/ Money

Are you being refused a refund?

The Competition and Markets Authority is threatening to take action against firms that ignore consumers’ rights to cash refunds. Have you been refused one?

Complaints about cancellations and refunds are soaring.

We’ve heard from thousands of people who are scared of losing significant sums of money and are experiencing a real struggle to get their money back.

Experiences like this:

Read all the latest COVID-19 news and advice on our dedicated hub

What are the areas of concern?

Based on the complaints received, the CMA has identified three sectors of particular concern:

📋 Weddings and private events

📋 Holiday accommodation

📋 Nurseries and childcare providers

It says it will tackle these areas as a priority and then move on to examine other sectors, based on the information it receives.

It’s good news for consumers that companies found to be skirting their legal responsibilities on refunds and cancellations by trying to rely on unfair terms and conditions will be held to account.

But the regulator must be prepared to step in and take strong action against any businesses found to be breaching consumer law and taking advantage of consumers during these unprecedented times.

How to report a business

If you’ve been hit by unfair cancellation terms tell us your story in the comments below – we’ll be sharing a dossier of what we hear directly from consumers with the CMA. 

Or you can report it directly to the CMA using its online business reporting form.

The CMA does say that while it is not able to respond directly to every complaint it receives, the information provided will help it to decide which issues to address as part of this rolling programme of work.

Is the law on your side?

The CMA has helpfully also issued a statement on its views on consumer protection law in relation to cancellations and refunds during the current crisis.

For most consumer contracts, the CMA would expect a full refund to be issued where:

📄 A business has cancelled a contract without providing any of the promised goods or services.

📄 No service is provided by a business, for example because this is prevented by the restrictions that apply during the current lockdown.

📄 A consumer cancels or is prevented from receiving the service, for example due to the restrictions that apply during the current lockdown.

But you will need to take the following into consideration:

📄 If you’ve already received some of the services you paid for in advance you may only be entitled to a partial refund to the value of what hasn’t been provided. For example if you can’t use three months of a 12 month season ticket you could claim a 25% refund.

📄 In some cases, a business may be able to deduct a contribution to the costs it has already incurred if it cannot recover those costs elsewhere. Instances where this applies should be pretty rare.

📄 If you are making a regular payment to receive a regular services in exchange for a regular payment as part of an ongoing contract, the business might be able to ask you to make a small contribution to its costs until the provision of the service is resumed. But this is only if the contract you have signed set this out clearly and fairly – so you might have to dig out the paperwork.

It also advises that businesses should not be profiting by ‘double recovering’ their money from the government and customers.

Are you currently being refused a refund? Feel like a business isn’t playing by the rules? Let us know.

Comments
Marianne Malik says:
30 April 2020

I bought a cat lead from Peefer in Ealing last week and took it back today as it wasn’t suitable for my cat, still in original wrapping and with receipt. However I was told it was their policy and pointed to notices that no refunds/returns possible because of Covid-19. Is this correct?

That must be the seller’s own policy with a view to preventing possible infection transmission. Under consumer law the seller is not obliged to refund you for something bought in a shop, the presumption being that you have had a chance to examine the goods before buying them to make sure they would be suitable for your purpose.

Isla says:
30 April 2020

Good to hear than the CMA has told business to play fair, but I’m not aware that consumer laws override other English legal principles or automatically gives consumers more rights than other parties to a contract.

Consumers enter into legal contracts with businesses for the supply of goods and services, as would any other party to a contract. The standard remedy for breach of contract is to sue for damages. In the past, corporations with dedicated legal teams and extensive budgets not accessible to individual plaintiffs could be seen to be abusing their dominant position.

Consumer laws make is more straightforward to recover monies paid where the supplier is at fault, without resorting to expensive legal processes, and helps to level the playing field by making unfair terms and conditions that the consumer may have signed up to without the benefit of legal advice, not binding.

However, in the current situation with Covid-19, which neither party to a contract may have considered even remotely possible when entering into an agreement, the principle of contract frustration might apply.

Such a so-called “supervening event” is not the fault of either party, and neither party would have entered into such a contract with the benefit of foresight. Where it is now illegal, for an indefinite period of time, for either party with the best of intentions to carry out their part of the bargain (e.g. gatherings in restaurants and bars), as opposed to just more onerous or expensive to perform, the contract is almost certainly frustrated in law.

Frustration of a contract caused by a supervening event provides immediate relief from contract performance. The consumer is not required to pay any further amounts, e.g. if a staged payment is due on a wedding or holiday reservation, but nor is the supplier required to provide the service or goods. Neither party has the right to sue the other for non-performance, but not all moneys may be refunded if the supplied has provided part of the service or incurred justifiable expenses to date.

