Categories
ADR Ombudsman Latest News

CAA launches consultation and tells no-one…

Press release

Airline regulator goes hush-hush – Does it want opinions or not?

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the UK’s airline regulator, recently launched a consultation. But decided not to tell anyone about it…

On 17 July 2020 The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) launched a consultation on Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) which closed on 25 September 2020. The ADR process is meant to ensure that passengers have a place to go to arbitrate in cases where the airline and consumer are in dispute.

Yet, despite launching the consultation, it seems that the CAA decided not to publicise it nor to seek input from the most important stakeholders, airline passengers!

The CAA says that they would only consult with CEDR and AviationADR, the two existing providers of ADR for UK airlines.

“We would not typically consult airlines or airports as they are not the regulated entities in this situation”, says the CAA website “However, given the interest expressed by a number of airlines in the proposed changes, in this case we have decided to extend the consultation to include airlines and airports.”

It is clear from this statement that they don’t see it, nor did they market it as a public consultation. There is no reference to the consultation in their social media feed at all and no press release was sent out.

Aeroplane in sky with clouds

Airlines have their say… or not?

British Airways, a member of the CEDR scheme, did not want to make a statement regarding the consultation or Which?’s call for a single Ombudsman instead of AviationADR and CEDR.

A spokesperson for Ryanair, which was previously a member of AviationADR and is no longer a member of any scheme, said

“These claims are completely baseless and this is nothing more than yet another cheap publicity stunt by Which? There are no Aviation ADR claims outstanding and Ryanair meets all of its obligations relating to EU261.  In the small number of cases where claims are rejected we refer passengers to the CAA’s Passenger Advice Complaints Team (PACT) or the European Commission’s Online Dispute Resolution (ECODR) service”

Passenger refund shame

There has been widespread condemnation of airlines not providing refunds for flight cancellations during the pandemic and equal criticism of the CAA for not doing enough to hold airlines to account. A new chairman, Stephen Hillier, started on 1 August 2020 and appears so far to have done nothing to improve the situation.

Whom did the CAA consult?

The question as to whether consumer champions, individuals and organisations were consulted remains unanswered but it is known that bizarrely the Ombudsman Association (OA)  was not notified. Despite being the professional organisation for ombudsman schemes and complaint handlers, their staff and others interested in the work of independent complaint resolution were not notified. One would expect that such an organisation would have been consulted about best practices in complaint handling by ADR providers.

The OA was identified as having higher approval criteria standards than the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) and the Civil Aviation

Authority (CAA) both of which approve ADR providers. This was outlined in the Ombudsman Omnishambles report in 2016 and in More Ombudsman Omnishambles, published 20 months later, which revealed serious unresolved issues affecting the operation of the ADR sector in the UK. The CAA was amongst those highlighted as failing the customer in this report.

Helen Dewdney, The Complaining Cow, consumer champion and co-author with Marcus Williamson of the investigation reports, is not surprised by the latest revelation. “The CAA’s approach to consultation is flawed and blinkered. It’s almost as if they don’t want to hear the changes and recommendations from the people who are best qualified to suggest improvements, the passengers themselves!”

Currently there are two ADR providers in the UK, CEDR[1] and AviationADR[2]. Membership of an ADR body is still not a legal requirement for UK-based airlines.

Currently there are two ADR providers in the UK, CEDR[1] and AviationADR[2]. Membership of an ADR body is still not a legal requirement for UK-based airlines.

The OA joins Which? and other consumer champions in the call for a single robust dispute resolution service in the airline sector. Which? believes that the ADR provider should be an ombudsman.

Donal Galligan, CEO of the OA, said:

“There are numerous examples from various sectors that what works best for both consumers and driving improvements in an industry is a single mandatory ombudsman. The evidence that Which? have collated clearly shows that the CAA’s experiment with non-mandatory, multiple providers, some of which charge a fee to access that service, has not delivered for either consumers or the aviation industry. It is time that the UK Government mirrored their own approach in rail, energy, and new homes, and drive the establishment of a single mandatory aviation ombudsman.”

When things do go wrong with travel it can be highly disruptive for passengers, regardless of the mode of transport.

