Consumer issues Covid

During Lockdown, we have been acting for both businesses and consumers dealing with consumer issues arising from COVID-19 related travel and lockdown restrictions. Examples of some of the issues we are assisting with:

Travel
We assist people where they have had flight and accommodation bookings cancelled. Customers have been experiencing a range of issues with their cancelled bookings, including delayed/rude contact with the travel agent/airline; being offered a credit but not a refund; being entitled to a refund but being charged cancellation or other fees; and not receiving a refund promised. For example, Air New Zealand is continuing to refuse to offer refunds for COVID-related cancellations, offering only credits (unless a refundable flight was purchased or certain international flights). While the world has some tolerance with this type of action as this is not the first lockdown, it is still upsetting to customers because the cancellation was not of their choosing.

Delivery of good/services
We assist businesses or consumers where businesses have been prevented by the lockdown from fulfilling or delivering goods or services paid for, meaning that customers are not receiving what they have paid for. For example, gyms continuing to collect weekly membership fees when clubs are closed. Alternatively, some services, such as accommodation booking sites, are charging cancellation fees.

Many of these disputes are troubling. Even though we are in unprecedented times and lockdowns are now anticipated, it does not mean that parties’ contractual rights or legislative obligations/protections do not apply. In many of the above scenarios, it is a question of who should bear the risk and cost of the restrictions – should it be the customer so that the business can continue to operate, or should it be the business because they cannot provide their goods/services? Often it is the consumer that does so, whether or not a business’ terms and conditions provide for it. Taking a commercial view on this, the businesses’ perspective is understandable. However, it is not necessarily lawful or fair to the consumer.

Depending on your circumstances, consumers may have rights of action for and/or businesses may be at risk of claims in relation to:

  • Breach of contract, where terms and conditions or policies are not followed, even if the breach was caused by the lockdown;
  • Consumer Guarantees Act 1993, where consumers can be entitled to damages or other relief to ‘remedy’ a failure to provide goods or services to a reasonable standard (or at all); and
  • Fair Trading Act 1986, where a person has been misled by a business (for example, travel agents informing customers that they are not entitled to a refund when their terms and conditions say they are).

If you are concerned about any consumer related issue, when as a consumer or business, at Holland Beckett Law we can provide you with advice and guidance in this time. Please do not hesitate to contact us.

Rachel joined Holland Beckett Law in February 2018 and is an Associate in our Litigation team.