COVID-19: European Commission’s FAQ on travel-related cancellations

Leitrim Observer Reporter

Reporter:

Leitrim Observer Reporter

cancel-1038x576

File photo

On 7 May 2020, the European Commission’s department responsible for consumer rights published its FAQ on cancellations of individually booked accommodations, car rental and events due to COVID-19 via the European Consumer Centres Network – ECC Net. 
 

Following the Covid-19 outbreak across the EU and the need to limit non-essential travel to and within the European Union, many Member States have imposed containment strategies and travel restrictions such as border closures, flight suspensions and health screenings. As a result, millions of consumers are now banned from travelling to the destinations where they have booked accommodation. Many have to cancel or to modify their trip for reasons of protection of public health and personal safety. Moreover, due to the coronavirus epidemic, many public cultural and sports events are also being cancelled or postponed to a later date.

Consumers should note that the  below “Frequently asked questions” do not apply for reservations or events that were made after the declaration of the Covid-19 outbreak as pandemic by the World Health Organisation (11 March 2020), as the pandemic consequences on travels could no longer be considered as unforeseen or unexpected by the consumers.

The information below  refers to individual accommodation reservations and not to reservations that fall under the scope of the Package Travel Directive (EU) 2015/2302 or concern the various EU passenger rights. 

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
 

TRAVEL CANCELLATIONS AND CHANGES
Q: I cannot travel due to the measures/health concerns for COVID-19. What are my rights under EU consumer law in this situation, if I have to cancel my reservation?

ANSWER: EU consumer law does not regulate the conditions for and consequences of cancellation of individual services such as accommodation reservations. Therefore, your rights as a consumer depend on national contract law, including rules on extraordinary circumstances, and the type and terms of your contract, including the stated cancellation policy of the service provider (e.g. refundable or non-refundable booking).
Under EU consumer law, traders are bound to act according to professional diligence and should not mislead consumers about their rights or make it difficult for consumers to exercise their rights. It is therefore expected that, in particular as of 11 March 2020, consumers are adequately informed about the possible consequences for their booking should they have to cancel their travel or should the provider have to cancel the accommodation.
National law may provide that when cancellations or restrictions to service provisions are due to a force majeure circumstance such as the Covid-19 epidemic, consumers are not bound to pay for the service, but they also do not have the right to claim compensation for additional costs or damages that may result from the situation. National law may also provide that, in such situations, consumers may be offered -and may even have to accept- a voucher for a later provision the service they had paid in advance (including pre-payments made to guarantee the reservation). Check the website of your National consumer organisation or government for information on the relevant rules set by national law in your country (you can consult them here).
Force majeure or other cancellation clauses in terms and conditions used by traders should not create a significant imbalance in the rights and obligations of the parties to the detriment of the consumer, taking into account the applicable national contract law.
Therefore, any contract term that would oblige consumers that cannot travel and receive the booked accommodation services due to the Covid-19 outbreak to, nonetheless, pay the full price to the accommodation provider, could be considered unfair under the Unfair Contract Terms Directive 93/13/EEC and therefore non-binding on consumers.
How do I find information about the cancellation policy that applies to my booking?

Refer to your original booking confirmation that should outline the cancellation policy that applies to your booking.
If you booked through an accommodation booking platform, visit the webpage of the platform through which you booked your accommodation. It should provide information on how to contact its customer service and should explain what is the policy and the contact details of your accommodation provider.

If the cancellation policy required by your accommodation provider is different from the one that appears on the platform, flag it to the platform and insist to get from the accommodation provider the one originally explained at the moment you booked your accommodation.

If you booked the accommodation directly from the provider’s website, check the website of the provider, as it should contain clear information on the provider’s policies, including how to cancel or modify your bookings and how to obtain a remedy (e.g. refund or voucher). Cancellation policies that are not consistent with the terms that are disclosed, might constitute a misleading commercial practice and should not be accepted unless those “diverging” policies result from the exceptional measures that have been enacted in the country where the accommodation is located.
I cannot contact my accommodation provider. They do not reply to my query, what should I do?

The accommodation providers/booking platforms are working under a lot of pressure given the high number of queries and complaints and it is likely that communication takes longer than expected. Keep in mind that they also give priority to consumers with upcoming reservations.

In case the accommodation provider is based in another country, you can contact the European Consumer Centre in the country where you live (ECC Net) which can assist you and follow your case with the accommodation provider or booking platform, if needed.

If you used a credit card to pay for your service, contact your credit card company to check if the “chargeback policy” applies.


Q: Am I entitled to a refund? Should I accept alternative solutions such as vouchers?

