From travel to shopping to who pays for home working … what you are asking around lockdown

Our consumer columnist’s inbox continues to overflow. Here’s she answers some of your questions

How do I claim a refund on my flight?
My flight was cancelled two days before departure and the airline is offering refunds, but as I booked through an agent, I checked the reservation on its website. The flight is still showing as confirmed with no way to claim a refund. I can’t access the online help centre – the phone number just cuts you off. How can I get my money back?

SG, London

Apply directly to the airline because that’s who your contract is with when you buy flights through a third-party booking platform. Airlines are prone to batting passengers back to the agent they booked through, but hold your ground. “The law is clear that the refund must be provided by the airline that was going to operate the flight and not the company that sold the flight,” says Coby Benson of Bott and Co. “If an airline cancels a flight they are obliged to provide a full refund within seven days, or a free replacement flight at a later date (subject to availability). If passengers are not given the option of a refund then they should telephone customer services or put their request in writing, keeping copies.”

If the airline is offering refunds, you’re lucky. The travel industry has ripped up the rule book, so far with impunity, in the wake of coronavirus and most carriers are now only offering credit notes to be used for future bookings.

Who pays for my son working from home?
My son, who normally does not live with me, has moved back in, to “work from home” because he doesn’t have broadband at his house. Am I entitled to some sort of payment from his employer for providing internet, electricity, heating and facilities? I feel I am supporting an international telecoms company whose office overheads are now minimised. Apparently, staff have been told they will not be compensated because they are not paying travel costs.

RH, Bolsover, Derbyshire

If the employer can’t, or won’t, pay expenses to its employees you don’t have much hope there, although employers are allowed to pay staff £6 a week tax free to those obliged to work from home during lockdown.

However, HMRC has said it will consider claims from employees whose bosses won’t contribute. It’s nothing to get excited about. Your son can claim tax relief on £6 a week, worth £1.20 – £2.40 a week depending on his tax rate. If he tried to claim any more than that, he’d have to provide evidence. The internet is a non starter, though, since you’re paying for it anyway.

Should your son wish to return home, he could claim the cost from his employer of taking out a broadband contract if it was specifically for work. Hopefully, he’ll then pass on the riches to you.

Can I return a coat when the shop reopens?
I bought a coat back in the good old days of last month when high streets were open. It doesn’t sit well on me and I meant to return it, but had to self isolate for 14 days, during which time stores were ordered to close. What happens to the right to return during lockdown?

AD, Tunbridge Wells

For starters there is no statutory right to return unless the item is faulty or not as described. Refunds for a change-of heart or a mistaken size are offered as goodwill by retailers to keep shoppers coming back.

That said, if returns were offered at the time of purchase, the option forms part of your contract with the retailer. Stores are still allowing customers to return unwanted stuff, but most have changed their policies.

High street names are mostly requiring customers to wait until stores reopen. John Lewis, for instance, will honour returns for store purchases made on, or after, 18 February 2020 for up to 35 days after lockdown ends, although it will allow a further grace period for customers who have been self isolating.

M&S has extended its deadline to 90 days until further notice and will accept postal returns, while ShoeZone is allowing its customers 12 months. Shops are also extending the expiry date of gift cards by up to two years.

Since your holiday has not been cancelled (not yet, anyway) you’d be unwise to withhold payment at this stage. If you failed to pay up, you are likely to be in breach of contract and would indeed risk forfeiting the deposit, or even being sued for loss of revenue, according to Aman Johal, director of Your Lawyers.

You’d have no chance of claiming on any travel insurance, either, if you were the one to cancel. TUI, which has only cancelled holidays due before mid May, is, however, offering holidaymakers with departure dates before 30 June to rebook for a later date without charge. The due date for the balance would then move, too.

Otherwise, TUI says, holidays after 15 May are currently due to go ahead as normal and the balance must be paid. Following criticism, it has agreed to refund customers whose holidays are cancelled, but some tour operators are insisting on credit notes in the hope the government will amend the rules.

Currently, Package Travel Regulations which govern any trip where two or more components are booked together, require a refund to be issued within 14 days if a tour operator cancels a trip. ABTA is lobbying ministers to extend the refund deadline to 31 July and to protect credit notes issued in lieu of cash.

Meanwhile, it’s taken matters into its own hands. Until recently ABTA’s website promised any credit notes that are not redeemed by the end of July can be swapped for a refund; now it states that refunds can be claimed after they expire. It says: “Refund credit notes should include an expiry date which is based on the travel company’s financial protection arrangements. The coronavirus pandemic is an unprecedented, evolving situation and ABTA originally gave a 31 July deadline to provide some much needed structure. ABTA will contact any ABTA member if it regards the company’s actions as being in breach of its Code of Conduct,” ABTA says.