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Which? Legal Hour: Coronavirus and the consumer

Which Legal Hour

The expert team at Which? Legal answered five of your consumer challenges about Coronavirus.

We’re excited to welcome the team from Which? Legal to the Conversation for their first live legal chat.

On Wednesday, 13 May, at 11:30am, the team will be answering questions on the effect Coronavirus is having on consumers.

They will pick five legal challenges from the suggestions, discuss the legalities behind them, and walk through how to best find a solution in the comments below.

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Suggest and vote for questions

The team will be taking time away from their calls to answer questions here on Which? Conversation from 11:30am to 12:30 pm on Wednesday, 13 May.

See what was suggested for the live conversation in our suggestion lounge

Comments for this page are currently turned off, and will go live shortly before the start of the discussion on 13 May.

Please be aware we will not be able to answer every question that comes up during the event, as some may required more specific advice or legal guidance that cannot be given publicly. The Legal Hour will provide general information and guidance on the topics selected and shouldn’t be used as a substitute for legal advice on any specific issues you have.

You can also find all of our latest consumer advice on Coronavirus from across Which.co.uk on the Which? Coronavirus hub.

About Which? Legal

Which? Legal is Which?’s independent legal service that has been helping consumers find solutions to their legal challenges since 1976.

The team of legal advisers can work with members by phone or email, and offer step by step guidance through the legal process.

What legal issues can Which? Legal help with?

Which? Legal covers the following areas of law:

  • Consumer law – problems with products and services you buy
  • Parking fines
  • Holiday rights
  • Help and advice for small business on goods and services they purchase when acting as a consumer i.e. not for resale.
  • Tenancy help and advice to private residential tenants and private landlords
  • Civil neighbour disputes regarding hedges, light and boundaries
  • Pre-emptive help and advice – find out your rights before you buy
  • Wills and Probate help and advice

The team can help and advise you in respect of the above from an initial problem right to the court door (provided your claim falls within the small claims procedure – with a value of less than £10,000 in England, £3,000 in Scotland and Northern Ireland).

Find out more about Which? Legal

Meet the Which? Legal team

Joining in the conversation will be:

James Attew - Which? Legal Adviser

James Attew

Prior to joining Which? Legal in September 2018, James advised in relation to consumer, commercial and property disputes at various firms in the South of England since qualifying as a solicitor in 2012. James advises in all aspects of consumer law and is particularly experienced in residential landlord and tenant matters. 

Thomas Holloway, Which? Legal adviser

Thomas Holloway

Thomas is one of our consumer law experts.  He joined Which? Legal at the beginning of 2018 as a legal adviser having had experience working in legal expense insurance, providing advice to policy holders. Tom is a graduate member of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives.

James Shelton, Which? Legal adviser

James Shelton

James joined Which? Legal in June 2017 as a legal adviser after completing an internship with us, he was destined to be a consumer champion!  James is part of the team of specialist consumer lawyers and recently became a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives.

Lauren Stacey, Which? Legal Adviser

Lauren Stacey

Lauren joined Which? Legal in February 2019, having previously helped clients resolve civil litigation disputes in private practice.  She advises on all aspects of consumer law, providing practical advice for members to resolve their issues successfully.  Lauren is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives.

Need more help?

If you’d like more in-depth, affordable advice from a legal adviser, call and join Which? Legal today.

You can find out more, join, and book an appointment by phoning 0117 405 4854

You can also join Which? Legal online


Virgin Atlantic are refusing a claim under EU Regulation 261/2004 EC, due to “extraordinary circumstances”. VIR cancelled flight VS66 MBJ-LGW on 20/03/20. VIR have refused to pay compensation under EU Regulation 261/2004 EC, due to “extraordinary circumstances” of WHO declaration of pandemic on 30/01/20…but they nevertheless flew us out to MBJ on 10/03/20. That can’t be right can it?

Hi AlanButtifant,

Thank you for your message. I think it’s important to clarify whether you are looking for compensation for your flight being cancelled/delayed for your inconvenience or whether you are seeking a refund for your flight?

It’s important to review the regulation and seperate the differences between your ‘choices’ as per regulation 8 (discussed in question 1 by Tom and I) and your right to entitlement as per regulation 7.