Answer: As a general rule , if the accommodation you reserved is not accessible because, for example, it has been put under quarantine, or it is located in an area which has been quarantined, or in a state of emergency or under a travel ban, consider the options proposed by the trader especially vouchers or change of dates free of charge. Keep in mind that a credit note or a voucher could be a solution that will not only safeguard your consumer rights, but also contribute to the survival of small suppliers in Europe’s tourism sector. However, you should be able to request a full refund if this suits you better. Note that certain Member States may have adopted specific emergency legislation on vouches (you can consult them here).
If the accommodation you reserved is accessible but you decide not to travel because of travel restrictions imposed on you or because of travel advice by your Member State, the conditions for cancelling or modifying your reservation depend on the terms you agreed upon with your accommodation provider. Nevertheless, those terms have to comply with the national law applicable to the contract (pursuant to the Unfair Contract Terms Directive 93/13/EEC) but they should never be unfair towards you.
Communicate with the accommodation provider or the booking platform – preferably in writing – and try to find a reasonable solution on the cancellation of your reservation. Alternatives may include, for example, a change of your reservation for later dates. Keep a copy of all communication with the provider or the platform.
Check your insurance policy (if you have bought one for your trip), as it may cover events of force majeure and entitles you to a full/partial refund. Nevertheless, check if a pandemic outbreak is not considered as one of the exceptions.
In both cases, remember that the situation is exceptional and has a major impact on businesses, especially on SMEs. Act in good faith and be ready to accept alternative solutions if full and immediate reimbursement is difficult. In the current exceptional circumstances, a compromise may be a better option than a possible lengthy dispute.
If you decide to accept a voucher, check the terms and conditions to make sure that it will remain refundable at the latest by the end of its validity and protected against insolvency of the issuer.
I cannot reach an agreement with my accommodation provider/booking platform, what should I do?

In case the accommodation provider is based in another country, you can contact the European Consumer Centre in the country where you live (ECC Net) which can provide further guidance and help free of charge.
You can try to settle the dispute using an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) procedure. Alternative dispute resolution procedures are provided by neutral out-of-court bodies that can propose a solution or even impose one. The procedure is usually low-cost and simple, so that you should not have to take your case to court.
If you booked your accommodation online, you can use the European Online Dispute Resolution (ODR platform) to submit your complaint in any language and in any EU country. If the trader agrees within 30 days, your complaint will be transferred to an ADR body. The trader may also contact you for an amicable settlement.
As a general rule, the law that should apply to your dispute with the accommodation provider is the law of the country where the accommodation service is provided.
 

CAR RENTAL
Q: I have rented a car for a journey that was cancelled due to COVID-19 pandemic. What should I do?

Answer: The principles that apply to individual accommodation reservations also apply to car rental reservations. Please consult the answers here above.
 

EVENT CANCELLATIONS
Q: I bought tickets for an event that has been cancelled. Am I entitled to a refund?

Answer: EU consumer law does not regulate the conditions for and consequences of cancellation of sports and cultural events.
Therefore, your rights in case of cancellation (or postponement) of an event, including in the current exceptional situation, depend on national contract law and the type and terms of your contract, including the cancellation policy of the event organiser.
According to the Unfair Contract Terms Directive 93/13/EEC , standard contract terms used by traders have to be transparent and may not unfairly limit the rights of consumers under the relevant national contract law or create a significant imbalance between the rights and obligations of the parties to the detriment of the consumer. Therefore, any term that would oblige consumers to bear the cost of the ticket for an event they cannot attend -because it was cancelled or postponed due to the Covid-19 outbreak- could be considered unfair under the Unfair Contract Terms Directive 93/13/EEC and therefore  non- binding on consumers.
Similarly to hotel accommodation, national law applies and Member States may have adopted specific rules for the current exceptional situation.
Communicate with the ticket seller or the event organiser (you will find its contact information on the webpage through which you purchased the ticket) in order to find a reasonable solution. Be ready to accept alternatives (such as a voucher) if full and immediate reimbursement is not possible. However, check the conditions of validity of the voucher and your likelihood to use it or be ultimately reimbursed in case of no use.
Should you fail to reach your ticket seller/event organiser or you cannot agree on the proposed solutions, you can always contact the European Consumer Centre in the country where you live (ECC Net) which can provide further guidance and help free of charge or you can try to settle the dispute using an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) procedure. If you bought your ticket online you can also use the European Online Dispute Resolution (ODR platform) to submit your complaint in any language and in any EU country. If the trader agrees, your complaint will be transferred to an ADR body.
Contact your credit card company in order to check if the “chargeback policy” applies.”