COVID-19 has drastically altered how consumers access and enjoy entertainment. Previously, we had access to many external sources of entertainment, including different ways of paying for them. However, lockdown restrictions has resulted in potentially irreversible changes to how consumers will spend money and interact with entertainment services.
Restrictions have meant that many of the services and memberships we subscribe to are no longer accessible. This raises the issue of refunds and how to claim money back.
On the 30th April, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) issued guidance on the coronavirus pandemic, consumer contracts, cancellation, and refunds. This outlined the CMA’s view on consumer protections that are already in place to ensure that businesses refund customers for services or products that they are not able to access.
In this, the CMA states:
“for most consumer contracts the CMA would expect a consumer to be offered a full refund where:
1. a business has cancelled a contract without providing any of the promised goods or services;
2. no service is provided by a business, for example because this is prevented by Government public health measures;
3. a consumer cancels, or is prevented from receiving any services, because Government public health measures mean they are not allowed to use the services. Limited exceptions to full refunds…
Sometimes, a consumer will already have received some of the services they have paid for in advance. In those cases, the CMA considers that the consumer would normally be entitled to at least a refund for the services that are not provided.”
Football Season Tickets
Refunds for football season tickets are at the discretion of the club in question and is contingent upon the terms and conditions with the specific club that the season ticket was issued by. Different clubs will have different policies.
Clubs will usually honour tickets for postponed matches on the rearranged dates. However, if you have a ticket for a specific match and cannot make the new date (if there is one) you can potentially seek a refund from the club or issuer of the ticket.
Consumers seeking refunds on any ticket should contact the provider of the ticket directly (usually the club or stadium) and request more information on their own refunds process.
With the football season coming to an end, many fans will be questioning whether to renew season tickets. This will depend on several factors, including when lockdown guidelines will come to an end.
Fans looking to purchase season tickets in advance may be better protected by making the purchases on a credit card. This may ensure additional protections under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act for provision of service.
Gyms were included in the list of non-essential businesses that were forced to close as part of lockdown.
Many gyms automatically froze regular membership payments from the outset of closure and communicated this to their members.
In circumstances where payments are continuing to be taken on a regular basis, consumers should contact the gym in the first instance. If this does not resolve the issue, contact the bank or building society for the account that the money is being deducted from. The bank has an obligation to cancel direct debits that you no longer authorise when you request this.
Train & Travel Passes
Memberships and season tickets not only extend to social events and entertainment. With many now working from home as a result of COVID-19, seasonal travel tickets and passes are not currently required.
So, what is available for those of us who purchased annual travel season tickets at the beginning of the year?
Scotrail have indicated that they are fully aware that peoples’ plans will have undoubtedly changed since the outbreak of the pandemic and as such are offering refunds on future travel that has been disrupted because of the pandemic.
For annual season tickets, this is worked out on a pro-rata basis.
Annual season tickets are priced for 40 weeks of paid travel and 12 weeks of free travel. This means that when calculating the refund, Scotrail consider the total cost spread across 40 weeks, instead of 52.
For example – a ticket purchased at a cost of £1,000 for the year, would be divided by 40 (£25) and multiplied by the remaining weeks till the end of the ticket. If there were only 4 weeks remaining, the refund would be £100 (£25 multiplied by 4).
This refund can be backdated for up to 56 days, realistically meaning that if you stopped commuting to work at the start of the pandemic, you may be able to get the amount refunded for this period as well. This can be done to the last date that the ticket was used (or to 17th March 2020 – whichever is later), if you were unable to travel due to the government’s guidance about only travelling if essential during the pandemic.
Members of the public who were unable to travel due to illness immediately before the government’s guidance was given in March can also apply to have this backdated further by providing evidence of the period that they were ill.
More information and a ‘Season Ticket Refund Calculator’ is available through the Scotrail website at https://www.nationalrail.co.uk/stations_destinations/coronavirus_refunds.aspx.
Other travel providers can be contacted to see if they have comparable schemes. Many travel companies provide coronavirus-specific information through their websites.
consumeradvice.scot have put together our top tips for dealing with season tickets, subscriptions and memberships during the coronavirus pandemic, and how to assert your consumer rights if you have to.
1) Speak to the company / provider – If you have paid in advance for subscriptions, season tickets or services that you are not going to be able to use, speak with the provider to see if you can receive a refund (full or partial). Most travel operators allow you to request this easily through their websites. Terms and conditions of individual travel companies should be referred to in the first instance.
2) Make the complaint official – If the company or organisation you have approached do not respond, or make a decision you do not agree with, you can escalate this to them by making a complaint. Many companies and organisations will have their complaints process set out on their websites, including areas to register complaints.
3) Seek further escalation – If complaining to the company directly does not resolve the issue, you can ask what the next step in the complaints process is. The company should provide you with information on escalating your complaint, which may be through Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) services for the individual industry that they operate in.
For regularly updated information on rights in relation to COVID-19 and the coronavirus, you can visit our dedicated website at: www.coronavirusadvice.sco
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