Covid and consumer rights: can I get a refund or rebook my event tickets or attraction passes if I test positive for coronavirus?
AS LOCKDOWN restrictions have eased, many of us are now enjoying busier social lives, and with Christmas on the horizon calendars could soon be packed full with pantomimes, grotto visits, theatre shows and other festive outings.
But with rising coronavirus cases among school children, many households rightly remain nervous about handing over big chunks of money for events or days out they risk not being able to enjoy should someone then test positive for the virus.
So what does it mean for you and your family if you have booked tickets for an event or passes for an attraction but then someone needs to isolate? We take a look at the rules around refunds and ask some of the UK's biggest attractions what their policies are.
Are we protected by law?
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is the government department which oversees consumer rights and protections. It says no law specifically sets out what should happen in relation to cases of coronavirus and consumer contracts.
The CMA does however set out its views on how existing consumer laws operate – to help people understand their rights around bookings and Covid-19, while also encouraging businesses to treat customers fairly in instances where people can't take up something they've bought and paid for.
Its advice explains the legal position was more straightforward under the first lockdown, in March 2020, when tough restrictions forced people to stay at home and non-essential places to close, meaning that events simply couldn't go ahead anyway.
However, more than 18 months later, while many of those initial strict laws are no longer in force, it remains the case that people who test positive for coronavirus are still legally obliged to self-isolate – and will be directed to do so by public health officials. Therefore 'mandatory self isolation' is an occasion when consumers should contact businesses and request their money back or in some cases, a proportion of that money or an alternative option such as the chance to rebook depending on the nature of the purchase.
It adds: "Complying with government guidance is a very important part of stopping the spread of the coronavirus, and consumers should not be unfairly treated for doing so."
What do consumer groups say?
The CMA's view is one supported by consumer rights organisation Which? – which also recommends people should always read a venue or event's cancellation policy and/or booking terms and conditions before handing over payment.
Previous investigations by Which?, during earlier waves of the pandemic, found that some companies were not refunding customers if they were pinged by the NHS app and told to self isolate because they'd been in contact with a positive case (government guidance no longer in force), because those app notifications at the time were not legally binding.
Which? however does believe those who actually test positive for coronavirus and therefore can't leave the house to enjoy an event or activity they've pre-booked should be offered alternative options to ensure they don't lose money.
Adam French, Which? consumer rights expert, explained: "Which? research previously found some businesses were not refunding customers if they were pinged by the NHS app and told to self-isolate because notifications from the app were advisory.
“But, if you test positive for Covid, you're legally required to self-isolate and should be entitled to a refund. People should not be left out of pocket for doing the right thing.
"Businesses that aren’t already refunding customers who have developed Covid should be flexible and give people their money back if they can’t find another solution.” Read more of Which?'s advice here.
What about ticket insurance?
Concert goers buying tickets for Adele's much publicised 2022 Hyde Park concerts through ticket agent axs, were offered insurance to protect against instances where people can't attend because of coronavirus.
The cover, which alongside promising refunds in the event of a positive case, also insures fans against other potential mishaps that might mean they can't make the gigs such as train cancellations and other transport problems. Taking out the policy added around £10 to the cost of each concert ticket, where prices ranged from £90 to £600.
While ticket protection is not necessarily a new option – numerous big-name ticket agents such as axs and Ticketmaster have long made it available – policies have been upgraded since last year to include some element of coronavirus cover, giving people additional protection and peace of mind when it comes to getting their money back should the unfortunate happen.
And just like holidaymakers are advised to take out holiday insurance when booking, The Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers recommends that customers booking events do consider taking out ticket protection if it is offered.
STAR is the self-regulatory body for the entire ticketing industry and is supported by organisations such as Visit Britain and the Society of London theatre. It too, is clear that people should check cancellation policies before making bookings.
Its online advice reads: "Check the venue or event policy on Covid illness and self-isolation as some, though not all, can offer flexibility.
"If you are offered ticket protection for a small additional fee it is worth considering this as it may cover your inability to attend a performance because of Covid illness or a requirement to self-isolate. Always check the details of the protection that is being offered."
Secure My Booking, which describes itself online as 'the leader in arts and entertainment ticket refunds', has been offering ticket protection services to venues and event organisers since 1994. Its policies now cover illness caused by Covid-19.
On its website it explains why ticket protection options are so important for venues. It says: "Event tickets are typically sold on the basis of no refund, no cancellation or under an unclear refund policy depending on a number of factors confusing to the customer. Secure My Booking allows you to offer a product which gives customers peace of mind when booking."
What about the UK's big attractions?
Merlin Entertainments owns and runs some of the UK's biggest parks and attractions including Sea Life aquariums, The London Eye, Legoland and theme parks such as Alton Towers, Chessington World of Adventures and Thorpe Park.
The company, which like many venues asks people not to visit if they are displaying coronavirus symptoms, says ticket holders who have booked in advance and can't attend because of Covid, will be offered an alternative booking.
In a statement it said: "We understand that our guests may at any time be personally impacted by Covid-19, such as being pinged by the NHS Covid-19 app or if they have developed coronavirus symptoms, in which case they may require to change the date/time of their pre-booked tickets to visit one of our attractions.
"The health and safety of our guests and staff is our absolute priority and in these instances we will happily organise a rebooking of their tickets to an alternative date in the future. For any guests whose booking has been affected, we kindly ask them to contact the attraction they have booked for using the contact us form on the attraction website and a member of the team will be in touch as soon as possible."
Gravity, which runs trampoline parks across the UK, says online customers who can't make a booking because of coronavirus can request that the value of their booking is transferred to a Gravity gift card to be redeemed against a future visit.