The Rail Ombudsman, which was also another stakeholder not informed about the consultation, is the only approved Ombudsman operating in the travel sector. It was established in 2018 and has operated to the satisfaction of passengers, industry and other stakeholders since. Their remit is underpinned by the regulator which means that passengers can rely on its decisions if things go wrong.

Kevin Grix, Chief Ombudsman at The Rail Ombudsman, said “As an Ombudsman we have a wealth of knowledge and understanding and we would be pleased to share our views and recommendations with colleagues at the CAA to help cure any defects with the system”.

The CAA were asked to comment but failed to respond by the deadline given.

The Department for Transport were asked to comment but refused, passing the request onto the CAA.

Which? has said that

“The government must ensure that passengers’ needs are front and centre in its aviation recovery plan, starting with the introduction of a mandatory, single ombudsman scheme for airlines, as a first step to restoring trust in the sector.”

Dewdney agrees, saying that “The new CAA Chairman should be taking a much stronger lead and ensure that the mess that is the current ADR provision is fit for purpose. Problems and failings with ADR providers and the monitoring and regulation have been highlighted for more than three years, so overhaul is long overdue.”

CAA acknowledge error in consultation

Update 08 October 2020. Later today when the article was published the CAA sent this statement ” We were recently made aware that, due to an IT error, a small number of interested parties had not received an email alert about this consultation going live and therefore had not responded when the consultation closed. Given the importance of this matter, the Civil Aviation Authority will be reopening the consultation for a six week period from Friday 9 October 2020 in order to allow for further responses to be considered as we continue to improve the ADR service for consumers.” This statement was in response to my sending a link to this article and not to the request made a week previous.” I do not call every Ombudsman in the country, consumer champions and the general public a “small number”!

Update 09 October 2020. The consultation is on the website with the deadline extended but they still haven’t informed stakeholders. No press release, no emails, nothing on social media. Weird right?

Notes 

[1] CEDR is the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution which provides conflict management, ADR, mediation and training. It is a not for profit charity.

[2] AviationADR is part of Consumer Dispute Resolution Limited, owned by Dean Dunham, who was identified as a provider of concern in the Ombudsman Omnishambles and the More Ombudsman Omnishambles investigation reports.

Thursday 8 October 2020 is International Ombudsman Day, which aims to improve the awareness and educate the public about the history and practices of ombudsmen.

Categories
Holidays and transport Latest News

Travel in the time of Coronavirus – Your rights explained

Refused a refund on your holiday? Refused a refund on your flight? Do you book a holiday?

Coronavirus has brought chaos to the world. In its path consumer travel plans have been disrupted indefinitely, so what are your rights and what can you do when companies won’t play ball?

Aeroplane in sky with clouds

My flight was cancelled and the airline is only offering a credit note to be used on another flight. Do I have to accept it?

Many airlines are trying this trick. You are legally entitled to a full refund under Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 and under IATA regulations for companies which are IATA members. Some are offering vouchers or credit notes.

The Denied Boarding Regulation applies to passengers departing from an airport within the EU, whatever the airline is, and also applies to passengers departing from an airport outside the EU for an airport within the EU, if the operating air carrier is a Community carrier. (I.e. a carrier with a valid operating license granted by an EU state).

You do NOT have to accept this. However, do consider it if you can. The travel sector has obviously been hugely hit by this pandemic and there is a high risk of companies folding if they refund everyone immediately and it will help cashflow if they can retain some payments. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) says that the sector is looking at a loss of $252bn (£202bn) should the lockdown last three months.

The CAA has not been clear on whether you will be covered by ATOL protection should the company fall into administration. However, if the voucher is worded correctly you will retain the ATOL cover should the airline fall into administration before you have used it. This means that even if the airline fails you will still get your money back. You should also be able to claim a refund if you cannot use the voucher and you should ensure that this is part of the agreement.

It would not provide a comment despite a number of requests to do so.

Bear in mind that you could be waiting a long time for a refund and if the company goes under that time will be even longer.

Some airlines are looking at giving an extra “Thankyou” for taking a voucher. Aer Lingus, for example, is giving 10% on top. Some will also make the voucher transferable, so you can give it to someone else. Explore what the company is offering and what you can negotiate!

