A terminal cancer patient has been left short of hundreds of pounds after Tui refused to refund his holiday deposit.
Stephen Hardwicke, 55, and his wife, Tina, 50, had booked a holiday to Rhodes through the travel firm in the summer of 2017 to depart in June 2018.
However, Stephen, a former retail manager, was sadly re-diagnosed with cancer in February last year and was informed he would soon need to have an operation as well as radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
Due to the unforeseen turn of events, Stephen informed Tui he had to cancel the holiday, expecting to be fully recompensed.
Stephen Hardwicke and his wife, Tina, were shocked that Tui refused to return their deposit
But while Tui did refund the holiday cost, the holiday firm said it had no obligation to return the £400 deposit and advised that the couple should claim the money back through their travel insurance.
As Stephen and Tina, a store trainer at Debenhams, had cancelled months in advance of their holiday, the Swansea-based couple were surprised to hear this as they thought the company would surely be able to resell the trip.
Stephen said he thought that not returning a deposit was illegal if the holiday had been resold so he again asked the company for a refund.
A customer service agent for Tui confirmed that the holiday had been resold but insisted the couple were not due a refund.
Furthermore, Stephen told us the agent said the couple had been offered alternative dates for their holiday, which they say they definitely had not.
As Stephen pointed out, once Tui knew his situation and why the holiday was cancelled, it would seem odd to offer a change of date.
Following the initial dispute with Tui, Stephen was told his cancer is terminal and contacted This is Money, explaining he now needs the money back more desperately than before – to help cover funeral costs.
We contacted Tui on his behalf and the firm has since agreed to pay him and his wife back in full.
Tui have now refunded Stephen & Tina the £400 deposit they initially refused to hand over
A Tui UK spokesman said: ‘We are very sorry to hear of Mr and Mrs Hardwicke’s experience following the cancellation of their holiday.
‘We would like to thank them for their feedback and can confirm that we have now been in contact with them and this matter has been resolved.’
While happy with the result, Stephen expressed concern that it took so long to come to such an agreement with the firm.
In comparison, Stephen also had to cancel outstanding flights he had with Easyjet and said the company was very helpful, transferring his flights into vouchers so he and his wife did not lose the cost of the trip.
Stephen and Tina are not the only two holidaymakers who have been frustrated by the response they have received from travel firms when trying to reclaim money.
A survey by Ipsos Mori in November last year of 2,260 people found that 54 per cent said they would be unlikely to book a holiday if the deposit was non-refundable.
Another 89 per cent said they think they should get all, or most of their money back if they cancel a trip but a business still resells this booking.
The Competition and Markets Authority has recently spoken out against holiday companies unfairly penalising customers who cancel their holidays.
It launched a campaign, ‘Small Print, Big Difference’ to improve the fairness of the terms and conditions holidaymakers sign up to when booking a holiday.
It said: ‘Under consumer law, businesses may be entitled to ask customers to pay a cancellation fee to cover their losses, but the amount they keep must be in proportion to what they are losing.
‘Cancellation terms that don’t follow this approach are likely to be unfair and businesses can’t rely on them to resolve claims or disputes with customers.’
The CMA has recently spoken out against holiday companies unfairly penalising customers
However, ABTA, the Association of British Travel Agents, said travel companies are entitled to charge cancellation fees which reflect their losses.
An ABTA spokesman said: ‘For package holidays these fees can be calculated via a sliding scale starting at loss of deposit and moving up to a 100 per cent of the cost of the holiday for cancellation very close to the departure the date.
‘Companies are also entitled to charge fees that reflect their losses across their entire program, rather than per each individual booking. Including a sliding scale in the terms and conditions provides a degree of certainty for customers and also allows them to commence any insurance claim shortly after having had to cancel.
‘One of the most common reasons for cancellation is falling ill and any subsequent cancellation fee should be covered under the terms of an insurance policy. ABTA has always advised customers to make sure they have insurance in place at the time of booking precisely because of this possibility.’
This is Money reported last month about another holidaymaker who booked a holiday through Tui and was refused a refund after she had to cancel due to health and safety concerns.
How to get a refund
If you feel that you have been unfairly denied a refund after cancelling a holiday, there are steps you can take to try and get your money back.
After cancelling a trip, contact directly the firm that you have booked with, if you feel they are unfairly keeping hold of payments or deposits.
Ask the company why they are keeping the money as the CMA has stated that any costs should be ‘proportionate to losses’.
It is also worth checking with your travel insurer to see if your policy would cover you for any losses. It is advised that customers buy travel insurance as soon as they book their holiday to cover any issues in the lead up to the trip.
If you have managed to cancel a reasonable amount of time before the holiday is due to start, point out to your travel firm they are likely to be able to resell the trip and therefore, you should be due some form of refund.
Customers can seek legal advice and consider escalating their complaint. They can take an issue to the small claims court where the amount at stake is not more than £10,000.
If there are any issues, holidaymakers should contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline if they feel they have been subjected to an unfair contract term. They can also contact their local trading standards office who may be able to assist with resolving the issue with the business involved.
Consumers may also be able to get help by using a dispute resolution service such as Resolver, which offers tools and templates to help people make a complaint against a business.