Ryanair has defended its approach to handling customer demands for refunds after reports that customers are being told pursuing chargebacks through their bank are fraudulent.

The budget carrier denied that the claims made in The Mirror were true, but said customers may have to wait for a year to get their money back if they insist on a refund.

The airline is processing 10,000 times the usual number of refunds claims and is offering free changes to bookings or credit notes that customers can cash in for a future flight.

The Mirror alleged that customers are being told they will be blacklisted if they use the chargeback system, a voluntary scheme that banks and card issuers offer that enables customers to recoup money in certain circumstances.

Ryanair told the newspaper that chargebacks are not fraudulent and that the airline only blacklists customers when there are confirmed fraud cases.

Consumer champion MoneySavingExpert.com, which revealed the way Ryanair is handling claims for refunds following an investigation, said the problem could have been down to “human error”.

Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, said there was ne evidence that this was a systematic attempt to deny consumer rights and could be a customer service training issue.

But he said: “It is outrageous for a firm’s staff to call asking your bank for a chargeback an act of fraud.

“Especially when coming from Ryanair, which itself is refusing cash refunds within the timeframe mandated by EU 261/204 – a breach of the law.

“We hope that by raising this with the firm, it will urgently brief all its frontline staff on this issue.

“If not and we continue to get reports now we have notified it, then we will report it to the regulatory authorities.”

Ryanair told The Mirror that it is offering customers all options set out under EU rules but that processing cash refunds is taking longer due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Customers who choose not to accept a free move or voucher will be refunded in due course, once this unprecedented crisis is over,” a spokesman said.

“We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause and we thank our customers for bearing with us.”