By Jessica-Anne Johnson and Rob Coleridge
With lockdowns and travel restrictions imposed worldwide to slow the spread of COVID-19, domestic and foreign school trips have been unable to proceed. As a result, parents and schools have been left out of pocket, especially as many school trip operators refuse to provide refunds.
While some operators have confirmed they are willing to provide alternative dates for trips, and to transfer deposits and interim payments accordingly, this is not always a suitable alternative.
In this article, we consider key issues for schools to consider:
- if they are concerned a school trip may be unable to go ahead as a result of COVID-19; and
- if a school trip has been cancelled as a result of COVID-19; and
- how they may be able to recover monies paid to Operators.
WHAT TO CONSIDER IF YOU’RE CONCERNED A SCHOOL TRIP MAY BE CANCELLED AS A RESULT OF COVID-19
Check travel restrictions
Travel advice for educational settings is under constant review in light of the pandemic by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Up to date advice can be found here.
Check terms and conditions
Before taking any action in relation to a trip, check the terms of the contract entered into with the operator and its terms and conditions. Key clauses include:
- Payment terms – check when you’re expected to make payments towards the trip and whether any payments are non-refundable.
- Cancellation – check whether the operator can retain any payments previously made upon your cancellation, and be mindful of cancellation charges.
- Changes to bookings by operator – if the operator is required to make a significant change to your booking, or cancel it altogether, you could be entitled to a refund if the operator is unable to offer a suitable alternative.
- Compensation – you may be entitled to compensation if the operator significantly changes or cancels your booking, but check whether this applies in the eventuality of a pandemic or outbreak of disease.
- Force majeure – deals with events outside the parties’ control that may prevent performance. You can read our article on force majeure here.
Consider whether you should cancel the trip, or wait for the Operator to cancel
The consequences may differ depending on which party cancels the trip under the contract. For example, a school may incur cancellation charges or forfeit payments made if it cancels a trip, whereas, if an operator cancels a trip, it may be required to provide a refund. Which party cancels the trip may also affect the availability of compensation. If the operator is required to cancel a trip on the basis it would be unlawful for it to go ahead, then the contract may have been frustrated. If the contract has become impossible to perform, this would relieve the parties of their contractual obligations and may result in the return of a deposit. Each case will turn on the terms agreed and so it is important you review your contracts carefully to understand the position.
WHAT TO CONSIDER IF A SCHOOL TRIP HAS BEEN CANCELLED AS A RESULT OF COVID-19
If your school trip has already been cancelled, you may be concerned about:
- whether schools may be required to refund the parents; and
- what rights the school and/or parents may have to recover any sums paid under the contract
Are schools required to refund the cost of the school trip to parents?
The law of agency may provide assistance to schools concerned whether they are required to refund parents for payments made towards a school trip that can no longer go ahead.
In an agency arrangement an agent acts on behalf of a principal for specific purposes. If an agent enters into a contract with a third party on behalf of the principal, the contract is considered to be between the principal and the third party, even though the third party did not deal with the principal or pay them any money directly. If such a relationship can be established in the context of a school trip, then a school may not be required to reimburse parents for a cancelled school trip.
To determine whether agency applies, it is important to understand the relationship between the school, the Operator and the parents. We can help with this analysis. If you would like our assistance, please contact us.
Are schools or parents are entitled to a refund from school trip operators?
Consumer Rights Act 2015
If agency applies, and the contract is consequently between the parents and the operator, the Consumer Rights Act 2015 (“CRA 2015”) may provide assistance, as it is likely that parents will be considered consumers for the purposes of the CRA 2015. Under the CRA 2015 a consumer may have the right to require repeat performance, a price reduction or full refund.
Other sources of protection
The Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangement Regulations 2018 provide certain protections to travellers, including refunds, in certain circumstances.
There are likely also to be protections available if the trip is ATOL or ABTA protected in the event of an operator’s insolvency.
Remember to check insurance
Whilst operators seek to rely on schools having adequate insurance policies in place, ensure you liaise with your insurers regarding cancelled school trips, to protect your position in terms of recovering funds paid.
If you would like to discuss the issues considered in this article, please do not hesitate to contact Rob Coleridge (email@example.com) or Jessica Johnson (Jessica.firstname.lastname@example.org) who will be able to assist.