Travellers continue to struggle to get the refunds they are owned as a result of coronavirus cancellations, with the Competition and Markets Authority revealing it has received an influx of 21,000 complaints. Of those complaints, 80 percent of them are to do with travel operators lack of communication surrounding refunds.
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Now, the industry watchdog is looking at new ways to tackle the situation, as travel operators say they are inundated with cancellation admin.
Speaking on BBC News this morning, reporter Ben Thompson said: “Many of you have been getting in touch about how difficult it seems to be to get a refund on any flights or holiday that you might have booked but quite clearly can’t now take because of coronavirus.
“So much so that the watchdog, the regulator, has been getting involved to try and work out what should happen. This is the competition and markets authority.
“They say they have received 21,000 complaints about this, the vast majority of them – 80 percent, have been about cancellations and just how hard it seems to be to get your money back.”
The Competitions and Markets authority posted a tweet this morning saying: “UPDATE: As of 19 April, we had received around 21,000 #coronavirus related complaints.
“We’re writing to businesses about price rises & planning further steps on cancellations and refunds.”
Under current EU law, customers are entitled to a refund within 14 days for cancelled package holidays and within seven days for cancelled flights.
However, many Britons have said this is not happening.
What’s more, with a huge proportion of the country now working less or out of work completely, these refunds are becoming an urgent necessity for many.
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A self-employed woman named Lynne contacted the BBC and explained that she was due to go on holiday in May, but has since been offered a credit note which she must use by July 30. She has not been offered a refund.
Meanwhile, a holidaymaker named Brian from Suffolk said he spent £9,000 on a holiday to Japan and has only been offered a credit note.
According to BBC News: “He’s now said that from the 31st of July he will be able to potentially discuss getting a refund, but he says the money is urgently required now. He says: ‘I can’t even contact the company by telephone and email are all unanswered.’”
On the other hand, travel industry regulator ABTA has highlighted the major difficulties many travel firms are faced with in these unprecedented times.
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Mr Thompson continued: “We spoke to ABTA a couple of weeks ago on this programme and they told us the advice they were offering to those travel agents and to those travel firms was that they should offer you a refund but it may take a little longer because quite clearly there is a lot of paperwork and there is a lot of admin to sort out these refunds at once.
“Their offices are not full of the people who would normally be there to process these refunds and get them back, so they are saying bear with us, it might take a little longer.”
ABTA says travel vouchers are crucial in helping companies stay afloat.
The travel trade association is calling on the UK government to rethink the current refund rules to allow companies to dish out credit notes as a “short-term alternative” to cash refunds.
Given the vast number of cancellations, many travel firms face bankruptcy if they are to payout immediately.
ABTA has additionally warned that should travel firms collapse, taxpayers may be left footing a bill of up to £4.5 billion to refund customers.
The BBC also points out that some travellers have applauded certain operators for their speedy refund process.
According to BBC News: “Andrew says he had a £450 deposit for a BA holiday to Greece refunded quickly, they didn’t have to ask either.”
Despite the positive responses, too many customers remain in limbo.
The Competitions and Markets Authority says it is now working to “identify, monitor and respond to competition and consumer problems arising from coronavirus and the measures taken to contain it.”
On the gov.uk website, a statement explains: “People and businesses who have seen or experienced businesses behaving unfairly during the coronavirus outbreak can report it to the CMA by using our dedicated online form. Where there is evidence that businesses have breached competition or consumer protection law, the CMA will take enforcement action if warranted.”
Additionally, consumer rights advocate Which? has laid out a 10-point plan which it hopes will support the industry through this period, while also ensuring customers get the money they are owed.
Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: “We do not want to see the industry suffer further as a result of this outbreak, but it cannot be on consumers to prop up airlines and travel firms, especially when so many will be in difficult financial situations of their own.
“The government must urgently set out how it will support travel firms and airlines to ensure they can meet their legal obligations to refund customers for cancelled travel plans – and avoid permanent damage to trust and confidence in the travel industry.”
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