Nor do you have to accept a change in date.

Update 18/07/20 Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has finally stepped in and said that the government will protect RCNs issued by travel companies.

Read more: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2020/07/government-confirms-financial-protection-for-package-holiday-refund-credit-notes/ – Which?

See Coronavirus and travel – who’s taking advantage? for more details about what airlines are doing and what regulatory bodies aren’t doing! The post was written 04 April 2020 and nothing has improved.

I am highly unlikely to travel.  How do I insist on a full refund?

Some airlines such as BA and EasyJet are insisting that you phone to get the refund and are not providing a system to do this online. One could be very cynical about why they have not undertaken the more cost-effective online process. However, the phone lines are extremely busy, having to deal with thousands more calls a day than normal.

Others are now allowing it through an online form but people are struggling to get the sites to submit the information. This could be site overload it could be the company making it difficult….!

So, you can hold on for hours while you get on with cleaning your home or something or keep on trying to submit a form! Or you can beat them. Contact the CEO. Go to Ceoemail.com and find the email address for the CEO of your airline. You won’t get a response from the CEO but it will be received and dealt with as an escalated case.

Be assertive. Make it clear that under the aforementioned Regulations you are entitled to a full refund. Normally, I would say give it a time limit of 14 days at the most. However, one has to be reasonable and understand that they will have hundreds of thousands of requests, so although you can put this in, be flexible. State that if you do not get a refund you will go to the relevant ADR provider or CAA if the airline is not a member, or go to the Small Claims Court or claim under Section 75 if you paid by credit card. Try to avoid going to ADR by following advice in this post about getting a refund as there are a number of issues with ADR in this sector and the CAA. See More Ombudsman Omnishambles.

If you paid by bank transfer (always pay by credit card where you can!) you may be covered by Chargeback so you can threaten this if applicable.

If you get a rejection then contact your Credit Card provider as the company is in breach of the Law so you will get the money refunded and it will claim from the airline. You will need the evidence that the airline has refused the refund though, so make sure you get that in writing or evidence of them not responding by a deadline.

If the airline has said it will give you a refund insist on a date by which you expect to be refunded and state that if you do not receive it by this date you will take further action as detailed above.

It is worth noting, however, that the CAA has very little information or help on its website saying only that airlines should be giving full refunds. It appears to be doing absolutely nothing to ensure they do.

Update 01/07/20 the CAA has published a review and says that it is working with airlines to ensure that they are providing full refunds and doing it in a timely manner. It has still stopped short of indicating that it will actually take any action unlike the Competition and Markets Authority which has made holiday companies change their stance on full refunds and made them do it. When you contact airlines to ensure you get a full refund it may be worth quoting the CAA and copying them in to any correspondence.

I cannot get a satisfactory response from any company

If you do not receive a satisfactory response, you can go to the Small Claims Court online fill out all the details including what you are claiming for (add in costs of taking them to court and out of pocket expenses such as parking) go right up to the point of providing payment details and the submission button. Send an email before action stating that you will be taking them to court if you do not receive a satisfactory response within a week. If you still do not get a satisfactory response you should try the suggestions above before deciding whether you wish to take the company to court as detailed above.

You also have the Chargeback and Section 75 options detailed above.

If you still don’t get anything it will be your choice whether you go to court. It is highly unlikely that any company would want to go to court and open the flood gates.

I had a package holiday booked but the travel agent has only partially refunded. What can I do?

Many travel agents are refunding as quickly as they can. However, they are struggling to get airlines to refund them, so where possible are refunding other elements of the package with a view to refunding the flight when they can.

Strictly speaking they should be refunding in full but a number of travel agents have gone into administration. Linda Reynolds, a freelance personal travel agent, says to consumers wanting to get their money back from travel agents to “Please bear with us. Small companies are going bust trying to do the right thing. We often can refund part of the package but are waiting on the airlines who are refusing to give refunds.”

So, if you can, be patient with the travel agent, especially if they have already partially refunded you and see the paragraph below.

Shouldn’t the travel agent pay within 14 days though?

