Cancellation of Events and Services Amidst COVID-19 Outbreak
August 26, 2021
As we have seen in 2020 and again recently, COVID-19 has and continues to upend our lives, disrupting plans that would have already been set. These plans, whether social or cultural have taken a back seat with the virus forcing all to retreat into their bubbles and practice more stringent hygiene measures to protect those we love and those around us.
Granted this is not the ideal situation that many would have planned for, it is the hand many have been dealt with and as such has forced individuals to make drastic changes. These changes include cancelled trips and hired accommodation or event venues. It has forced many to rethink their finances to ensure they are able to make ends meet for as long as restrictions are in place.
Unfortunately, there are traders who have taken advantage of the situation and in an attempt to retain as much money as possible, have placed consumers at a disadvantage by failing to provide the necessary redress. An analysis of the complaints revealed that in 2020, the Council recorded a large volume of complaints on event cancellation with a collective worth of close to $50,000. The Council anticipates that three major issues faced last year could again be a cause for concern for consumers in this recent outbreak. Some of issues that surfaced were as follows;
1. Non-refund of deposits/upfront payments
One of the major issues which consumers raised was that certain events organizers refused to refund the paid amount for the delivery of a particular service at their planned event – which did not eventuate due to COVID-19 restrictions. Consumers also came across instances whereby traders promised to provide a refund – however kept on defaulting on their promise with some only providing partial refund or explicitly denying any refund at all.
A consumer booked rooms for his family at a resort in the Western Division for his family vacation – costing him $3600. However, due to COVID-19 restrictions, he had to cancel the family vacation and sought a refund from the resort. The consumer was baffled when the resort refused to provide refund as he did not utilize the services of the resort. Decisive action by the Council resulted in the resort providing full refund to the consumer.
2. Non-disclosure of terms and conditions
Upon the introduction of life saving health measures arising due to COVID-19 last year, certain consumers were astonished when they were informed by respective businesses that they were not entitled to a refund as they had a no refund policy – which is also illegal. However, many businesses failed to disclose this before consumers committed their hard-earned money to the businesses for rendering of certain services.
A consumer made a deposit of $650 to secure the services of a company to carry out mandap (traditional Indian wedding Daise) decoration. The consumer had to cancel her wedding plans due to COVID-19 health restriction. Hence, she requested for a refund as she was not sure when exactly the wedding would take place. Upon making this request for a refund, she was informed that the said company had a no refund policy. The aggrieved consumer approached the Council to recover her $650 cash. After conducting preliminary investigations, the Council discovered that the refund clause was never divulged or included in the contract of service between the two parties, hence a refund was provided.
3. Non-delivery of service at a later date
Many consumers also postponed their planned activities to a later date. However, to their dismay, certain traders refused to provide the product/service at a later date. This meant consumers would lose out the money which they had already paid and not receive the product/service even when the health restrictions eased.
Mr X had procured the services of an events management company in Suva for his daughter’s wedding. Nevertheless, the wedding had to be postponed to a later date due to the unprecedented pandemic. The same was communicated with the events management company who provided assurance that they would provide the service at a later time as requested. However, the same was denied when the company was approached with an alternative date. The Council’s intervention assisted Mr. X to appropriate redress.
Implications of current COVID-19 outbreak
While the Council was able to obtain redress on behalf of most consumers who sought assistance, the Council believes that there may have been many unreported cases. It is prudent therefore that consumers practice their rights and responsibility to avoid becoming subject to dodgy business tactics during this recent COVID-19 outbreak.
Consumer rights in relation to cancellation of events or services
Crises such as the current COVID-19 pandemic does not mean that consumers should be exploited but in turn should see both consumers and traders working in solidarity promoting and protecting each other’s interest, hence resolving issues amicably. The following are some of the rights which consumers must exercise when faced with situation which leads to cancellation of planned events/activities;
1. Right to redress – Crises such as COVID-19 cannot be used as an excuse to rip-off consumers. Consumers have the right to receive a fair settlement in instances where events were not able to take place as a result of health restrictions. This can be in the form of refund or providing the service at a later date.
2. Right to information – Consumers have the right to correct and timely information regarding the type of redress which the events/service provider will provide in unforeseen circumstances so that they can make informed decisions on amicable actions that can be undertaken.
Consumer responsibilities in relation to cancellation of events of services
Together with their rights, consumers also have certain responsibilities which they must exercise and includes;
1. Being assertive. In instances where event service providers behave unscrupulously by not providing a refund or services at a later date, consumers should not be passive and let the business dictate the terms. Consumers have the responsibility to be assertive and demand for best services – do not settle for anything less.
2. Critical awareness. Consumers have the responsibility to keep themselves abreast of their rights, the rights of events management businesses and relevant consumer protection laws. This will ensure that consumers are not misled by shoddy businesses.
3. Action. Consumers must liaise with their relevant service providers to come up with an amicable resolution. If consumers believe that the trader is being disingenuous, they must seek the assistance of consumer protection agencies such as the Consumer Council of Fiji. Consumers also have the responsibility to keep documentation such as receipts which will be instrumental in seeking redress.
Consumers are being reminded that they are entitled to a redress only if the event or service you booked cannot eventuate and simply a ‘change of mind’ does not constitute a redress by your service provider.
Responsibility of Businesses
Events and service providers are duty-bound to provide the best services and where necessary – appropriate redress to consumers. The following are some responsibilities which traders must exercise at all times;.
1. Provide redress. Businesses have the responsibility to provide appropriate redress to those consumers who had to cancel or postpone their planned events due to unforeseen circumstances such as the current pandemic – which is beyond anyone’s control.
2. Provide correct and full information. Businesses also have the responsibility to provide correct and full information on the type of redresses they will provide to the consumers with an accurate timeline to avoid unnecessary hassle to consumers.
3. Comply to consumer protection laws. Comply to all relevant business regulations and consumer protection laws in the best interest of Fijian consumers.
What to do when you are denied address?
Consumers coming across unscrupulous traders during this time of crises are encouraged to contact the Council on toll-free number 155 or lodge a complaint using the Consumer Council of Fiji mobile app.