UK watchdog flooded with complaints

The UKs competition watchdog will next week set out measures to tackle concerns about refunds and cancellations in the travel industry after a surge in complaints.

On Friday, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said four in five of 21,000 complaints received by its coronavirus taskforce related to refunds and cancellations.

The government-backed body said it was “particularly concerned” about firms refusing refunds, charging high administration or cancellation fees and pressuring consumers into accepting vouchers instead of cash refunds.

“The taskforce is looking closely at these practices – with a focus on sectors and individual businesses that have been the subject of a high volume of complaints – and next steps will be announced next week,” the CMA said.

“The CMA will not hesitate to take enforcement action if there is evidence that businesses have breached competition or consumer protection law.”

The proposed action comes after the consumer group Which? claimed that 20 of the UKs largest airline operators were illegally withholding refunds that should be paid within 14 days.

Which? also found that 10 of the UKs biggest travel companies, including Love Holidays and Tui, were not offering full refunds within the legal time limit.

The CMA taskforce has received 21,000 complaints about coronavirus-related issues since its launch last month. It has sent advisory or warning letters to 187 firms after receiving 2,500 complaints about large price rises on food and personal hygiene products, such as hand sanitiser.

The largest price increases complained about related to hand sanitiser, with a reported median rise of 367%. The average increase across all complaints about price hikes – which related to rice, eggs flour, toilet paper and paracetamol – was 130%.

The CMA said it had written to trade bodies representing convenience stores and the online trading sites Amazon and eBay in its attempt to tackle price rises.

It said it was “continuing to engage” with eBay and Amazon to ensure listings that charge unjustifiable prices for essential goods were removed quickly.