Coronavirus: Abta expects government refund ruling ‘in near future’

Abta hopes to hear a decision by the government about changes to refund rules for Atol bookings “in the near future”.

The trade body has been lobbying for a suspension of the legal requirement to refund consumers within 14 days of cancellation as it threatens many businesses with insolvency amid the coronavirus crisis.

Mark Tanzer, Abta chief executive, has updated members in a video message about the association’s work on the regulations, as well as other issues such as repatriation flights.

“We are aware that Package Travel Regulations, which were never designed for this scale of crisis, stipulate that in a cancellation situation the customer is entitled to a cash refund in 14 days,” he said.

“We would love to do that but it may simply not be possible on the scale of the cancellations that we are now seeing. We haven’t been able to recoup money from suppliers.

“We want the government to relax that provision, to extend the protection that currently applies to bookings through the Atol scheme or through Abta to allow for deferred refund credits.

“We are still working on that with government, providing them with data and we are hoping to get some indication of their willingness to do that in the near future.”

He added: “Nobody wants to be in this situation where we are not able immediately to give cash refunds that customers want and are entitled to by law.

“The reality is that we have to balance that obligation against the need to keep jobs and keep companies going and make sure the industry is still there when the recovery starts, to enable people to have their holidays and for the economy and travel sector in particular to recover.

“Our priority is to balance those two: to be sympathetic to customers and their needs but also to try and make sure membership and your companies are given as much support as possible through these difficult times.”

Tanzer also said Abta has been liaising with the foreign office on repatriation flights, but commented: “This is getting increasingly challenging as other airlines are closing down and commercial flights are less and less available.”

Other lobbying has been on the issues of cash flow and salaries as “bookings have really dwindled to nothing”.

Tanzer urged members to contact Abta about the government’s pledges on loan guarantees and salary subsidies.

“It is really important that you let us know if it’s getting through or if there is a blockage in the system so we can go back to government and tell them if it is or isn’t working,” he said.

Tanzer urged members to contact their own MPs about issues affecting agents, reminding them that a template letter was sent last week for them to use.

He thanked members for “working around the clock to look after their customers and their staff’s welfare” and encouraged them to stay in touch through various online channels.

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