Normally, yes. Under The Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations 2018 you are entitled to the full refund within 14 days. However see “I had a package holiday booked but the travel agent has only partially refunded – What can I do?” above.

ABTA has said :

“The rules around 14 day refunds were never designed for the mass cancellation of holidays, which is why we are asking for more time for travel businesses to fulfil this requirement – customers will not lose their right to a refund, and their money is not at risk.”

ABTA wants to see changes in policy that would strengthen the regulatory basis and extend the window for Refund Credit Notes. It says on its website:

“The European Commission has already relaxed its position on the regulations, and as a result many other EU countries including France, Italy, Belgium, Spain, Germany, The Netherlands and Denmark have taken action to amend their laws and/or provide additional guidance as a result of the crisis.”

The UK Government has yet to do anything in this regard.

ABTA is recommending that businesses offer – and consumers accept – a Refund Credit Note. This would, in effect work as an IOU and the company should then refund in full (if the consumer does not want to rebook). It has said these should be dated up to 31st July 2020. It urges consumers to accept this and provides the following guidelines to ensure that you retain the ABTA/ATOL cover if the company fails.

“Refund Credit Notes may look different depending on your travel provider, but they should all comprise the following:

  • An expiry date, which is the date to which your money is protected, and is based on your travel company’s financial protection arrangements. You are entitled to re-book or have a cash refund by this date at the latest (if your original booking was for a package holiday).
  • The value of the Refund Credit Note must be equal in value to the amount you paid for the original booking (or less the amount your travel provider has offered you as a part cash refund).
  • The Refund Credit Note must include the original booking details and reference.
  • The Refund Credit Note must not include any other amount offered as a rebooking incentive or other offer. Any such offers must be documented separately and are not covered by any scheme of financial protection.
  • You should retain all previous booking documentation including booking confirmations, ATOL Certificates where appropriate and proofs of payment.

Please be patient and work with the company rather than against them to protect both business and your own interests.

My travel company says I still have to pay the balance for a holiday due to be taken in July 2020 but I don’t want to go. What can I do?

Companies have grounded airlines and put a stop to all holidays to be taken from different dates. At the moment you will still be expected to pay the balance for any holiday that could, in theory, be taken. If you do not pay the balance you will be in breach of contract and will not be entitled to a refund of the deposit. As the weeks go by it is highly likely that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will extend the dates, effectively banning all non-essential travel and/or companies will extend the grounding and/or some countries will not be allowing flights into their country. When and if this happens you will then be entitled to a refund, as above.

Make sure you pay on a credit card to give you extra protection. You will be able to claim from the credit card company as advised above should a refund be rejected.

I have a holiday booked and paid for due to be taken later in the year. Can I get a refund?

The FCO has advised against all but essential travel indefinitely, so in theory you should be able to get full refunds. However, in reality, given the current situation, you will need to wait until nearer the due date to start the process for a refund.

You will be entitled to a full refund if you want it once the date has been confirmed as included dates where travel is stopped as above.

Update – 08/07/20 As restrictions are lifted this will now depend on if the flight is still going. Check the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for advice.

An event I was going to later in the year has been cancelled but it is possible that the flight will still go. Will I get the money back?

This depends on whether you booked the flights and accommodation separately. If you booked them together, as a package, then you will be covered under the Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements 2018 because the tour operator has made a “significant change” to the booking so you can accept an alternative or demand a full refund.

If you booked the flight separately it becomes more difficult. The event cost will be refunded but the airline will say that you could still travel and given the state of the sector airlines are unlikely to show goodwill! However, in theory, the event organiser should pay for consequential loss. In the UK this would be using the Consumer Rights Act 2015 but may prove more difficult in the EU and virtually impossible outside of it.

Take advice from the EU Consumer Centre regarding laws for each country.

Your travel insurance is unlikely to cover you but it is worth looking.

I have an underlying condition which makes me at greater risk of dying from coronavirus if holidays start again but I could be at risk. Am I more likely to get a full refund?

If the FCO says it is OK to travel to an area but you think it would still be dangerous for you, you can speak with the holiday provider and see if they would move the date, whilst waiving the change fee.

