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Consumer watchdog works with travel agents on refunds

The consumer watchdog says it’s received more than 10,000 complaints regarding travel bookings during the pandemic.

In some cases, travel agents are providing partial refunds but withholding thousands of dollars which they say are needed to cover their costs.

A parliamentary economics committee on Friday heard there had been a six-fold increase in total complaints during the COVID period, many relating to travel services.

In relation to travel bookings, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is not taking its normal “enforcement” approach, but rather decided to work with travel agents and tour operators to ensure consumers either get a full refund or some of their money back.

ACCC commissioner Sarah Court said the main concern of the watchdog was misrepresentations made to consumers that they are not entitled to any refund.

“We’ve seen examples of retrospective changes of terms and conditions by some companies,” she said.

She said it was not the ACCC’s position that all customers must get full refunds.

“Terms and conditions often do allow for withholding of exactly the sort of deduction or commission or labour cost as long as it is reasonable and appropriate.”

ACCC chair Rod Sims said post-pandemic there would be an opportunity for a broader look at the issue.

“Some have suggested a redress scheme that would sit over the top – some other countries have got that – (but) we haven’t turned our minds to that.”

The ACCC told the hearing it had issued about 30 authorisations for what would otherwise be anti-competitive behaviour.

Mr Sims said these authorisations had included such things as the allowing banks to coordinate on hardship policies, supermarkets talking to each other about supply chains and health measures, and the coordination of medical supplies.

“These are measures that are unusual but we felt at a time of crisis companies needed to co-operate in the interests of our economy,” he said.

“We are monitoring all of those very carefully and the authorisations will cease at appropriate times.”


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