The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has advised against all but essential travel to foreign countries, cities and regions. Many airlines are now announcing cancellations of flights and the grounding of aircraft after the announcement that various countries are implementing ‘lockdown’ of borders and the restriction of movement to slow the spread of the virus.
More information on travelling abroad and current government recommendations are available at www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice
Flight & Holiday Cancellations (Your Rights)
Consumers who are yet to fly to their destination – Due a refund or, in some cases, the option to rebook for another date.
Flights as part of a package holiday – Entire cost of the holiday will be refunded. This is happening automatically for some consumers, but consumers can contact the company that they booked through for further clarification.
Flights and hotel booked separately – Consumers are advised to contact their hotels, requesting a refund/change in dates. Many airlines are allowing passengers to rebook flights for free.
In situations where the hotel and location are open, and the booking is non-refundable, then travellers may lose out.
Travel Insurance policies – Consumers are urged to check the specifics of travel insurance policies that they have taken out. These may offer financial compensation in situations where other means do not.
If consumers have arranged travel to affected areas after a warning was issued in the area, then there is a risk that any insurance policy may be invalidated by this. Consumers are urged to check the details of their insurance policies and if at all unsure, contact their insurance company directly for more information.
New travel insurance policies – In light of recent events, many insurance companies have ceased selling new travel insurance policies and, in some circumstances, have changed cover as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. The Association of British Insurers has stated that travel insurance is a product meant to be used in unforeseen circumstances, and due to the current situation, issues arising as a result of coronavirus are no longer deemed ‘unforeseen’.
Already abroad and no means of getting back to the UK – Airlines have a duty of care to those passengers abroad if they have cancelled a return flight. The airline should also pay for any additional charges for accommodation and any food required. For those consumers who have accepted a refund, then the duty of care ends here. It is then the responsibility of the passenger to arrange travel back to the UK.
In situations where none of the above is possible, or where consumers feel stranded, they are advised to contact the embassy in their current location to seek further assistance. Specific embassy locations can be found by visiting www.gov.uk/world/embassies and searching based on your destination.
Consumers choosing to cancel their travel plans – If there has been no warning issued in relation to a country that the consumer chooses to travel to, and the consumer chooses to cancel their plans, then there is no automatic right to compensation.
Consumers are urged to check policy and booking confirmation particulars and to contact their insurance/travel provider if clarification is required or a refund due. If you feel that your consumer rights have been breached, you can contact consumeradvice.scot for more information and advice
The Airbnb website indicates that reservations made on or before the 14th March 2020 for stays and Airbnb Experience, with a check-in date between 14th March 2020 and 14th April 2020 are covered by the Airbnb ‘extenuating circumstances’ policy and can be cancelled before check-in.
Those who cancel will receive a full refund, and hosts can cancel without charge or impact on their ‘Superhost’ status. Airbnb have also stated that they will refund all service fees for covered cancellations.
The host’s cancellation policy will apply as usual to reservations made after 14th March 2020, and to reservations made on or before 14th March 2020 with check-in dates after 14th April 2020. For a reservation that has already begun (the check-in has passed), the extenuating circumstance does not apply.
Airbnb have stated that for guests who cancel a covered reservation, they will receive a full refund and Airbnb will refund all service fees. They have also outlined that hosts will not be charged for the cancellation of a covered reservation and that they do not need to contact them.
You can get more information, including Airbnb terms and conditions by visiting www.airbnb.co.uk.
Rail companies and travel providers have different rules regarding refunds of tickets impacted by the coronavirus outbreak.
Scotrail are offering refunds on several train ticket types. Their process has changed slightly due to the circumstances, and an administration fee may apply, depending on the ticket type.
A useful guide to refunds that are available from Scotrail can be found at the link below -
Those who have booked travel which is no longer required or have booked travel to a cancelled event should contact the travel provider for more information on their individual terms and conditions, including refund policies.
Concerts, Events & Entertainment
If the tickets to an event such as a concert or sports event have been cancelled, and these have been booked through an official booking site, then you should normally receive a refund.
The Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers (STAR) is the industry’s self-regulatory body and as such, require firms registered with them to refund the ticket’s face value price when an event is cancelled.
This does not include the charges incurred for delivery.
It is recommended that for any other ticket retailer, the individual company terms and conditions are consulted. For resale sites and other events, the company who originally sold the tickets should be contacted in the first instance to request refunds. There may also be the option to rebook at a later date if the event is being rescheduled.
Original tickets should be retained until a rescheduled or revised date is announced. If there is an issue with the date that the event or concert has been moved to is unsuitable, then a refund can be requested through the original booking company.
As with cancelled events, this may not include the charges incurred for booking fees or delivery.
Certain events may differ, depending on the terms and conditions of the organiser.