It might be worth consumers familiarizing themselves with contract frustration and how apportionment of expenses would be dealt with if their case ever came to court. Demanding a 100% refund as an absolute right might be unenforceable, if either party claims and proves frustration.

Which? Any views on this? By its very nature, contract frustration is not a common event in the consumer world.

Hi Isla,

Thank you for your message. I must stress it is not usual for the Which? Legal team to provide such a detailed response. However, I thought that I could explain my views on this area and it may help others.

You are correct in so much that frustration of contract especially within consumer contracts is usually quite rare. However, fortunately many pieces of our legislation already state what should happen when an exceptional event arises. Therefore, the doctrine of frustration and its complexities can often be avoided.

EC 261/2004 for example provides consumers the choice of a refund when a flight is cancelled regardless of the reason provided. Similarly, the Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations 2018 provide the consumer a right to a full refund where a package holiday is cancelled due to ‘unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances’. Therefore, if we continue with the travel theme often frustration of contract is only needed where we’re dealing with a contract for services i.e where the contract is only for accommodation such as a holiday cottage.

The starting point with these types of disputes is examining the contract and understanding whether there is a force majeure clause and whether this is specific enough to the events at hand. If it is then the force majeure clause will usually apply. However, this clause cannot be ‘unfair’ where unfair is defined as per s62(4) of the Consumer Rights Act 2015 (“the Act”):

A term is unfair if, contrary to the requirement of good faith, it causes a significant imbalance in the parties’ rights and obligations under the contract to the detriment of the consumer

I have recently come across some force majeure clauses where the contract attempts to dictate that the consumer forfeits all monies paid. This is an obvious example of an unfair contractual term. When a term is found to be unfair as per s.67 of the Act it is not binding on the consumer.

In the event, where the force majeure clause is not specific enough or alternatively is unfair then we turn to frustration of contract. Frustration of contract is a principle that’s been discussed mainly during the 1800’s and 1900’s and over several commercial cases. A frustration of contract is generally accepted as occurring when the contract’s performance is unlawful or impossible.

In these situations if the holiday cottage (in my example above) has to be closed pursuant to The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 and it is unlawful for you travel I would suggest that there has been a supervening illegality i.e a change in the law making performance impossible.

When a contract has been frustrated in England s.1(2) of the Law Reforms (Frustrated Contracts) Act 1943 then dictates that the starting point is that all monies should be returned if paid and/or released from further obligations to make payments. In theory, the trader can suggest that they have incurred expenses for the purpose of performing the contract and then the court may allow them to retain or recover some of the payment. However, I would always suggest that as a consumer you attempt to recover a full refund and the burden is then on the trader to suggest the costs they have incurred to date and to justify these. When I advise consumers on the area of frustration it is always key to manage expectations on the full recovery of their funds.

To be frank, frustration of contract is a complex area of law and often there are a lot of considerations before the principle can be confidently relied upon.

For the most part I’m hopeful that my post simply supplements and confirms some of the finer detail in yours.

As always if anyone needs any assistance please get in touch.

This information is provided by Which? Legal. To join call 01174 054 854 or visit Which? Legal to find out more.

James Shelton
Which? Legal – Lawyer

Isla says:
7 May 2020

@James Shelton – Thank you for a **very** helpful and lengthy response, clarifying my unqualified legal opinion that frustration of contract may be applicable to some of the cases being reported to Which?

I was not concerned with flight cancellations or package holidays which, as you say, have very specific legislation and are not the main topic of this Conversation. But there are a number of people posting about weddings, holiday accommodation and other events where the supplier is digging in their heels over payments still due and refunds. There are also questions about bespoke orders and retailers refusing to cancel the contract.

As you say, frustration of contract is complex. However, it might give some assurance to people that are being pressurized to make further payments or risk being sued, even though the event cannot go ahead or fulfillment of the order may be delayed significantly.

Conversely, it is unreasonable to expect a 100% refund, if the consumer has put the venue or retailer to some extraordinary expense. Maybe they have asked the organizer to provide a wedding marquee or entertainment that is not part of the standard package, or some customization of the product ordered that would make it non-returnable.

I hope that a basic knowledge of the principles of contract frustration you have confirmed will help consumers understand that contracts can sometimes be terminated without breach by either party. An appreciation that a win/lose outcome is not the only possibility, may help them to negotiate a more amicable and just settlement.

I would certainly encourage anyone who has benefited from James’ advice to contact Which? Legal in the first instance. Thank you again for taking the time to provide your valuable expertise.

I recently bought from Argos a new Xbox controller for my son for his birthday. It didn’t work properly so I contacted Argos to arrange to return it – I bought it online (not from a store) and it was delivered to my house. Argos said they will not accept returns because of Coronavirus.

