If you have had accommodation, event or other bookings cancelled due to COVID-19 lockdowns or restrictions, you may be wondering whether you are entitled to a refund.
Alternatively, perhaps you are wondering what would happen to a future booking in the event that a lockdown is announced.
There is no legal requirement on businesses to provide a full refund in the event of cancellation. This includes in the event of government-mandated lockdowns or other restrictions. However, the Australian Consumer Law provides protection to consumers and requires that businesses must treat you fairly. According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (‘the ACCC’), fair treatment of consumers in the COVID-19 context means that businesses must act in accordance with their terms and conditions at the time of booking. This means that the terms and conditions of your booking are what will determine your rights to a refund or other compensation in the event of cancellation.
What should I do?
1. Read the Terms and Conditions of your booking
Firstly, you should review the terms and conditions of your booking as this is what will largely determine your rights to a refund, credit or voucher. The terms and conditions may be contained in a booking confirmation email or on the booking provider’s website.
Look out for the following examples of provisions that may be included in the terms and conditions:
- Specific COVID-19 cancellation terms - this may clearly set out your entitlement (or lack thereof) to a full or partial refund, credit or voucher in the event of a lockdown or other government restrictions.
- General cancellation terms – this may set out your entitlement (or lack thereof) to a full or partial refund, credit or voucher in the event of cancellation. Your entitlements in the event that you cancel the booking voluntarily might differ from your entitlements in the event of a cancellation by the business itself.
- Force majeure – a force majeure clause might specify what should happen in the event that certain unforeseeable circumstances occur. However, this may or may not include pandemics.
If there are no terms and conditions in that cover this area, then the booking provider might seek to retain your deposit on the grounds of “frustration”. A contract becomes frustrated if there are events outside of the parties’ control that make it impossible to carry out the contract. This is a common law principle in Australia and the booking provider may seek to rely on this to end the contract and release themselves from any obligation to return money to you. We recommend that you seek legal advice if this seems to be the case.
If the terms and conditions of your booking do not require the business to provide you with a full refund or other compensation, then they are not obliged to do so.
2. Contact the booking provider
The next step is to contact the booking provider directly to confirm their COVID-19 cancellation policy or clarify the terms and conditions. Some businesses may not have updated their terms and conditions to cover COVID-19 and their internal policies may be more flexible than what is written in their contractual terms and conditions. It may be best to let them know the outcome you are hoping for and try to negotiate the best solution.
If the business has not yet cancelled your booking but you are planning to cancel, it is particularly important to contact the business before doing so as this may constitute a change of mind and limit your entitlements. You can read more about this on the ACCC website page COVID-19 (coronavirus) information for consumers.
3. Seek professional advice
If you are unable to negotiate a solution directly with the booking provider or if the terms and conditions are unclear, consider consulting a legal professional for further advice. If you believe that the booking provider has not met their terms and conditions, or otherwise led you to believe you would be entitled to a refund, they may be in breach of the Australian Consumer Law. A legal professional can review the terms and conditions and provide you with further advice, as well as assist in enforcing your rights.
How can Sharrock Pitman Legal help?
Our team of Accredited Specialists in Commercial Law and Commercial Litigation can assist you by advising on your rights and taking action on your behalf. Please feel free to contact us on 1300 205 506 or by email at email@example.com.
The information contained in this article is intended to be of a general nature only and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Any legal matters should be discussed specifically with one of our lawyers.
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