Hundreds of thousands of people in the UK have already been subject to cancelled holidays, weddings, gigs and festivals and, if that isn’t stressful enough, many are being left high and dry without a refund.

Thompsons provides legal advice below, explaining the steps you can take if your plans have been cancelled owing to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

Consumer contracts

If there’s an event you’ve pre-paid for, such as a holiday or a wedding, your first port-of-call should be to check your contract and any clauses within it regarding cancellations. The chances are, it will make no reference to coronavirus (COVID-19) - because no one could have seen this coming - however, the language of the cancellation rights within your contract may be worth considering in any discussions you have.

The next thing to check will be the website for the company you are contracted with. They may have already set out the position they’re taking regarding cancellations.

Armed with this information, you can get in contact with the organisation you purchased goods from to enquire what they are going to do about a refund. Lots of companies will want to offer you a voucher rather than cash and the decision whether to accept this is up to you.

Holidays

Martin Gwyther, head of overseas accident claims at Thompsons, has laid out the government advice and sets out the rights of holidaymakers in his piece Coronavirus (COVID-19) and the impact on travel, holidays and working abroad.

He advises that travel companies and carriers are now offering refunds for flight cancellations in the form of:

  • Credit vouchers for future travel – valid for 12 months;
  • Full refunds.

According to the relevant European Regulations (Regulation (EC) No 261/2004), which sets out common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights, consumers are entitled to a full cash refund within 14 days.

Weddings

In terms of wedding cancellations, our comments regarding consumer contracts applies here too; check the contract and check the website. Many wedding packages come with an insurance policy, which should cover any cancellations. Those who have booked weddings abroad can refer to the holiday section above, as well as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website.

Theatre tickets, gigs, festivals and events

All contracts will be unique for the purchase of tickets to events such as concerts, festivals and the theatre. Often the ticket seller will first offer customers the opportunity to retain their ticket for when the event is rescheduled.

Whether you get a full refund or not, will depend on a number of factors. Some third party sellers, such as See Tickets or Ticketmaster, are offering refunds but some are not - it is worth checking their website. It’s also worth checking social media to see if others have experienced similar problems and to see if there are any groups forming to challenge for a refund. 

Some events have been rescheduled, rather than cancelled, and those with tickets are being told to retain their original ticket for the new date. Rescheduled events may be more of an aspiration than any guarantee, and events that have been rescheduled may well have to be moved again, depending upon whether large gatherings have been allowed or not at the time of the event.

The Competition Authority and Which?

In the middle of a global pandemic, the refund policy within a consumer contract may give a steer as to how the organisation would typically deal with a cancellation. However, it is unlikely that the terms of the contract that were signed up to before the pandemic struck can be totally relied on now. On 30 April, the Competition & Markets Authority published guidelines on how law operates in this area, with the aim of helping consumers to understand their rights and supporting businesses in their endeavour to treat customers fairly. This publication lays out positions on refunds, non-refundable payments and fees, credits and re-booking, and future contracts.

Which? provides extensive advice on making compensation claims, with a dedicated page detailing the Consumer Credit Act and the rights of those who paid by credit card, as well as third parties such as PayPal.