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On 17 March 2020, to help combat the coronavirus pandemic, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (now the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO)) issued advice against all non-essential overseas travel for British nationals. Travel overseas was effectively brought to a standstill, with hundreds of thousands of UK consumers unable to take their booked holidays. On 4 July 2020 the FCDO’s travel advice changed, with exemptions for travelling to certain countries and territories.

Within the UK itself, the first “national lockdown” meant it was impossible to deliver hospitality services. Hotels, B&Bs, holiday parks, campsites etc. were all forced to close to combat the spread of coronavirus. In a statement made to the House on 23 June 2020, the Prime Minister said that as from 4 July 2020, provided that no more than two households stay together, people were free to stay overnight in self-contained accommodation in England, including hotels and B&Bs. Campsites and caravan parks could also reopen from 4 July 2020, provided all shared facilities were kept clean. This advice changed on 5 November 2020, when the Prime Minister announced tougher national restrictions in England.

With the emergence of a new, more transmissible variant of the virus and increase pressure on the NHS, it was announced on 4 January 2021 that England would enter another national lockdown. However, on 22 February 2021, the Prime Minister set out a roadmap to cautiously ease lockdown restrictions in England, the final step being taken on 19 July 2021 when all legal limits on social contact were removed. The devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland took similar steps.

People can now travel freely between England, Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland. Travel advice on the FCDO website currently states: “to understand the risks in a country, including the latest Covid restrictions (including for entry), follow FCDO Travel Advice. To prevent new COVID variants from entering the UK, you should not travel to red list countries”.

Since March 2020, many constituents have contacted their MP about cancelled overseas and domestic holidays. Understandably, they want to recoup the cost of cancelled flights, holidays, and other bookings (e.g., car hire). For some, particularly those adjusting to a reduced income in the immediate term due to the economic effects of the pandemic, reimbursement may be urgent. Their consumer rights would depend on the type of holiday booked (e.g., whether flight tickets only, an overseas package holiday or a UK based holiday) and the contractual terms and conditions agreed.

Various organisations provide useful online information to consumers about how best to manage and, if possible, recover the costs of, cancelled travel and holiday plans. In particular, the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority), ABTA (the Association of British Travel Agents), ABI (Association of British Insurers), Citizens Advice and GOV.UK websites. Detailed information about travel within the EU is also available on the Europa website.

The focus of this briefing is on the consumer perspective. However, ABTA has highlighted the fact that over 25,000 individuals and businesses have also contacted their MP asking for support to deal with the economic impact of the pandemic on the travel sector.

This research briefing provides an overview of what consumers can expect when their travel or holiday booking has been cancelled, and their legal rights.

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