All over the country thousands of people are due refunds for holidays, flights, trips, concerts, or events that they have paid for but have not happened. The law is clear – if you pay for a service and it is not provided then you are entitled to your money back. These rights are given under various legal provisions, but they all say money must be refunded. If you bought something through an agent - a ferry ticket for example - it is the supplier of the goods or service who remains liable not the agent.
Despite these clear rights, enforcing them can be difficult against a firm that says it will not – or cannot – pay you. It may have offered a voucher for a future replacement trip. Ot it might claim that the event has just been postponed and your ticket will be valid at some future date.
None of those alternatives take away your right to a full refund.
Enforce your rights
Knowing your rights is one thing, enforcing them can be quite another. So here is my guide to the big stick you can use to make a company obey the law.
Of course, you have written, emailed, phoned, hung on for ours and tried all the things the firm suggests and you still have not got your money back, as the law says you must.
Time for the nuclear option.
Step 1: The court
If a firm owes you money you can go to court to recover it. We used to call it the ‘small claims court’ but in England and Wales it is now done centrally through the Courts & Tribunals Service website at moneyclaim.gov.uk. In Scotland it is called the Simple Procedure at Scottish Courts and Tribunals. In Northern Ireland go to justice-ni.gov.uk and search ‘small claims’ or use this direct link.
Don't worry, you are almost certainly not going to go to court. Begin the court action online. Fill in the claim form with your details, and the details of the firm and the amount claimed. Claim the full amount including non-returnable deposits. Put your reasons. Do not proceed with the claim but take a screenshot of the page.
Step 2: The boss
Forget about customer service, go straight to the person who can make something happen. Email the Chief Executive of the company that owes you the money. You can find that address from www.ceoemail.com. Write a brief, polite but firm email summarising in a few lines what you are claiming and why, reminding them that you are entitlted to your money back and warn them that you expect a refund within seven days or you will go to court.
Now attach the screenshot of your court claim to the email. That is the masterstroke. It proves that you are not just threatening to 'go to court' but that you know how to do it and are already halfway through the process.
Emails to the boss will usually be read by a minion. But that does not matter. Every firm has a section to give cases special treatment. You have just reached it.
Shortly after you should get your money. One happy reader who had spent weeks going through the usual channels used this technique and emailed me: “It worked! Easyjet wrote back today and I’ve received the reimbursement to my credit card”.
Turn the screw
If after 14 days this method does not result in a full refund including non-returnable deposits and without deduction of any administrative fees, then go back to your online claim and start the court action. These proceedings are very simple and straighforward and any small fee charged at this stage will be refunded when you win.
In fact your case will almost certainly never get to court. The last thing any firm wants is a judgement that it has to refund customers. It will be settled out of court and you will be given your refund - in full without fees or charges deducted - and reimbursed for your costs. You may even get a few pounds added on.
Don't just take my word for it. The Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) is a government agency whose job it is to promote fair competition between companies and make sure they do not trample on consumer rights.
At the end of April 2020 it warned firms that
Where a contract is not performed as agreed, the CMA considers that consumer protection law will generally allow consumers to obtain a refund. In particular, for most consumer contracts the CMA would expect a consumer to be offered a full refund 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 Government public health measures;
- a consumer cancels, or is prevented from receiving any services, because Government public health measures mean they are not allowed to use the services.
The CMA said that weddings, holiday accommodation, and nurseries and childcare particularly concerned it. A couple of months later it forced Hoseasons and Cottages.com to offer refunds to customers instead of trying to fob them off with vouchers. It did not mention flights as they are regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority but these rights to a refund apply equally to flights under the European Regulation EC 261/2004.
I am grateful to Helen Dewdney of thecomplainingcow.co.uk for this idea. She has many more in her excellent books How to Complain and 101 Habits of an Effective Complainer.
This article is an expanded version of a piece that originally appeared in Radio Times.
17 June 2020