I pointed out that this was denying me my right to return within 14 days as provided by the Consumer Contracts Regulations, but Argos would not budge. They gave me an address to send a written complaint to.

Is Argos flagrantly flouting the law here? Surely if they cannot fulfil their duty to accept returns for goods delivered by courier then they should stop making those goods available for purchase?

Hi Tom,

Thank you for your message. I think it’s important to draw a distinction between the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 (“CCRs”) and the Consumer Rights Act 2015 (“CRA”).

It appears that you are citing the CCRs which applies to online purchases and typically provides the 14 day cancellation period. However, for this to be applicable you can’t use the item any more than you would of in a store. This could be applicable dependent on how much the controller was used before you discovered it was faulty.

In my view, if the product is faulty I would refer to the CRA. As you may be aware the CRA implies terms into your contract with Argos stating that the product must be of satisfactory quality. If the product is faulty i.e not sufficiently durable or fit for its usual purpose then you are entitled to a number of remedies. If you’ve notified them of this in the first 30 days then you could look to seek a full refund where Argos bear the cost of returning the item.

For more information on this please review this article: https://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/regulation/consumer-rights-act

In the event you need tailored advice, we can explore what you’ve already requested in your communication to date, how you’ve paid for it and your evidential burden.

I hope this helps,

This information is provided by Which? Legal. To join call 01174 054 854 or visit Which? Legal to find out more.

James Shelton
Which? Legal – Lawyer

Tony Wheeler says:
1 May 2020

Hi
I bought a airline ticket using my credit card London to Manila – return to London , I flew out and now stuck in Manila my flight back to London May 5th has been cancelled . I tried to contact the airline KLM who will only offer a voucher but seems there will be no flights with them to July which is much too late for me.
A few questions
Do I have to accept a voucher (on their website there is only a tick box to accept a voucher nothing about a refund)
My ticket cost around £2000 can I expect to get around £1000 refund or have to accept a silly offer like £300
Should I first go to the company that sold me the ticket , the airline or the credit card company
Thanks

Shelly C says:
1 May 2020

I had a UK holiday due to travel in early April, booked in January and paid in full before end of February with @Shearings (coach holidays).
The telephoned me on 18 March to say the holiday was cancelled and that I could rebook to another date and that I would be allocated an upgraded room. I explained the holiday was a special break with my Mum who will be 80 in a few weeks time and it wasn’t possible to book under the circumstances. Also we already have future holiday plans well into next year and simply cannot just rebook on a whim.
I asked about a refund – and was told straight I could not have one but they would hold the credit against my booking reference for 12 months, which was totally unacceptable – particularly as they were previously giving refunds to other passengers.
I emailed the Customer Care department the very same day as advised and waited for a response. Eventually, they emailed me on 1st April with a “Holiday” Credit Note covered until 31 July 2020 – not a REFUND Credit Note….. I’m not even sure what a Holiday Credit Note is! It sounds like they are forcing me to rebook a holiday I do not want to take and cannot possibly plan for.
So, what is a Holiday Credit Note, and what happens should the company go into Administration in the meantime? Will I get my money back? This is a holiday booking for 3 adults.
Shearings have already put a 10 day notice out a week ago that they will file for Administration if they do not find a buyer, something I understand they’ve been trying to do for sometime.

National holidays are doing the same and they are from the same leisure group as shearings.

Niccy Cawkwell says:
1 May 2020

National holidays cancelled my trip then after I contacted them and told them I would not accept vouchers only a refund, they sent vouchers then refused to answer me when I told then they are acting illegally. After weeks of silence from them, they responded after I threatened legal action and offered a credit note with the possibility of getting a refund after 31st July. I told them again I needed that money as wages have taken a hit and that money help feed my kids for the next few months. They said credit note or nothing! They admit they are breaking the law but no one is punishing them for doing so, so they are getting away with it! Shame on you National Holidays!

Wynn Gallon says:
1 May 2020

We purchased a prom dress in full by creadit card back in February for my daughter with a non refundable at time of purchase, the dress was not to be made and delivered until May/June.
The prom due to covid 19 has been cancelled and we have approached the company for a refund and have been refused, please can you advise is the company is still within their or are there any other consumer rights I can take this up with or a refund back from my credit card company??

Em says:
1 May 2020

Absolutely not. Unless the supplier fails to deliver the dress in June, how can they be liable for any consequential loss because the prom has been cancelled?

