Tony Hetherington is Financial Mail on Sunday’s ace investigator, fighting readers corners, revealing the truth that lies behind closed doors and winning victories for those who have been left out-of-pocket. Find out how to contact him below.
P.W. writes: We booked through JTA Travel for a trip with Cruise and Maritime Voyages. Because of the pandemic, the trip was cancelled, and we agreed with JTA Travel to rebook for a later date, but then Cruise and Maritime ceased trading.
We were told we would get a full refund of the £2,670 cost as customers were protected by the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA).
However, ABTA itself says JTA Travel must repay us, so we are caught between the two.
Refund: ABTA delayed in deciding who was liable for the axed cruise
Tony Hetherington replies: It is never nice to be trapped between two businesses, with each agreeing you are entitled to a refund, but at the same time blaming each other for failing to fork out the cash. What this comes down to is the question of whether JTA Travel was acting as a travel agent or a tour operator. If it was just a booking agent, then ABTA’s compensation scheme would cover your losses. But if JTA Travel went beyond this and organised far more than just your cruise booking, then it could be classed as a tour operator, and since it is still in business from its Birmingham base, it would be responsible for refunding you.
ABTA’s verdict was that JTA Travel should foot the bill. It explained: ‘Our decision was based upon the travel documentation which confirmed that JTA were acting as the tour operator, and as such they retain full liability for your travel arrangements or any refund due to you.’
Not surprisingly, JTA Travel was unhappy with this. It would not pay up, and said it was consulting its lawyers. And all it would tell me was that it was having ‘ongoing conversations’ with ABTA. It refused to accept your version of events, but at the same time refused to say what was wrong with what you told me.
Surely though, ABTA has the power to order JTA Travel to pay up or face expulsion and the loss of the valuable reassurance that ABTA membership offers its customers? This is a simple question, but trying to get a simple answer from ABTA was like trying to nail jelly to the wall.
ABTA pointed me towards its code of conduct. This runs to 16 pages with two further documents on top, and a 47-page guide which is where I eventually found that ABTA expects refunds to be issued within 14 days, and certainly no later than 30 days. But then ABTA pulled the rug out from under its own feet, admitting to me that despite ruling that JTA Travel was a tour operator and should issue a refund, in fact it was still in discussions with the Birmingham business.
Holidaymakers rely heavily on ABTA to regulate its members and, if necessary, enforce its rulings. Failing to enforce its decisions, and then having second thoughts, is not reassuring. ABTA gave you the clear impression it had made up its mind and ordered JTA Travel to repay you. But it beat about the bush when I asked about its enforcement powers. And finally it went back to chewing this over with JTA Travel, just as it was doing months ago.
Then, at the very last minute, along has come an unexpected fairy godmother in the shape of Tesco Bank. You paid for the cruise with your Tesco Bank card, and strictly speaking, you are far too late to ask the bank to snatch back the cash. But this is exactly what the bank has done.
Because you have been messed about by both ABTA and JTA Travel, Tesco Bank is going to credit your card with the full £2,670. The bank will then fight it out with JTA Travel, and you have told me you will help with all the evidence that is needed. Whoever wins that fight, it strikes me that ABTA will be the real loser in terms of its reputation.
Why all this hassle to axe bank’s insurance?
L.B. writes: For many years we have had a Lloyds Bank current account which came with free insurance for mobile phone, travel, AA breakdown and card loss.
We have never used the insurance, so when Lloyds said it intended to charge £14.95 a month in future, we decided to cancel the cover.
However, our branch says we need to close the account and open a new one, and that first we must make an appointment to discuss this with a consultant.
Options: According to Lloyds, the insurance can be cancelled via internet banking, or by telephone
Tony Hetherington replies: According to Lloyds, the insurance can be cancelled via internet banking, which you do not have, or by telephone, though you found the number was permanently engaged. The third option was cancellation of the insurance by going to your branch, but when you did this the manager and staff said they could not simply delete the insurance. You would have to have a meeting with a ‘consultant’, who I imagine is a salesperson.
I asked the bank to explain, and a spokesman told me you could switch to a Classic Account with the same sort code and account number, so all your direct debits and similar arrangements would be unchanged. But you still had to make an appointment to see a consultant, even though the bank itself was shifting the goalposts and a meeting might involve time off work.
The bank’s complaints department has now credited your account with £30 by way of saying sorry for poor service, and if you wish to stay with Lloyds, staff say they will arrange to call you rather than expect you to call them.
If you believe you are the victim of financial wrongdoing, write to Tony Hetherington at Financial Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TS or email [email protected] Because of the high volume of enquiries, personal replies cannot be given. Please send only copies of original documents, which we regret cannot be returned.
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