Consumers facing a refund lottery during summer ‘pingdemic’, Which? warns

Which? is calling on businesses to do the right thing by consumers and offer refunds and flexibility if consumers are told to self-isolate by the NHS app. 

From 8 – 14 July alone, more than 600,000 people were pinged by the NHS app and told to self-isolate. Millions more could potentially be pinged before 16 August – when those who are double-vaccinated or under eighteen will no longer be required to quarantine. 

As the school summer holidays loom, many families are trying to keep their children entertained, while others have booked events and activities to take advantage of scaled back Covid restrictions. 

But with Downing Street reiterating that it is essential to self-isolate if required – unless people qualify for the isolation exemption scheme – many are likely to conclude they need to change or cancel their plans to adhere to health guidance if they are pinged by the app. 

Which? spoke to 12 event organisers and popular attractions, including Vue Cinemas, Legoland, GoApe and London Zoo about their refund policies and found that all bar four initially gave ticket transfers over refunds.

Some consumers may be happy to rebook their event but for those who are not and cannot get a refund, there is the risk that some might disregard important health guidance rather than miss an event and potentially lose their money.

For example, if consumers have booked a one-off event – like a concert – or arranged a family trip to a theme park involving hundreds of miles of travelling across the UK which they will struggle to reschedule, they might be tempted to disregard the advice so they do not lose their money. 

The Competitions and Market Authority’s (CMA) statement on coronavirus states that businesses should treat consumers fairly and suggests trying to find a mutually acceptable solution. Otherwise, consumers are entitled to cancel their tickets and seek a refund in line with the pre-existing terms and conditions. 

However, consumers often face a refund lottery when trying to get their money back. While some businesses are trying to support their customers during the pandemic, the level of flexibility consumers can expect if pinged by the app to self-isolate varied between event organisers. 

Of the 12 event organisers Which? spoke to only Center Parcs, Vue Cinemas, Blackpool Pleasure Beach and Chester Zoo offered a refund up front.

Paultons Park, where Peppa Pig World is based and London Zoo & Whipsnade Zoo – both operated by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) – only offered refunds if the consumer could not find an alternative date. 

Folly Farm, UK Theatre, STAR tickets, Go Ape and Merlin Entertainments (who own Legoland, Chessington, Madame Tussauds, Alton Towers and Thorpe Park) allow for ticket exchanges, gift vouchers or rebookings rather than refunds. TicketMaster says refund decisions lie with individual event organisers. 

The length of time consumers have to transfer their tickets also differs. For example, Go Ape gives customers a year to transfer their tickets while for Folly Farm, rebookings can only be made up to three months after the original date – which could cause issues for consumers who need to rearrange for a later date. 

The government can assist consumers and businesses by giving clear and consistent information about what people need to do if pinged by the app. Which? believes businesses should show understanding and flexibility to those who are self-isolating because they have been notified by the app – including by offering refunds when alternative options are not viable. 

Consumers should carefully check the terms and conditions of their ticket and contact the ticket seller for a refund. People could also consider sharing evidence that they have been asked to self-isolate with the business when asking for their money back. 

If consumers cannot get their money back from the ticket seller after contacting them, they can contact their bank or credit company to see if they can get a refund through their credit or debit card. 

Adam French, Which? Consumer Rights Expert, said: 

“If people are pinged by the NHS app they’re expected to self-isolate for at least 10 days and avoid contact with others. These measures are advisory, but if people are told to isolate by NHS Test and Trace it’s a legal requirement to comply. 

“Most of us will want to do the right thing and self-isolate if we are pinged by the app. But, because these warnings from the app are guidance, you might not be entitled to a refund for tickets to an event you can no longer attend as normal terms and conditions will apply. 

“People should not be left out of pocket for trying to do the right thing. Businesses who aren’t already refunding customers who have been pinged by the app should be flexible and give people their money back if they can’t find another solution.”


Notes to editors 

Self-isolating through Test and Trace and if pinged by the app 

  • Currently, there is a legal distinction between being pinged by the NHS app and officially being contacted by Test and Trace and told to self-isolate. 
  • If people are contacted directly by NHS Test and Trace by phone or email then they are legally required to self-isolate. 
  • However, if people are pinged by the NHS app they are expected to self-isolate for at least 10 days and avoid contact with others, but they are not legally required to self-isolate. 
  • Most consumers will want to do the right thing and self-isolate if they are pinged by the app. But, because these warnings from the app are guidance, consumers might not be entitled to a refund for tickets to an event they can no longer attend as normal ticketing terms and conditions will apply.

Getting your money back for a cancelled event if the organiser will not offer a refund: 

  • If you paid by credit card: any purchase over £100 and less than £30,000 using your credit card has extra protections should something go wrong. Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act makes your credit card company jointly liable if something goes wrong with a product or a service you’ve paid for by credit card. 
  • If you paid by debit card: ask your card provider to reverse a transaction using a process called chargeback. Chargeback isn’t a legal right like section 75, but banks can help with this if your purchase was under £100 and section 75 doesn’t apply. You can also use chargeback for credit card purchases. 
  • Ticket insurance: A recent Which? survey asked 2,000 consumers if they thought ticket insurance policies would cover them for Covid-related cancellations. Of the five ticket insurance providers we looked at, only one had full comprehensive cover for Covid related claims. Check the terms and conditions of your ticket insurance to see if you might be covered.