Travel Trolley a subsidiary of Southall travel cancelled my flights to Japan on April 23rd 2020, they initially offered me a credits note which i refused, they then said i could have a refund minus a £75.00 administration charge, i obviously didn’t agree to this and there response was basically we are going to take it anyway, there reasoning changed every time i spoke to them about it and they even said the £75.00 fee was because Travel Trolley were refunding me out of their own pocket ??? they didn’t seem to remember i gave them the money in the first place i have received some of my money back but they have deducted the £75.00, when you get to speak to them the customer service staff are arrogant and unhelpful basically we will do what we want in my opinion and it seems many more peoples opinion they are e nothing more than scammers they have recently updated there terms to reflect the charge applied but only the covid-terms there general terms and the terms supplied with the invoices clearly state i would be entitled to a full refund in the event of a cancellation,

Andrew – While ABTA has advised its travel agency members to offer vouchers to customers to avoid paying refunds I am not aware of any guidance to make an administratiion charge for processing a refund. You might like to complain to ABTA about their member’s conduct. The CAA is the regulatory and enforcement authority for air travel and administers the ATOL protection scheme. Refunds are mandated by the ATOL scheme and are your absolute right without deduction.

Eurotunnel offer a ‘Frequent Traveller’ option of 5 return trips to be taken within one year for £480.
I joined on 22 February 2020 as the prices for the following week are more. I booked to travel 17 March, but on 14 March the French government stopped unnecessary travel. I therefore cancelled on 15 March by phone and also asked if Eurotunnel could extend the period of one year to include the time periods of both English and French lockdowns.
I was told that this was not possible.
Do I have a legal right to challenge their decision as the offer was for travel during one year, but both governments have made this illegal at the moment ?

Em says:
2 May 2020

As you say, respective governments have stopped “unnecessary travel”. It is only your personal circumstances that would make travel illegal. If you worked in France and lived in England, there would not be a problem. Eurotunnel may be unsympathetic, but I don’t see how they can be held to account if they are still operating a service.

Em,
You seem to avoid the statement of whether it is legal or illegal. Both governments have legislated against unnecessary travel in both countries but do not wish to appear authoritarian.

I am not sure that your understanding is correct as Eurotunnel advise that the French police will only allow travel for the following reasons: Going home to a main residence, essential work in France, medical staff. Therefore living in the UK would not be an acceptable basis.

Eurotunnel also point out: That means “no holidays or social visits”.

Eurotunnel still have to follow the law in both France and the UK. You answer seems rather like the insurance companies avoiding reality.

Em says:
3 May 2020

Andrew,

I cannot tell you if Eurotunnel are breaking the law. Only a court can do that after considering your contract, the laws of England (which, when it comes to consumer law, have become complex with multiple interrelated acts of Parliament) and the specific circumstances of your case. What I would say is that the courts will not rewrite a contract to save you from a “bad bargain”. And I don’t mean that in any derogatory way – it’s just a legal term you can Google for more information.

If you consider the fairness (no pun intended) of Eurotunnel’s position, they have a Flexiplus frequent traveller tariff which is fully refundable, which costs about £150 per journey. The non-refundable tickets you have purchased are £48. So Eurotunnel entered into a bargain with you, offering a substantial price concession of two-thirds of the full ticket price in exchange for you agreeing to the tickets being non-refundable.

Why should they now rewrite the contract to offer you the terms of their Flexiplus tariff which costs three times as much, unless you would wish to pay for that? I don’t see that the law making unnecessary travel illegal has a direct impact on the performance of your contract, since Eurotunnel are still operating the service.

Suppose I hire a car for a week’s holiday. I opt for the manual transmission, non-refundable tariff in the expectation of making a cost saving. The week before going on holiday, I break my left foot. My doctor advises against driving, which in fact makes it illegal for me to drive. Does the car hire company now have a legal obligation to refund my car hire? Or provide me with an automatic at no additional cost? Most people would say it is my bad luck.

But that’s only my opinion. I would personally not consider it worth pursuing, particularly as there is every prospect that travel restrictions will be lifted soon and you will still be able to derive the benefit from your Eurotunnel tickets. Let’s hope so.

GEOFFREY HOWARD GREAVES says:
2 May 2020

Having read your article in this month’s magazine about the problems with people getting cash refunds from holiday companies for cancelled trips, and a similar one in the Daily Mail today, I can report that I have been more than impressed with Jet2. We had a package holiday to Corfu in May cancelled, and approximately three weeks ago received an email stating that they would contact us ‘nearer the time to discuss options’. On Thursday 30 April, I received a telephone call from them, asking my preference, and heeding the advice from your Money Which? people, I requested a full cash refund. Without quibbling, she said that this was fine, but it could take 3-5 working days for the money to be returned to the accounts used for payment. I can report that the full refund arrived in my bank account and on my credit card account today. I give a very big ‘thumbs up’ to Jet2, and will certainly be booking with them again in the future.

Em says:
2 May 2020

Not the first time there has been praise for Jet2.

I’ve been reading the Dart Group plc Annual Report (Jet2’s owners) to see what they are doing right. In their Risk Management section, they recognise:

“The Leisure Travel business is at potential risk of disruption … through other external factors, such as: acts of terrorism; epidemics; pandemics; and strike action.”

