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Published 12 May 2022
COVID-19 impacted all of us in many different ways. As a result of the global pandemic, all schools in the UK were required to reconsider their planned school trips particularly when schools were ordered to be closed for an unknown period of time from 23 March 2020.
One of the first cases to determine whether a school is entitled to a full refund where they cancel their school trip is the case of Brynmawr Foundation School v Holiday World International Travel Limited (t/a Leisure World Schools) Cardiff County Court 2022.
In this case, the school had booked and paid for a ski trip for its students to travel to the USA on 2 April 2020. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the entire world, the school made the decision to cancel the trip on 30 March 2020.
The school pursued the tour operator with whom they had booked with for a full refund under Regulation 12 (7) and 12 (8) of the Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations 2018 (“the PTRs”).
The tour operator rejected the claim and denied the school was entitled to claim a full refund under the PTRs. The tour operator made its own counterclaim for sums they believed were due to them.
In the UK the PTRs provide certain protections to travellers who have booked a package holiday. The terms of the PTRs are implied into every package travel contract.
The PTRs were enacted to comply with the UK’s obligations under the EU’s Package Travel Directive 2015/2302, the United Kingdom being an EU Member State at the relevant time.
One of these protections is that under Regulation 12(7), the traveller may terminate their package travel contract without paying a termination/cancellation fee in the event of ‘unavoidable and extraordinary’ circumstances occurring at the place of destination or its immediate vicinity which significantly affect either the performance of the package, or the carriage of passengers to the destination.
In the event that Regulation 12(7) is engaged, then under Regulation 12(8) the traveller is entitled to a full refund. This refund must be made by the tour operator within 14 days of cancellation (Regulation 14(3)).
The Judge, Recorder Craven, in finding for the claimant, stated that “the COVID-19 pandemic and its various consequences could constitute unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances”.
The defendant argued that the school was required to cancel the trip due to UK government guidance and restrictions on movement and travel rather than the situation at the place of destination. The defendant further argued that there was already a practical impossibility of the trip going ahead due to the ‘local factors’ here in the UK.
The Judge agreed with the school that the event of “unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances” at the place of destination or its immediate vicinity is an objective fact where the traveller is able to choose whether to cancel, and their reasons for cancelling do not matter, provided the necessary circumstances exist at the time of cancellation. The Judge said “I do not consider it matters if the traveller also has other motives for terminating”.
The Judge went further to say that Regulation 12(7) would apply even where the departure country (the UK) acted first to ‘ban’ a trip from going ahead due to local government guidance. In this case, the school could say without illogicality that the performance of the trip and the carriage of the passengers were significantly affected because of circumstances occurring both in the UK and the USA. This in turn gave the School the right to cancel the trip and claim a full refund under Regulations 12(7) and 12(8).
The school’s claim succeeded and the counterclaim was rejected.
This case provides encouragement to travellers (particularly schools) in that they are entitled to claim back a refund of all money paid to a tour operator where they have cancelled a trip. This is provided that there existed, at the time of cancellation, “unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances” (such as COVID lockdown restrictions) at the destination which affected the performance of the package or the carriage of passengers to the destination.
The Court in this case applied the law and the relevant Regulations strictly. The Court acknowledged that the PTRs are UK consumer protection legislation which implement the EU Directive 2015/2302.
This decision is an indication that the Courts consider schools ought to be given the same protections as a consumer. Whilst this is a first instance decision in the County Court, it may lead to the successful resolution of outstanding claims which had been previously contested.
Our Recoveries Team deals with cases like this on a regular basis. For more information or advice please contact one of our experts.
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