COVID-19 related issues top ACCC travel complaints

Will YeomanThe West Australian
The ACCC has received an unprecedented number of COVID-19 travel complaints since March this year.
Camera IconThe ACCC has received an unprecedented number of COVID-19 travel complaints since March this year. Credit: Stephen Scourfield/The West Australian

24,210 COVID-19-related complaints have been received by the ACCC in the first 10 months of this year, according to figures recently released by the consumer watchdog. The number represents an increase of 497 per cent compared with the same period last year, and further reveals the extent of the pandemic’s impact on travel.

ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court says common complaints include businesses misleading consumers about their right to a refund, and deducting cancellation fees from refunds when there is no contractual basis to do.

“The ACCC has had to step in and help consumers and businesses understand the legal ramifications of cancelled services,” she says.

If cancellations are due to government restrictions, Australians are not automatically entitled to refunds normally available under the consumer guarantees of the Australian Consumer Law. It is instead the terms and conditions of individual bookings which determine whether consumers are entitled to a refund or credit note.

A COVID-19 Taskforce established by the ACCC in March has primarily focused on the travel industry. Its engagement with travel businesses to date has ensured hundreds of thousands of consumers received the remedies they were entitled to under the terms and conditions of their contract.

“We decided early on that the best way we could help consumers was to educate businesses about their legal obligations and resolve issues quickly and efficiently, rather than taking court action,” Ms Court says.

“We announced some cases such as Flight Centre, Qantas and Etihad, where we worked with those businesses to improve their treatment of customers, but we’ve been doing a lot of other work behind the scenes with dozens of travel businesses to get refunds and other remedies for customers who had their holiday plans dashed.

“The ACCC is very conscious of the fact that many businesses have struggled to process cancellations and respond to consumer queries as they have reduced staff capacity and are struggling to stay afloat. We have taken these issues into account in our engagement.”

Find the full report here.

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