Their mitigation is to:

“… maintain[s] prudent levels of liquid funds to enable the business to continue to operate through a period of sustained disruption.”

Ryanair’s Annual Report, considering generic risks to the airline industry as a whole, states:

“Any Significant Outbreak of any Airborne Disease Could Significantly Damage Ryanair’s Business.

… The Company believes that if any influenza or other pandemic becomes severe in Europe, its effect on demand for air travel in the markets in which Ryanair operates could be material, and it could therefore have a significantly adverse effect on the Company’s financial performance. A severe outbreak of swine flu, MERS, SARS, foot-and-mouth disease, avian flu or another pandemic or livestock-related disease may also result in European or national authorities imposing restrictions on travel, further damaging Ryanair’s business. A serious pandemic could therefore severely disrupt Ryanair’s business, resulting in the cancellation or loss of bookings, and adversely affecting Ryanair’s financial condition and results of operations.”

In other words, many words wasted recognising the risk to Ryanair’s profitability, but no actions. And don’t let Ryanair tell you this was an unforeseen event when requesting a refund.

Maybe travel agents should hand out company annual reports along with the holiday brochures.

Hannah Tollworthy says:
3 May 2020

We had a holiday stay for four families booked at a Center Parcs site in Holland. I booked direct. The site was closed, and I was issued a credit voucher. We want a cash refund as we are unlikely to be able to reschedule. I contacted CP Holland and they said “we offer a voucher, do not reply to this email”. I’ve got in touch with AmEx (I paid for it on my AmEx card) and they told me they would follow what the merchant does.
Any help? I’m getting nowhere.

Hannah – This could depend on the terms and conditions of your contract with CenterParcs, but if the company has closed the site and is unable to provide the accommodation then I believe you should be entitled to a full refund. Any exclusion of that contingency would be unreasonable and unfair in my opinion. The company has effectively breached the contract between you and cannot fulfil it in a way that is satisfactory for you. I think you should send a formal letter requesting a full refund [notwithstanding their previous comments] on the grounds that they are in breach of the contract.

This is another example of how unsatisfactory the S.75 process is for getting a refund from the credit card issuer. My view is that American Express are contractually jointly liable together with CenterParcs for the provision of the service and are therefore liable in the event of a breach of that contract. You must pursue your claim against CenterParcs [the merchant] first but in default they should reimburse you. They could have said that..

I have just checked my holiday companys website and they are saying that if I cancel because of coronavirus, they are not responsible because it is not in their control.
Is this legal or are they trying to get out of their responsibilities.

Leslie – You can cancel your holiday at any time, but if you do, you risk losing any money you have already paid. Which?’s advice has been to wait until the holiday gets cancelled by the tour .operator.

This Conversation is about the cancellation of weddings and private events, holiday accommodation, and nurseries and childcare providers. To read more about the cancellation of holidays and Which?’s advice for travellers, go to the top of this page and click on the green tab labelled “Coronavirus (Read Our Latest Advice)” or click on this lnk which should take you straight to the right section –
https://www.which.co.uk/news/2020/05/coronavirus-outbreak-advice-for-travellers/

Wayne Pennock says:
3 May 2020

Who is liable for a holiday refund if due to coronavirus the holiday was cancelled, the travel agents who you booked the holiday with or the company organizing the package? My sons trip to Japan this month has been cancelled and he is only being offered vouchers which he rejects.

Wayne – If a travel agent has booked your son’s trip then – since they are earning commission on the service they provide – they should get get the refund from whichever organisation is the tour organiser. If there is an ATOL certificate that will state who the tour organiser is. A travel agent will probably quote ABTA guidance to its members that refunds should not be offered but customers have the right to a refund if their trip is cancelled so I suggest that your son makes a formal claim. The Civil Aviation Authority is the regulator and enforcement authority for air travel and manages the ATOL protection scheme.

Anna says:
4 May 2020

We bought flights to the US with United Airlines via Last Minute.com. This was obviously cancelled and we were invited to request either:
1.Credit voucher (including an extra £50) for Lastminute that could be turned into a cash refund after 6 months
2.A cash refund from the airline (although looking at the T&C for the airline refund it said this could however be in the form of a voucher depending on the ticket and airline policy.
3.A voucher for lastminte.com of the original amount (with no cash option)

I went back to Lastminute before I selected a choice, saying that under no circumstances would we be able to accept a credit / voucher either from Lastminute or the airline and that we wanted which ever guaranteed a cash refund – we also said we didn’t want to have to wait 6 months!

We were told both on the phone and in an email that we would get a cash refund from the airline as per our ticket and as stated in our offer email (despite what it said in the T&Cs). We therefore selected this option only to receive a confirmation email saying that we may still receive a voucher.

