Coronavirus: Three-fold increase in Scots seeking advice on refund rights

The number of people seeking advice on refunds due to cancelled holidays and events has seen a three-fold rise during the covid-19 pandemic, according to a consumer watchdog. Citizens Advice Scotland branded firms who refuse to refund customers "a disgrace" as it revealed visits to its website for such advice have rocketed by 346% compared to the same period last year. A new web page 'refunds due to coronavirus' has also had more than 2000 visits since March 23.

Read more: 'Devastated' wedding couples set to lose thousands as Dundee venue refuses to reschedule The charity said it was aware of some "distressing" cases where companies had either refused refunds entirely or stalled unnecessarily. CAS Fair Markets spokeswoman Kate Morrison said penalties may be appropriate for firms who fail to act fairly during the crisis.

"The increase in the numbers of people viewing these pages is astonishing and shows there is a real wave of cases where people feel they have been let down by holiday companies, airlines and other traders," she said. "In addition to these statistics, we have anecdotal evidence of cases where people have spent tens of thousands of pounds for services which have not been delivered. Yet when they contact the company to try to get a refund, the company either refuses or offers vouchers instead of money.

This is not acceptable. "Some of the cases we're hearing about are really distressing. People feel like they've been ripped off."

Read moreNicola Sturgeon: Lockdown restrictions could be eased on May 28 - here's what we know She added: "The bottom line is that if you pay for something and don't get it, you should get your money back. Not in vouchers but in the money you paid.

Refusal to comply with this simple principle, using covid-19 as an excuse, is a disgrace.  "CAS will continue to stand with all the consumers in Scotland who are seeking the refund they are due. We note that the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has already stated that consumer law is on the side of customers in this situation, and we call on them and other regulators to come down hard on any company which refuses to refund its customers.

If these companies won't do it voluntarily then we believe penalties are appropriate." Among those who have contacted CAS for help are Glasgow couple Aimi Gold and Ali Miles, who are due around ?15,000 of refunds due to their wedding being cancelled. The pair, who were due to wed this month, have paid ?7000 to their venue, ?5000 towards their honeymoon and sums to a range of other suppliers including travel firms who arranged their hen and stag nights.

Ms Gold said: "We realised in early March that things were not looking good for our wedding - and although we continued planning, when the lockdown happened on March 23, we started to contact our venue and suppliers to see what our options were. "Although our venue have promised to repay our deposit in principle, they have stated they are not able to do this until they are back in the office.  "It is now nearly two months since we cancelled.

I've now asked for the refund to be made within the next month. So far I haven't gone into detail about the legal position, as I am trying to resolve issues as amicably as possible." Other suppliers have also refused a refund entirely, including the holiday firm Mr Miles booked his stag night with.

Ms Gold added: "I've sent these companies various emails, explaining the legal position. These companies are now ignoring my emails - so the next step will be to send a Letter Before Action and then a small claims action if necessary.  "I have a lot of sympathy for these companies and would be happy to wait for a refund until later in the year, but given that they are completely refusing a refund altogether, and given the position at law clearly provides that I am entitled to a refund, I feel like I don't have any other option than to raise a small claims action."

Read moreHotel boss: Holidays will feel like 1970s after lockdown Another couple, Emily Liddle and George Ridley, who live in Edinburgh, had booked flights to Japan on March 19 but they were cancelled a week before they were due to travel. When they contacted the airline, they were told they would get a full refund, allowing them to book with a sister airline, which they did, but that flight was also cancelled.

Now both airlines are saying they will only provide vouchers, not a cash refund. Ms Liddle said: "Those two flights cost just shy of ?2,000. On top of this, we had booked internal flights in Asia which have all been cancelled and we are unable to get refunds for those, so we're about ?2,200 out of pocket for services we have never received. 

"I feel really angry and frustrated. I know the pandemic itself is nobody's fault and many people are suffering in lots of different ways. This isn't about us losing our holiday - that can't be helped.

It's about the appalling way we are being treated.  "The bottom line is that we've paid for services that we have not received, so surely we are entitled to our money back." The Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA) has made it clear that consumers should expect a full refund if no service is provided by a business, or they are prevented from receiving any services due to government public health measures.

A CMA spokeswoman said: "The CMA acknowledges that most businesses are trying to do the right thing in these unprecedented circumstances but, at the same time, ordinary consumers deserve to have their rights protected. "If it finds evidence that companies are failing to comply with the law, the CMA will take appropriate enforcement action, which could include taking a firm to court if it does not address its concerns." The Civil Aviation Authority has also stated that, by law, consumers are entitled to a full refund if their flight is cancelled.

Richard Stephenson, director at the UK CAA said: "We are reviewing how airlines are handling refunds during the coronavirus pandemic, and will consider if any action should be taken to ensure that consumer rights are protected.

"We support airlines offering consumers vouchers and rebooking alternatives where it makes sense for the consumer.

But it is important that consumers are given a clear option to request a cash refund without unnecessary barriers."

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