Consumers choosing not to attend
If consumers choose not to concerts or sporting events, but the event is still going ahead, there is little chance of getting money back.
Several of the larger cinema chains have announced that they will be closing all their screens in the UK until further notice. For consumers who have already purchased tickets, refunds or the option to postpone this to a later date (if possible) are available.
A few of the larger chains with loyalty cards and monthly membership are advising that monthly charges will continue, with a view to offering the ‘time back’ once service resumes as normal. Others are advising that they will be pausing payments for memberships.
Consumers are advised to watch on the websites and social media updates from the cinema that they have booked through.
Claiming back hotel and travel costs
If an event is cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak and there have been costs incurred for hotels and travel, then the companies for each of these should be contacted for more information on refunds. Individual terms and conditions may vary, but options may be offered to postpone or rebook on an alternative date due to current circumstances.
As a side note, if the hotel or travel provider is unable to provide the service due to the coronavirus outbreak, then a refund should be paid.
Bookings for weddings and special occasions
Weddings and special occasions could potentially be affected by the outbreak of coronavirus.
If the venue or company providing the service or organising cancels, then a refund should be arranged for whatever has been cancelled. For those with wedding insurance, terms and conditions should be consulted for anything that can be claimed back.
If it is the consumer, or individual who has booked the event that is choosing to cancel or postpone the event, then some charges may apply. Negotiation and discussion with the organiser around postponing the event is key.
For anything that has already been paid in terms of deposits that cannot be refunded, the organiser should outline in detail the reason why a refund is not possible, including any costs they have incurred that are being passed on to the consumer.
Consumer rights and useful legislation
Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act protects consumers for purchases made on credit cards in excess of £100. This makes the credit card company ‘joint and severally’ liable when a service or product that has been paid for cannot be provided.
For purchases under £100 made on a credit card, or those made on a debit card, consumers can contact their bank and attempt to make a claim through the ‘chargeback scheme’. This cannot be enforced by law, and the provision of this scheme is at the discretion of the bank or building society.
Deliveries & Online Orders
Consumer rights remain the same throughout the coronavirus crisis. Some delivery and logistical companies have announced delays on non-essential items in favour of transporting medical supplies and essential goods. For more information on orders placed or delays experienced, the company delivering the goods should be the first point of contact.
We have outlined the main consumer rights legislation that applies in different situations below. However, a more comprehensive guide to consumer rights, covering different areas, is available by visiting consumeradvice.scot knowledge centre at the link below.
Consumer Rights Act 2015 – Faulty Goods – Repair or Replace
When buying goods from a trader, the Consumer Rights Act 2015 states they should be:
- Of satisfactory quality (free from any faults/damage and durable)
- As the trader described
- The same as any sample shown
- The same as any model shown
- Fit for the purpose made known to the trader
If asking for repair or replacement within first 30 days, then the buyer enters the wait period with the remainder of the 30 days (minimum of 7 days) resuming after repair or replacement.
Consumers who believe that any of the above don’t apply to their goods and have exceeded the first 30 days after purchase, may be entitled to repair or replacement which is:
- Free of charge
- Repair should be lasting
- Replacement should be like for like
- Within reasonable timescale
- Without causing significant inconvenience
If a repair or replacement is not possible then they may instead be entitled to:
- Keep the goods for a reduced price
- Return the goods for a refund (full refund within 6 months or partial refund after or if a vehicle)
Private Sales – Sale of Goods Act 1979
When something is bought from a private seller, the buyer is covered by the Sale of Goods Act 1979 which states the goods must match the description given by the seller. This includes:
- Any description in an advertisement
- Any description provided in an email or text
- Any description during discussions over the phone or face to face
If the buyer believes that the goods don’t match the seller’s description, then they may be entitled to;
- A full refund if the goods haven’t been accepted (not used and issue noticed quickly)
- Damages – a monetary amount to cover repairs or the difference between what was paid and what the goods are worth
The burden of proof is on the buyer to prove that the goods don’t match the seller's description, which can be difficult if the description was delivered verbally.
Planning for shortages / Price Increases
Shortages of stock
Supermarkets and other high street retailers are currently under a lot of pressure from consumers bulk-buying and panic buying items. Although it can be inconvenient when they run out of items, there is no automatic right for the consumer to be provided with these items.
If you are unhappy with a specific retailer, you can complain to them directly by writing to their head office, or alternatively, through their website.
Price Hiking (Gouging)
Some retailers (both online and in-store) have increased the price of items such as hand sanitiser and toilet tissues due to the high demand for these items. This does not currently breach consumer rights as the prices advertised or offered form what is known as an ‘invitation to treat’, and not a formal contract of sale.
In these situations, consumers are advised to use their best judgement when making purchasing decisions.