We have sent numerous follow up emails and also asked whether it would be advisable to go for the Lastminute cash option after 6 months – we are being told that we have selected our option and that’s it.
Our question is:
1.Should / can we go back and say we want the Lastminute.com cash refund offer (even if only after 6 months) – not sure if this a good offer anyway
2.Dig our heels in and insist on a cash refund from the airline – not sure that Lastminute will fight our corner on this…
Not sure which is our best bet.
Please advise…

Anna – Under the ATOL protection scheme you are entitled to a full refund for your cancelled flights and your ATOL certificate should state the name of the organisation responsible for it. I suggest you pursue a refund under the ATOL scheme.

Hacked off bride says:
5 May 2020

Our wedding was cancelled by our venue just prior to lockdown with our ceremony due to take place in May this year.

Our venue have charged an 80% cancellation charge and are refusing to issue a refund despite the CMA stating last week that we are entitled to a refund. Our venue seems to think the rules do not apply to them.

They have also tried getting us to claim on our insurance, then we could book with them again. Essentially the venue would get paid double the cost of our wedding! Seems a little fraudulent.

To top it off, today they have issued amended conditions to our contract, despite the fact our wedding is cancelled. We have not formally been notified of these changes but when we log into our online portal you have to click agree to get past that screen and get into any of the rest of the planner account. It would seem they have now added a clause around coronavirus. Surely they cannot just add this clause to an existing contract for a cancelled event?

It seems some companies still don’t get the point of the law and continue to play the victim card…..

To “Hacked Off Bride” – I would recommend you send a formal letter to your wedding venue claiming a refund of all money you have paid except for a small amount [5%?] to cover any unavoidable costs already incurred. It is not your fault, nor theirs, that the government’s directions have made a wedding ceremony and celebration impossible. I believe the law of frustrated contracts might apply in your case whereby both parties are released from the contract – i.e. the venue doesn’t have to provide the service you have agreed with them and you don’t have to pay them for a service they cannot supply. You might need legal advice to pursue this. The law is contained in the Law Reform (Frustrated Contracts) Act 1943.

The wedding venue should be making considerable savings by not providing food, drinks, entertainment, decoration, associated expenditure, and casual staff hire, so charging 80% for cancellation is unreasonable [and possibly unfair, thus void]. They cannot alter your contract without your consent and, in view of the substantial change, without giving you an opportunity to exit without penalty.

booked a hotel through booking.com on a non refundable basis,hotel will only offer a change of date,spoke to my insurance company about making a claim due to the foreign office advise,i have a annual policy which was renewed in january of this year,my insurance company have told me in the first instance i should make a claim with my debit card issuer on the chargeback scheme.is that correct? is that legal?
thankyou

Charles – I think you should pursue the hotel in the first instance. I don’t think they can rely on the fact that you made a non-refundable booking to avoid paying back your money for a service they cannot now provide. You have not cancelled your booking on a whim or of your own volition or because of an insurable event. The government has made it unlawful for people to travel and therefore impossible for the hotel to operate.

Basically this is a frustrated contract and you could invoke the Law Reform (Frustrated Contracts) Act 1943 whereby for causes outside the control of either party a contract cannot be fulfilled and both parties are released from the contract. The hotel does not have to provide accommodation and services and you do not have to pay them. You might need legal advice to pursue this course of action but I would suggest you start with a formal letter setting out your intention and see what the response is.

Em says:
16 May 2020

@John, the OP says they cannot use the hotel booking due to FCO advice, suggesting the hotel is abroad. Not sure that contract frustration will work – that is English law – and it might be a case of “hard cheese”. Is the hotel even in Europe?

@Charles, who is your contract with? Is booking.com the principle or an agent of the hotel? I would say terms and conditions are key to this one. Also some holiday insurance does not cover travel or cancellation against FCO advice. Again, check your policy carefully.

Em – I agree. One of the lessons from this situation is the vital importance of knowing who is responsible for what within a holiday arrangement, especially when booking through an on-line-only agent or intermediary. If all they are doing is connecting the holidaymaker with the accommodation and flights, and then transferring payment to the operator(s), then they are unlikely to have any liability if things go wrong. Knowing the applicable jurisdiction for the contract is also necessary in the event of a claim or a dispute.

Another problem is that the much-vaunted S.75 mechanism for claiming a refund on a credit card payment, and the chargeback scheme for reversing a debit card payment, are not as watertight as they appear .S.75 will only be applicable between the card issuer and their merchant as the parties with the joint and several liability. For example, if payment was made to an intermediary there is no liability on the part of the card issuer for the airline’s cancellation of a flight. With chargeback, as I understand it, a bank’s decision not authorise it cannot be challenged in the courts.

