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Australia’s main consumer watchdog received a staggering 500 percent increase in complaints about travel companies during the COVID-19 pandemic, new research shows.

The Australian Competition and Consumers Commission (ACCC) today compiled a report of the 109,466 complaints it received in the first ten months of 2020.

Of these, 24,210 complaints were directly related to the conduct of travel companies, an increase of 497 percent compared to the previous year.

Your chances of contracting coronavirus on a flight are lower than you think.
Failed travel plans prompted many to ask for their money back, and they didn’t always get it. (Getty)

Other industries that saw massive increases in complaints were sports and recreation (such as gyms), fuel retailing, and insurance.

ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court said the battles over whether the pandemic gave a customer the right to a refund were numerous.

“The economic disruption from COVID-19 has led to a large volume of varied and complex consumer law issues,” said Ms Court.

“Common misconduct we have received complaints about during the pandemic includes companies misleading consumers about their right to a refund or deducting cancellation fees from refunds when there is no contractual basis for doing so.”

The economic impact of the pandemic has forced Flight Center to temporarily lay off nearly 4,000 Australian workers since March.
The ACCC worked with Flight Center to come up with a solution for customers. (Getty)

According to the ACCC, when cancellations occur due to government restrictions, Australians are not automatically entitled to a refund as they would under normal circumstances under the Australian Consumer Law.

For most, it comes down to the specific terms and conditions of your contract, be it for a vacation, concert, or event.

“The ACCC has had to step in and help consumers and businesses understand the legal ramifications of canceled services,” said Ms. Court.

Many found themselves asking for refunds for vacations canceled due to the pandemic. (AAP)

The complaints were so numerous that the ACCC established a COVID-19 task force to help resolve the issues in a way that would appease both parties.

“We decided early on that the best way to help consumers was to educate companies on their legal obligations and resolve issues quickly and efficiently, rather than taking legal action,” said Ms. Court.

“We advertised some cases like Flight Center, Qantas and Etihad, where we work with those companies to improve their treatment of customers, but we have been doing a lot of other behind the scenes work with dozens of travel companies to get refunds and other remedies for the customers who found their vacation plans frustrated.

“The ACCC is well aware of the fact that many companies have had trouble processing cancellations and responding to consumer inquiries as they have reduced staff capacity and are struggling to stay afloat. We have taken these issues into account in our commitment “.

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