Refunds – guidance or law?
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) recently published further detail on its views on the law in relation to cancellations and refunds during the pandemic. It remains their view that a consumer will generally be entitled to a refund when they have paid money in advance for services or goods that cannot be provided because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Given the evolving situation, the CMA has provided more detail on issues such as the difference between lockdown laws and government guidance, and their impact on cancellations and refunds.
For example, if contracts are partially affected by lockdown laws then, depending on the circumstances and the scale of the impact, consumers may be entitled to a refund or a price reduction.
Additionally, the government has issued guidance in place of, or in addition to, lockdown laws. As these are guidance and not law, whether a consumer is entitled to a refund will vary according to the specific circumstances.
For example, if a package holiday is cancelled in light of Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice against travel to the relevant country, there are specific protections which mean that consumers should be entitled to a full refund.
In other situations, it will not always be the case that a full refund is due because government guidance does not create legal restrictions and will not necessarily mean that a contract cannot be performed.
The CMA has also written to certain package travel companies involved in group trips to explain its view on when customers should be offered a refund.
This follows complaints about some package travel organisers advising customers that they are not entitled to a refund as their contract was between the company and a group, such as a school, rather than made directly with the customer. It is the CMA’s view that the Package Travel Regulations apply to these group travel packages, and that individual customers should be entitled to a refund if they have paid money in advance for a group trip that is cancelled because of the pandemic.
The CMA’s statement on consumer protection law, setting out its views, is designed to help consumers understand their rights and to help businesses treat their customers fairly. Ultimately only a court can decide how the law applies in each circumstance.