The law of frustrated contracts is also largely untested in modern conditions so I hesitate to recommend it without qualification. It could take a long time and cost a lot of money to pursue a case and still have not much chance of success.

I expect the lawyers who specialise in crafting contracts and terms & conditions will be fully employed in the coming months with revisions and exclusions.

This is about car hire from Europcar. I cancelled on 29th March as I had free cancellation. £rd week in April I phoned them and was told the Refund was in progress and should be in my account the next week. When it wasn’t I emailed them and got an e-mail back telling me about delays due to the circumstances and that it was still in progress but could take 15 – 20 days. . I e-mailed customer services to ask when the 15-20 days started from as it had by now been 43 days.They replied saying that I would be contacted sometime in the next 30 days to be offered a voucher valid for 18 months. I have no intention of accepting a voucher. I paid by credit card. What is my best course of action?

Em says:
16 May 2020

If your car hire agreement included free cancellation, then Europcar need to honour their contract and repay you.

It has nothing to do with Covid-19, although that may account for why there is a delay in processing your repayment. Do not accept a voucher and make it clear you have cancelled under the normal cancellation provisions, not because of any travel restrictions in force. The person dealing with your refund may have got confused and offered you a voucher by mistake.

Your course of action is the same as any other car hire dispute of which there were many, even before the current situation. Continue to escalate with Europcar. If and when you reach stalemate with them, contact your credit card company to make a Section 75 claim.

Weary Bride says:
16 May 2020

Hi
My wedding has been cancelled and i have had bespoke invitations and stationary made where the work done by the company is nearly finished. I have told them my wedding has been postponed and they have offered to redo the order at at later date if i reschedule. If i want a refund instead am i entitled to it?

To Weary Bride – I don’t think the printers would have any responsibility for the cost of your wedding stationery because of a change of date howsoever it arose. If they have fulfilled your order then they are entitled to be paid for it. If they have only done the pre-press work [composition, graphics, layout, etc] but not actually printed the material you might be able to obtain a reduction, but that could be difficult if they have bought in any special papers or used any expensive processes. You are entitled to have delivered whatever has been produced so that it can be reused at a later date, but I expect it all probably exists only in digital form.

If you took out wedding insurance before the start of the emergency restrictions in March then there might be some cover for the consequences of an unavoidable cancellation but policies differ and insurers have different terms and conditions. You would have to check the policy if you have one.

I suspect you are landed with the costs of the wedding stationery and will not be able to get any compensation for it. My advice would be to take up the offer from your printer and agree to have them produce your material for the rescheduled wedding incorporating the necessary amendments. If that is your choice then it would be best to leave the software and any special materials with them.

This problem could upset your wedding budget but wedding stationery is one of the essential items whereas some of the other arrangements and provisions, especially decorations and presentational features, are optional and could possibly be scaled back to keep the costs within your limit.

Whatever you might be thinking, don’t forget that this will be your Mother’s Big Day so keep her happiness in mind.

Em says:
16 May 2020

I doubt you would be entitled to a refund. That’s what Wedding Insurance is designed to cover, although few couples seem to bother. There are all sorts of reasons why weddings don’t go ahead on the planned date and printers cannot be expected to be responsible when that happens. Covid-19 is well beyond their control; they are not the ones who have cancelled your wedding and it well be impacting their business too.

I think the company is being more than reasonable to offer to reprint your invitations and stationery, presumably at no additional cost. I would welcome such a kind offer with open arms – whilst still maintaining a two metre distance.

Em says:
16 May 2020

@Weary Bride – I see @John and I have replied to your post at almost the same instant, but we seem to be in general agreement. I know it is very disappointing to be in this situation and of course there are many other expenses to try and recover.

Rather than scrap the existing work, it might provide a interesting theme for your wedding day to have the invitations overprinted with an official-looking stamp:

“Due to HM Government restrictions this wedding will be postponed until [date]. By order of The Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP”

Am I entitled to a refund if my daughters prom had been cancelled, the dress has been bought direct from the shop so not ordered in

Em says:
22 May 2020

It purely depends on the shop’s standard returns/exchange policy and any variation at time of purchase.

So unless you made it an explicit term, along the lines of: “Can I had a refund if my daughter’s prom is cancelled (for whatever reason)?” and the shop agreed, they have no liability to refund your purchase beyond what is written in their normal T&Cs of purchase.

Unfortunatelyc Covid-19, which I assume is the reason for cancellation, has nothing to do with it.

Why has this got nothing to do with it, it wouldn’t of been cancelled other wise

Em says:
22 May 2020

I’m assuming your purchase is covered by a simple contract of sale. This might be evidenced by nothing more than a till receipt. It’s proof that you have paid a monetary consideration (cash, voucher, credit card payment), in exchange for which ownership of the “goods” (the prom dress) transfers to you. The contract has been fulfilled at the time of purchase, as both parties have most likely completed their obligations to each other.

