Australia’s consumer watchdog has received more than 24,000 complaints about travel this year – an increase of 497%, according to a report about the impacts of Covid-19 on fair trading.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, which previously confirmed that Flight Centre, Qantas and Etihad had been subject to complaints, said it was clear customers had found it difficult in some cases to receive refunds after travel was cancelled because of the pandemic.
“The economic disruption from Covid-19 has led to a huge volume of varied and complex consumer law issues,” the ACCC commissioner Sarah Court said.
“Common misconduct we’ve received complaints about during the pandemic includes businesses misleading consumers about their right to a refund, or deducting cancellation fees from refunds when there is no contractual basis to do so.”
According to the report, customers of Virgin Australia and STA travel also contacted the commission after the companies went into administration.
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Among the complaints received by the commission were airlines not refunding flights or only providing credits, a cruise operator only providing credits (or a refund if the credit had not been used within two years), and accommodation providers not refunding or crediting bookings that had to be cancelled because of domestic travel restrictions (or charging a fee to receive credit).
Australians are not automatically entitled to refunds if cancellations occur because of government restrictions, the commission said. It depended on the terms and conditions of the booking.
“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,” Court said.
“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.”
The commission said it had also performed engagement, compliance and education initiatives with more than 60 businesses from industries including live performance and ticketing, fitness and gymnasiums, online selling platforms, professional sports and food suppliers to resolve consumer issues.
Other large increases in complaints related to sport and recreation (up 134%), fuel retailing (121%) and insurance (104%).