The phrase “extraordinary circumstances” is primarily used as the airlines defence for compensation rather than dealing with a rebooking/refund.

The distinction is incredibly important. I’ve provided some helpful links below:



I hope this helps,

Hello James, and thanks for getting back to me.

Is this an “either” “or” situation?

By this I mean: Can I “either” claim compensation under EU Regulation 261/2004, “or” reimbursements of the expenses I incurred as a result of VIR cancelling the flight (extra hotel accommodation etc, plus having to purchase a return flight on British Airways as I receive NO help from VIR in getting me on one of their own flights back to the UK?

What I want to be able to do is claim not only my expenses, (as detailed above), but also compensation under EU Regulation 261/2004 for the disruption caused; is that not possible?

I hope you can help with this further question?

Thanks in advance.

Kind regards, Alan.

Alan Buttifant.

I have been refused a refund of rearrangement fees for a BA flight due to a misleading message on their recorded phone message (impossible then to get any answer on the phone). This was at the cusp of COVID-19 formal announcements. Which is the most effective method to escalate a claim? CEDR or Small Claims court procedures; or is there another alternative?

Hi 13ton,

I would strongly consider raising the complaint with BA in the first instance. I would hope that BA may be able to resolve this with you directly. Failing this, I would consider CEDR as an escalation point if they can assist or alternatively approach your credit card company.

As always, County Court action should be a last resort as usually there is risk/cost associated with this.

I hope this helps,

Thanks – my error!

Thanks. Yes it does; BA refused a refund as I said (in an email exchange) but have not referred me or mentioned their complaints procedure.

People with certain medical conditions must be shielded from the virus. Cottage letting companies are saying the advice to these people is only advisory not legally required so customers are making a choice to cancel so monies paid are forfeited and/or outstanding balances due. Is this fair or legal?

If a cottage let is unable to go ahead because of Lockdown legislation, can owners/ lerring agencies still demand payment for any oustanding balances?

Hi @DrSteveWhite

My colleague Thomas has answered this query a little earlier on in the Which? Legal LIVE hour. Please scroll up the first page and you will find the information that you are looking for.

The one about frustrated contracts?

I don’t think this Legal LIVE hour has been thought through. I think the 7 Ps principle applies!

Hello, your previous comments about holiday packages may cover this question. However, an experience day company was due to provide my son and his friends with an experience in May. Due to the lockdown the day was not able to go ahead. The experience company has advised that their deposit is non-refundable, and has moved the booking to July, which is not convenient for all the participants so they would like to cancel and get a refund. Where do they stand please? Thank you for your help this morning.

Hi Chris,

Thank you for your message. If this is an experience day event in isolation it likely wouldn’t be a package holiday and therefore you wouldn’t have those rights.

This eventuality is more akin to a holiday cottage booking based in the UK. I would suggest reviewing the answers to this instead. As with other questions I would suggest reviewing the terms and conditions of the contract and understanding what the starting point is. There may be a relevant force majeure clause that could be applicable or a rearrangement clause.

Beyond this, you could look to approach them directly requesting a refund to see what their stance is or consider your credit card company if you believe the contract has been breached.

I hope this provides a starting point.

I have flights booked with Ryanair in June. The company has stated that scheduled flights will not resume until July. Even so they deny that flights have been cancelled. So no cancellation no refund is due. Ryanair are denying the reality of the situation. When will it become clear that the flight is cancelled? Do I have to wait until the date of departure?

Hi Henry, unfortunately Ryanair are technically within their rights to effectively wait and see what happens. I suspect they are doing so to try and stagger out refunds to protect their cash flow. This means you would have to wait for the flight to be formally cancelled. At that point you would then be entitled to reimbursement within 7 days.

I am a self-employed sole trader working as a chiropractor in Wales, but I haven’t been allowed to work at all since 19/03/2020 because of the CoviD-19 situation.
(1) I havn’t applied for any financial suppport for this as I am rather formophobic. I was hoping this would all blow over, but it has not, so now I need to apply for help. How do I find out exactly what financial support might be available to me, including what has been announced today. Does that apply to Wales? What about HMRC?
(2) How do I find out what the government standards are for PPE as I do not wish to end up with a lorry load of substandard equipment, not fit for purpose, as did the government.
(3) How do I find out what are the legal requirements for disposal of such PPE equipment when used, being in full compliance with all legislation as is my professional duty,
Thanx, Pete Smith.