You can also look at your travel insurance and see the level of cover you have. Companies’ approaches to this will vary. Ensure you have all the evidence you can muster, including a letter from your doctor to help your case. You will have needed to have declared pre-existing conditions which you should always do anyway or you risk invalidating any insurance.

Each claim will be looked at on a case-by-case basis and if you are still not happy you could consider taking the matter to the Financial Ombudsman.

Can I book a holiday for later in the year?

How long is a piece of string? The whole travel sector is in a state of flux. Whether we can travel later in the year will depend on how the situation develops, how long the lockdown is extended, what countries remain closed to visitors and Government advice about countries to which it is safe to travel.

In addition, all the travel insurance companies will not cover you for coronavirus related claims for new policies. Even your annual policy is unlikely to cover you. If you have an annual policy, renew it without a break, as most will continue the same level of cover as you already have now.

Booking a holiday now is, sadly, a high risk activity.

Update 08/07/20 some insurance companies will now cover you if you contract Covid-19 whilst on holiday, check policies.

I have booked flight and hotel separately – What are my rights?

If the flight is cancelled please see the questions related to airlines. In theory, the airline could be liable for the consequential loss if the hotel is still open. In reality, you would probably have to go to court to try and get it and it would be a test case. That said, as there is no precedent, they may pay out to stop you opening the flood gates.

If the hotel is not open and the flight is still running the same argument applies. In theory, the hotel could be liable for the consequential loss. It would be harder to fight if it is in another country but you could take advice from the EU Consumer Centre about the relevant laws.

I had a holiday booked in this country but the company is refusing a refund

You are entitled to a full refund if your booking is cancelled under the Consumer Rights Act 2015.

Force majeure is not a reason for not paying out. Nor is saying such things as “Government Act” (There was a Coronavirus Act passed, it made no changes whatsoever to consumer rights) or “The Government cancelled your holiday not us!” or “You cancelled so have to pay a fee” if the company cancelled you do NOT pay anything and are entitled to a full refund.

Can I report a company not providing a refund?

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is closely monitoring businesses through this period. It has the power to open a consumer enforcement if it finds strong and compelling evidence that the law might have been broken and can call on the company or companies to change their behaviour by committing to formal undertakings or promises. If they refuse, then the case can be taken to court. It is asking consumers to report price hikes or making misleading claims about their products and services.

The CAA for flight only cases is less effective CAA launches consultation and tells no-one… and Ryanair tops CAA refund complaints

I had a ferry crossing booked can I get a refund?

If your ferry service is cancelled or departure is delayed for more than 90 minutes, you are entitled to either an alternative sailing at the earliest opportunity at no additional cost or reimbursement of the ticket price which normally should be paid within seven days. But again please allow for delays with this repayment.

The company is claiming force majeure as a reason for not paying out can they do that?

No. Both the EU law and Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements 2018 apply in regards to cancellations due to unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances.

Am I entitled to any compensation for cancelled travel arrangements?

Normally in certain circumstances yes. See What to do when your flight is delayed – the full guide but it is not given when the delay or cancellation is due to extraordinary circumstances. I don’t think it is possible to have more extraordinary than the current situation.

I have to quarantine when back in the UK can I not go and get a refund?

Legally the company does not have to refund you. However many will do or may re arrange a different date as above. You may be covered by insurance and would need to check your policy.

What other information and help is there regarding Coronavirus and rights?

Getting help for Coronavirus cancellation claims and shopping links to all the posts re travel, events, weddings and shopping

Coronavirus and travel – who’s taking advantage? details on  the CAA, ABTA, agents and individual airlines the good the bad and the downright  illegal.

See Coronavirus related cancelled and postponed events your rights

Look out timber frame on a beach "researching, booking and complaining aabout holidays and flights. Tips, ideas and your rights"

 

All you need to know about booking/complaining about holidays/flights/travel

 

 

 

People on a beach. text How to claim for holidays and flights affected by coronavirusCover of How to Complain updated 2019 large cow logo

 

For more advice, tips and templates for complaining  see GET THE BOOK! How To Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to Getting REFUNDS, Redress and RESULTS!