Full table of results 

Company/Event Organiser Offering self-isolation refund?
Ticketmaster Refund decision lies with individual event organisers
Vue cinemas Will refund tickets for self-isolation
Paultons Park (Peppa Pig World) After two unsuccessful attempts to change the date of a booking, a full refund will be issued
Merlin Entertainments (Legoland, Chessington, Madame Tussauds, Alton Towers, Thorpe Park) Can transfer tickets to a later date for individual and family tickets
Go Ape Gift voucher at the full value of initial booking, valid for one year.
London Zoo & Whipsnade Zoo Can reschedule tickets, refunds will be offered if unable to change dates.
Chester Zoo Offers rebookings and full refunds for individual, family and group tickets.
Blackpool Pleasure Beach Can transfer tickets to dates in 2021 season or will offer a refund if unable to visit due to Covid-19
Folly Farm Tickets available on entry/ can re-book dates on Eventbrite for dates within 3 months
UK Theatre Can exchange tickets for a later date up to 24 hours before a show
Center Parcs Can rebook dates, refund the whole trip or  refund the difference for smaller accommodation
Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers affiliated venues Can rebook tickets or be offered credit for later use


Rights of replies 

Ticketmaster said: “We work on behalf of our clients, the event organisers. Ultimately these decisions lay with them and we act at their direction. We are not aware of any fan being refused a refund under these circumstances.”

Chester Zoo said: If anyone with pre-booked tickets has been asked to self isolate then we firstly look to reschedule bookings for an alternative date of their choosing (as long as we’re not sold out for the alternative date they wish to book for, in which case we may ask them to opt for another. Although it’s fairly rare that we can’t move them to their first preferred date). If, however, the customer should prefer, then we issue a full refund. This includes family and group tickets – for example, if say a group of six is booked in and just one of the party is requested to isolate, we’ll rebook or refund all six.

Go Ape said: “If a customer has to alter their booking due COVID related reasons such as the need to self-isolate they will be issued with a Gift Voucher for the full value of their booking. This means that they can return when they are able using the Gift Voucher (gift vouchers are valid for 365 days). “

James Mancey, operations director at Paultons Park, said: “Staff and guest safety remains our top priority and so it is our duty to ensure that families don’t attend the park when they have been asked to self-isolate. We therefore encourage guests to instead visit the park at a later date, at no extra cost.

“We appreciate the frustration and disruption that self-isolation can cause families and our customer service teams are currently working with impacted families to help rearrange their visit for a date when it is safe and convenient to visit.

“We have taken this approach to ensure that every family has a safe, fun and memorable day at Paultons Park.”

UK Theatre said: Throughout the pandemic, our member theatres have been offering unprecedented booking flexibility – a ‘book with confidence, exchange with ease’ policy means that theatre ticketholders can exchange their tickets up to 24 hours ahead of a performance if they (or someone in their group) can no longer attend due to Covid – including being told to self-isolate through the NHS app.”

London and Whipsnade Zoos said:ZSL London and Whipsnade Zoos have pledged to do all we can to ensure our visitors are able to enjoy a brilliant day out, exploring the wonders of wildlife, during these still uncertain times – including offering ‘flexi-tickets’, open-ended tickets which are valid for 12 months.  

Furthermore, if any of our visitors, either individuals or members of a group or family booking, need to self-isolate, ZSL London and Whipsnade Zoos will gladly reschedule their visit, completely free of charge, to a more suitable date. For visitors who are unfortunately unable to reschedule their tickets, refunds will be issued.”

Folly Farm in Wales said: We’ve put in place a free pre-booking system via Eventbrite so visitors have the flexibility to change their date should they, or any member of their booking, need to self-isolate. We‘re encouraging visitors to pay for their admission on arrival at our entrance tills but if they wish to purchase admission tickets online in advance these are valid for a visit within three months of purchase. So, visitors can re-book their date on Eventbrite when the isolation period is over and use the same admission tickets.”

Blackpool Pleasure Beach said: “If guests are unable to visit due to Covid-19 we will transfer their booking to an alternative date free of charge or refund their booking.”

Center Parcs said: Our Book with Confidence guarantee allows guests to cancel and receive a full refund, or move their break to a later date, in the event of them no longer being able to, or no longer wishing to, visit Center Parcs. This is available in the 11 weeks before their break and would include where a member of the party has been asked to self-isolate.”

Merlin Entertainments said: We understand that our guests may at any time be personally impacted by Covid-19, such as being pinged by the NHS Covid-19 app or if they have developed coronavirus symptoms, in which case they may require to change the date/time of their pre-booked tickets to visit one of our attractions.

The health and safety of our guests and staff is our absolute priority and in these instances we will happily organise a rebooking of their tickets to an alternative date in the future. For any guests whose booking has been affected, we kindly ask them to contact the attraction they have booked for using the contact us form on the attraction website and a member of the team will be in touch as soon as possible.”

Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers affiliated venues: “Despite continuing difficulties and uncertainties for everyone, promoters, producers, venues and ticket agents work to find the best solutions for customers that can’t attend events because of Covid, just as they have since March 2020. Very often, customers can be rebooked into other performances or offered credit that can be used at a later date. They may also have bought ticket protection that covers them for that cost. Ticket sellers work to policies decided by event organisers and liaise with them to provide the right resolution for each customer.”

Vue cinemas said they would refund if a customer was self-isolating. 

About Which?

Which? is the UK’s consumer champion, here to make life simpler, fairer and safer for everyone. Our research gets to the heart of consumer issues, our advice is impartial, and our rigorous product tests lead to expert recommendations. We’re the independent consumer voice that influences politicians and lawmakers, investigates, holds businesses to account and makes change happen. As an organisation we’re not for profit and all for making consumers more powerful.

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