Australia’s consumer law watchdog says travel issues have topped the list for reported complaints during the coronavirus pandemic.
A report released by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has revealed the regulator has been hit with 24,210 complaints relating to disrupted travel plans since the global shutdown.
The ACCC said the influx of complaints had resulted in a staggering 497 per cent rise in travel dispute complaints compared to the same period last year.
A total of 109,446 complaints in the past 10 months have been reported, with a significant number of reports relating to gym and sporting memberships, petrol stations and insurance.
ACCC commissioner Sarah Court said the economic disruption sparked by COVID-19 had resulted in a huge number of “varied and complex” complaints.
“Common misconduct we’ve received complaints about during the pandemic include businesses misleading consumers about their right to a refund, or deducting cancellation fees from refunds when there is no contractual basis to do so,” Ms Court said.
The ACCC in March established a special task force to assist with COVID-19 related issues and has primarily focused on the travel industry.
The halt in international and domestic travel during most of 2020 resulted in a number of holiday and airline companies needing to provide refunds for cancelled services.
A number of businesses either provided a refund to customers in cash or a voucher to use at a later date.
Consumers are not automatically entitled to a refund by law if a cancellation occurs due to a government restriction.
Most services or events cancelled during the pandemic are up to the terms and conditions of the individual booking to determine if a customer is eligible for a refund or future credit.
Ms Court said the ACCC was helping businesses and customers with the legal ramifications of cancelled services.
“The ACCC is very conscious of the fact that many businesses have struggled to process cancellations and respond to consumer queries as they have reduced staff capacity and are struggling to stay afloat,” she said.
“We have taken these issues into account in our engagement.”
The ACCC has worked with companies such as Flight Centre, Qantas and Etihad to process refunds and other remedies for customers who had holiday plans impacted.
The regulator’s task force will continue while the pandemic continues to disrupt normal operations for a number of industries.