A Summary of Your Consumer Rights during the Covid-19 Crisis
As the lockdown eases across the UK, consumers have many questions around travel, holiday, online shopping and spectator activities that have been put on hold or postponed until the lockdown is fully lifted.
Whilst we try and navigate the ‘new normal’ there are a number of consumer issues which are causing concern. Simon Roberts, Senior Associate Solicitor, DAS Law, looks at online consumers’ rights on everything from shopping to holidays…
• I bought some clothes in-store which I need to return. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to do this due to the crisis and now the returns period is finished. What are my rights?
Retailers are generally offering that goods purchased after a certain date can be returned within a specified period once their stores reopen. The time frames surrounding the purchase and the period of return differ between retailers. You may wish to check with the retailer’s policy for returns during the crisis.
• I have gift vouchers which are shortly due to expire so I won’t be able to spend them due to the lockdown. What are my rights in terms of asking for an extension?
In essence, the contract between the purchaser and the voucher provider has now become frustrated as the parties can no longer carry out that contract.
Most retailers are offering extensions to the expiry of their gift vouchers to a later date and some are removing the expiry dates. The nature of the extensions varies between retailers so you would be advised to check with the voucher provider.
Alternatively, you may be entitled to a refund given that the contract is now frustrated but this will likely be governed by the terms and conditions in relation to that voucher.
• I bought tickets to a concert/event which has now been cancelled. However, they are hosting an online ‘virtual’ version instead. What are my cancellations and refund rights?
As the concert cannot be performed in the format set out in the initial contract then it would give rise to a claim for the full refund from the ticket provider. However, if the artist/performer is hosting a virtual version then they may be willing to offer a different package and partial refund. The artist will still be performing their service so arguably the artist should receive payment in some form for putting on the virtual performance.
• I don’t want to go on my holiday anymore due to the Covid-19 crisis and risk of infection, can I simply cancel it and get a full refund?
The holiday company should allow for re-bookings or full refunds during the Covid-19 crisis in circumstances where they are not able to fulfil the contract. However, if the holiday is not affected by Covid-19 then the holiday company may argue that they will not be willing to cancel as your ability to go on holiday is unaffected. If this is the case that you may wish to raise a complaint with the company and if the result is unsatisfactory then you may wish to raise the issue with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
If your cancellation is due to a pre-existing health concern, and subsequent medical advice not to travel due to Covid-19, then you may want to check with your travel insurer to see if any cover is in place for such circumstances.
• My gym has closed due to the lockdown but they are insisting that the rules around cancelling my membership remain unchanged as they are providing a number of virtual classes. What are my rights, particularly when I don’t have equipment at home for things such as cycling ‘Spin’ classes?
Given that your gym is unable to provide the services set out in the contract you could argue that the contract is frustrated and that you should not be charged for this period. Many gyms are offering this until such time as the gym can reopen. Whether offering online services would be sufficient for them to continue to charge you a fee, would depend on the specifics of the services provided and we would suggest you seek legal advice on your individual case.
• I have a subscription to a sports channel that isn’t showing any live sport (they are merely showing repeats). What are my rights in terms of a cancellation?
Sports TV services are allowing for subscriptions and their payments to be paused during the period that there are no events taking place due to Covid-19. The service provider should contact you to let you know when the subscription will restart again. Some providers are offering refunds paid for the sports subscription during the Covid-19 affected months and are offering a free month of their service.
• I am a student and no longer need my university accommodation. Can I cancel and get a refund on my deposit and any rent I’ve paid in advance?
Most universities and large accommodation providers are offering to waive the rent costs for the summer term months, or release students from their contracts early if they have returned home. In private accommodation there is no automatic relief provided to students and you would need to negotiate directly with your landlord as you may remain liable for rent depending on the individual terms of your tenancy.
• My university has told me that I need to pay all of my tuition fees, even though I haven’t been at university this term / won’t be attending in September. What are my rights?
The guidance from the government’s Universities Minister suggests that there will not be any refunding of tuition fees where adequate online teaching and learning facilities have been provided. If you feel that these standards are not being met then you can make a complaint to the university. If the university cannot deal with it, or the result is unsatisfactory, then you may report this issue further to the OIA (Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education).