But behind that contract is a whole raft of additional terms and conditions, including many implicit terms, such as the right to goods of satisfactory quality and fitness for purpose. And depending on the seller’s policy on exchanges and refunds, usually time limited to 30 days or less, you may even have the right to a cash refund. Have you checked?

I’m simply saying that the consequences of legislation to deal with Covid-19 are not usually relevant to a contract of sale for goods, unless the retailer is unable to deliver the goods in a timely fashion – which it appears they have. The retailer has no additional liability to you, because your daughter’s prom has been cancelled due to unanticipated circumstances totally beyond their control.

I buy a suitcase to go on holiday. Easyjet cancels my holiday due to Covid-19. Can I go back to the luggage shop to demand a refund? Was it their fault easyJet cancels my holiday? I think not. So unless I can rely on the luggage shop’s standard terms and conditions relating to a refund, I am stuck with a suitcase I cannot use.

Alison – Em is right. The shop has fulfilled its part of the contract. If the dress was made to order there is little that can be done but if it is a standard item they may be prepared offer vouchers or a partial refund as long as it is unused. It will depend on the wording of the company’s returns policy, which should be on their website. If it is possible there will be a time limit but some shops have temporarily extended the period for returns.

I haven’t got it at home it’s in the shop paid a bit off the dress, it wasn’t made to order the one in the shop fit her so she wanted that one, sorry I should if said I hadn’t bought it outright

Thanks. Do you have a copy of the shop’s policy on refunds.

Kelly says:
22 May 2020

I paid a deposit for my daughters prom dress, prom was cancelled due to Covid-19, the prom shop are demanding the rest of the payment & want to send the dress out to me even though she had not had her second fitting since ordering the dress, the prom shop said they allowed me to make a deposit as a gesture of good will & they have had to pay shipping costs for the dress etc but doesn’t my deposit cover this any loss incurred? Do I have a right to decline the rest of the payment? Can they take me to court? I’m not in any financial contract with them!

I’d suggest that if you have ordered a made to measure dress then the supplier is well within their rights to require full payment or, as a goodwill gesture, such sum as is necessary to cover their outlay and time spent. It seems to me irrelevant as to why you wish to cancel your order.

In these cases it is presumably the schools that have cancelled the proms. The reasons are unavoidable – social distancing just wouldn’t work and unnecessary journeys remain banned. I agree with the previous comments that the dress shops do not have any liability any more than they would have if the school had burnt down and the event could not proceed.

If Alison’s and Kelly’s daughters cannot imagine any further occasions when they might wear the dresses the only option left is to offer them for sale, either now or closer to next summer when I would hope things will be back to normal. It is a pity that the outlay on the proms dresses could be wasted but, sadly, there is not a remedy for every misfortune we encounter in life.

If the purchasers of the dresses had stipulated cancellation of the sales in the event of cancellation of the functions then the prices would no doubt have been very much higher.

We seem to also be in the habit of buying expensive clothes for just one occasion. Some occasions do only happen once – a wedding (hopefully) for example. But why should such clothing not be hired or, if it must be “owned”, then either make sure it can be reused or sold on. I’d have thought a prom dress could be kept if the owner had stopped growing, designed to be altered for future use. Such a waste otherwise. ( A contribution from a male engineer). 🙂

One of my much younger engineering colleagues once admitted to selling clothes on eBay, after she had only worn them a few times.

I bet the boys at the prom don’t buy their evening dress. Hiring is a sensible option.

A few years ago we had some young neighbours who would buy clothes on-line just in time for events and functions and then return them within the period allowed. I don’t condone that but I am sure it happens a lot.

I think it is a young lady’s prerogative to wear a garment only once or twice before consigning it elsewhere – but they always hope to wear it once at least. Perhaps in the cases under consideration the families could lay on a little dinner party at home one day to give their daughters a chance to appear in their finest, possibly in the company of selected suitors. If they stage manage it properly they can contrive to get £250 from Harry Hill.

Wedding dresses are an expensive necessity when only worn once, unless you choose one that can be altered to wear again.

No I didn’t have a second wedding but had it shortened and the sleeves removed and wore it again for a special social gathering. It is now confined to a trunk in the loft awaiting disposal by enterprising offsprings to turn into luxury travel face masks unless the moths have found a way in!

From my limited knowledge, I think prom frocks are far less elaborate and much more versatile than wedding gowns. Christmas and birthday parties, student balls, anniversaries, workplace social events, club and association dinners, even going out to the theatre or a concert and attending other brides’ wedding receptions are all suitable occasions for dressing up properly and where a prom dress might be most appropriate.