Customers hit by coronavirus cancellations are facing “inconsistencies” and “confusion” from the banking industry as they seek help recouping their cash.
Those who reach a stalemate in disputes with businesses like airlines, tour operators or event organisers should be able to turn to their card company for assistance to get refunds.
But Gareth Shaw, head of money at the consumer group Which?, says too many people are being let down.
“At this time of massive confusion we really need financial providers to be consistent in the information they are providing and how they are applying the law to people and we just haven’t found that,” he said.
There are two types of consumer protection.
The first, called chargeback, covers all card payments, and allows customers to ask their card provider to reverse a transaction if they can’t resolve their dispute. The scheme is voluntary.
The second is section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act. It gives those using a credit card the right to claim against the card issuer and the retailer on purchases of £100 to £30,000 and is a legal right.
In the past two months, 10 times more people have sought help to begin such a claim using the Which? website than in January and February.
“We have found a really patchy approach,” said Mr Shaw.
“Some banks are happy to process refunds for people under either of those two schemes, others are refusing to do it if they’ve been offered a voucher or the option to rebook their holiday.”
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Jordan Lawrence and his family should have spent Easter in Spain.
His airline offered a voucher and said if he wanted his money back he would have to wait until the pandemic was over. But any hopes his card provider would help quickly disappeared.
“Because Ryanair have offered a refund you are not allowed to get a chargeback on your card no matter what bank you’re with,” he said.
“The problem is… it could take a week, a month, a year, no one knows.”
The biggest issue is the sheer number of cancellations, especially when it comes to holidays.
Julia Lo Bue-Said, from Advantage Travel Partnership, which represents independent travel agents, says dealing with so many refunds is “virtually impossible”.
“You have a scenario where between 80% and 90% of staff across the travel industry are furloughed so we are working with more volume of calls, more volume of emails, but you don’t have the volume of people to support the consumer right now.”
The likes of the Glastonbury Festival have got it right: the 135,000 who paid a deposit for tickets have been offered full refunds or rolled over entry to 2021.
But getting reimbursed for some theatre tickets has been tricky.
These are unprecedented times, but until the virus has been sent packing, last minute post-lockdown staycations may well be the safest bet.