Angry parents are demanding their cash back from a specialist school holiday company.
PGL hosts children at residential activity centres across the UK, but has had to cancel visits during the coronavirus lockdown.
Parents are asking for their money back, but PGL has refused.
Instead, the school holiday company is offering customers a “refund credit note”.
PGL runs short-stay school trips with outdoor activities for thousands of pupils each year at sites across the UK and in France. Like the rest of the travel industry, the coronavirus crisis has had a “significant impact” on its business.
If the customer wants a cash refund, the refund credit note entitles them to obtain the money in March 2021, or they can use the credit note for booking a future holiday.
Hard-up families say that’s not good enough and if the situation were to be reversed, they would be unlikely to be able to defer paying for another 10 months.
Ian Grand of Worksop in Nottinghamshire booked a four-day break with PGL for his three children, plus his niece and nephew, for the end of May, at a cost of £1,583.75.
After the company cancelled the holiday in March, the family asked for their money back, but six weeks later they’re still waiting.
“They offered me a credit note but I wasn’t keen as I was worried that should PGL go under, I would lose out,” Mr Grand told the BBC.
“I asked for a refund, which the terms of the contract stated must be done within 14 days.
“My wife is a self-employed dividend director who has not been offered any support under the government schemes so the only income we can rely on is mine. So having the money from the cancelled booking would be a welcome relief.”
Ian reckons that if the situation was reversed and the family had cancelled the holiday, the company would be chasing them for the cash.
“I am quite sure that PGL would refer to the terms and conditions – and rightly so – and we would have lost some or all of the money. Now I am referring to their terms and conditions to argue my point [that] PGL are moving the goal posts, or so it would seem.”
Stacey Edwards is a full-time mum of four in Watchet in Somerset and with her husband working a 40-hour week, money is tight.
“My 11-year-old son was due to go on a school trip to France with PGL in mid-March,” she said. “Obviously the trip had to be cancelled, but it left lots of parents £380 out of pocket and we still don’t know what’s going on.”
The family booked the trip for son Cruze through his school last year and paid for it in full in December.
Ms Edwards feels it would be really helpful to have the money back, and other parents feel the same: “PGL are not talking to parents as the trip was booked through the school, which has told us it has submitted a travel insurance claim.
“Lots of families locally are in the same boat, waiting to hear if they’ll get their money back.”
Refund credit notes
PGL – often referred to by school kids as “Parents Get Lost”- has offered to reschedule trips and is offering a refund credit note to customers.
The travel agents’ group ABTA has asked the government to amend travel regulations in light of the coronavirus crisis.
One proposal is to allow travel firms to issue refund credits as an acceptable and enforceable alternative to immediate cash refunds, and to extend the 14-day period holiday providers have to issue refunds until 31 March 2021.
While awaiting clarity from the government on the issue, PGL told the BBC it is offering either flexible rebooking arrangements or a refund credit note, which can be claimed for a cash refund when it expires in March 2021, “in line with ABTA guidance”.
A spokesman for PGL said: “We have been waiting for ABTA to receive clarity from the government, which has not been forthcoming.”
When it comes to trips organised by schools, the company said it is supporting schools whose trips have been impacted – those who were scheduled to travel before 31 May to make insurance claims.
“This has been acknowledged by the government, the ABI and various trade and professional and other organisational bodies within the school travel sector, as the best method to secure cash to refund parents,” said PGL.
Many travel firms have adopted a similar policy, but Which? Travel editor Rory Boland reckons that’s not good enough.
“It’s true that the travel industry is under enormous strain at the moment but they’re not the only ones in difficult circumstances,” he pointed out.
“Lots of people are struggling with money and it’s unfair of travel firms to effectively ask them for an interest-free loan.”
He added that it should not be up to consumers to bail-out struggling firms: “The bailout should come from the government.”
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