Abta has warned it could revoke membership of operators refusing to refund customers, with its legal chief revealing to TTG the association was “actively” engaging with certain suppliers failing to follow Abta’s guidance.
Speaking during TTG’s latest Keep Your Business Alive virtual seminar on 23 April, Simon Bunce, head of legal services, said operators unfairly withholding customer cash “aren’t just doing damage to themselves but to the reputation of the industry, and that’s not right”.
He stressed refusing refunds “has never been Abta’s position” with reimbursements granted as part of its credit note scheme, which the body continues to ask government to ratify.
Under the Package Travel Regulations in their current guise, clients are entitled to a refund within 14 days of a booking’s cancellation (although Abta is asking for this amount of time to be lengthened).
Bunce called on agents with “real concerns” over operators’ conduct to report them to Abta.
“The vast majority of companies in the industry are managing this in a really good way in the most appalling conditions,” he told TTG editor Sophie Griffiths. “[But] there are a handful out there who are refusing to give refunds.”
Questioned as to what enforcement measures Abta would take, Bunce said stripping membership was the final step of its code of conduct procedures.
He said under Abta’s code, operators should refund “without undue delay”, admitting the term was a “beautifully vague legal phrase”.
He added: “We’re having problems coming up with a clear and reasonable plan for paying those refunds because that could depend company by company. There’s very much a range between ‘we will pay you in 14 days’ and ‘we will pay you in six months’.
“Some companies can’t make those refund payments at any time over the next three or four months for operational reasons. Some are saying ‘we won’t pay refunds until 31 March next year’ [as it fits their financial bonding]. To those, we are saying that does not work – that’s not paying without undue delay.”