I assume that just because companies are unable to answers phones/respond due to volume of calls at present, there is no time limit after which they can claim I’m “too late” for a refund.

Hi Brian, if the company has failed to refund you (e.g. due to a cancelled flight or cancelled package holiday) then they would be in breach of contract. In England & Wales you would have 6 years (5 years in Scotland) to issue proceedings in court against the company from the date of the breach of contract (i.e. the day they should have refunded you).

To put it simply, I would say there is no ‘rush’ to demand a refund, but I would still encourage you to try and get through to them to make your request for a refund as clear and obvious as possible. We hope that as life returns to ‘normal’, companies will begin to get through the back-log of requests.

Really struggling to decide whether to pay balance in full (due today £5,000) for a James villa holiday… this is linked to an already paid for week with Tui in Greece in July. We already know we definitely do not want to go…
Help. Cant speak to anyone at James villas or Tui…

Hi Sharon

If you scroll down the page a little, my colleague James Attew has provided some information that may assist you in understanding your position.

If you would like to discuss your query in more detail, please take a look at our affordable membership options and contact us on 0117 405 4854 for tailored advice.

Lewis Rooke says:
13 May 2020

Hi guys, had an issue with Ryanair and lastminute – was due to fly out the 16th March, but FCO advised against all but essential travel on the 15th. I spent all day trying to contact Ryanair and lastminute to uncheck in and reschedule as they offered to do, however I received no reply and was unable to reschedule. I missed the flight out of safety, is there anything I can do about this? Thanks

Hi Lewis,

I’m sorry to hear of the flights and the problems you had. I’d love to provide some assistance. However, as you can imagine there are a lot of questions that I have and that would need to be explored before providing a substantive response.

I’ve provided our contact information below if you’d like get tailored affordable advice on the matter. Please do consider giving us a call on 0117 405 4854, or joining the service online.

My original package holiday with Fleetway Travel was on the basis of a non-refundable, non-cancellable contract. Their terms and conditions for a ‘force majeure’ situation where they had to cancel the holiday referred me to claim from my travel insurance. Fleetway subsequently cancelled my package holiday to Northern Italy in April, advising me to contact my travel insurers. Nationwide travel insurance were initially happy for the claim to proceed but then I received a message from Fleetway offering a refund credit note expiring in December 2021. Now I can’t get a full refund from either the travel insurance or the tour operator.

Hi @sheranedward

If you take a look at the advice provided by myself and my colleagues James Shelton and Thomas on the first page of comments this should help you to understand your position and move forward in obtaining a full refund not a credit note or voucher.

If you continue to receive a negative response from Fleetway Travel, you may wish to consider our affordable membership options and contact us on 0117 405 4854 to discuss further action.

Hi Lauren, and thanks for your comments and for all the advice earlier in these discussions. Earlier this month, on the basis of advice in recent Which? articles, I held out for a full refund from Fleetway, suggesting a reasonable timescale of a couple of months. Fleetway have just replied ignoring my request and offering the same options. I will be in touch with you for further advice. Many thanks.

Richard James says:
13 May 2020

The Brittany Ferries question also referred to them treating each sailing of a return trip booking independently. So if only the outbound sailing is cancelled they imply they wont refund for the return leg if it is not also cancelled, although they will provide a voucher (which may not be acceptable).

Is this ploy legal?

Hi Richard

Thank you for your message. The first question is whether they can make specific reference to the contractual basis for which they are permitted to act in this way. If they cannot do so, then my view is that a refund for the return leg should be payable.

Even if there is such a clause, my view is potentially this is an unfair term under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, as potentially they are seeking to unreasonably limit or restrict their own liability (having cancelled the outward crossing), which would make such a clause void and unenforceable.

My advice is to check the terms and conditions and, if you remain unclear, please do seek further advice.

Kind regards


Many Thanks for your advice