent or tour operator.

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But several companies have been flouting these rules, claim customers.

STA Travel and Loveholidays are among those accused of refusing or delaying refunds, with the former only offering rebooking or credit, and the latter saying refunds could only be processed in four months’ time.

Both firms told Which? they were basing their terms on Abta guidance.

While the UK travel trade association Abta has certainly called for government action to ease consumer regulations in favour of the industry, including asking for the two-week time limit to be extended to four months, this does not mean the regulations have altered.

Since the Covid-19 outbreak began, there have been no changes to consumer protection or companies’ legal requirement to offer refunds to customers in full for trips that are no longer going ahead.

Kane Pirie, founder and managing director of Vivid Travel and a former Abta board member, told The Independent that it was a “disgrace” that firms were denying holidaymakers refunds.

“A lot of travel companies are really short of cash,” he said. “I get that. But a lot of customers are really short of cash as well. And they want their money back.

“It’s a disgrace that parts of the industry are thinking now is the time to tell customers, ‘No, I know you’ve got a legal entitlement to this money but I’m not going to give it to you’.”

Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, called travel agents’ refusal to pay people back “unacceptable”, adding that customers may “desperately need the money themselves due to financial pressures caused by coronavirus.”

STA Travel told Which?: “Abta is highlighting that customers may be offered a Refund Credit Note instead of an immediate cash refund, which can be used to book another holiday at a later date and, in the meantime, it is protected by Abta / ATOL.”

Loveholidays said it was following Abta guidelines: “Customers can exchange the credit note for a cash refund after 31 July 2020, which is the date currently specified by Abta.”

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