A cross-party group of influential MPs has waded into the holiday refunds row by asking the government to “urgently intervene” to prevent airlines and operators from withholding payments for cancelled trips.

They have written to aviation minister Kelly Tolhurst as part of a campaign orchestrated by consumer group Which?

The 30 MPs include cross-party transport committee chairman Huw Merriman and former aviation minister Paul Maynard.

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They want action to force operators to pay refunds amid concerns over flouting of consumer law.

Which? is calling for measures including more urgent legal action by the government.

There are also demands for clarity over whether unspent holiday vouchers were protected by Atol.

The government has declined to guarantee refund credit notes (RCNs) for cancelled package holidays despite this being in line with existing Atol rules and the policy of the Air Travel Trust which makes Atol refunds.

The Civil Aviation Authority and the Competition and Markets Authority are both investigating elements of the travel industry.

The letter says: “The Competition and Markets Authority recently launched an investigation into package travel cancellations, however, there is an immediate action the government can take in relation to refund credit notes.

“We are aware that many travel companies are forcing customers to accept RCNs and vouchers in lieu of cash refunds. While we support the use of RCNs where a customer chooses to accept one, there remains a worrying lack of clarity over the level of protection linked to them.

“Now more than ever, it is vital that people can be certain that their hard-earned money is adequately protected against insolvency, so that consumers can confidently opt for RCNs where possible.

“At the same time, the Civil Aviation Authority is also investigating airlines’ non-compliance with the law. Despite not yet refunding passengers for cancelled trips due to take place as far back as March, a number of major airlines have announced that they will resume flights in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, the government’s indefinite ban on non-essential travel remains in place, with a 14-day quarantine for UK arrivals recently introduced.

“This contradictory approach across industry and the government will leave consumers confused as to the status of their upcoming holidays.

“Will they get a refund if they follow government advice not to travel but the flight still goes ahead? Will they be required to pay the balance on a holiday that may be cancelled? Will they get a refund if they choose not to travel because they are unable to follow the subsequent 14 day quarantine period on returning to the UK? How long would they have to wait for a refund? If they do travel, will travel insurance apply while the travel ban is still in place?

“With millions still waiting for refunds, those with future travel booked will also be unclear about whether they will be eligible to get their money back if their trip is cancelled.

“As we approach the summer holiday period, it is clear that action must be taken to tackle the challenges specific to travel head on and to ensure that trust in the sector is not permanently damaged.

“The government must urgently clarify whether RCNs offered for Atol-protected holidays will also be covered by the Atol scheme. It must also clarify and coordinate its approach to supporting air travel to resume operating as soon as possible, ensuring that airlines and holiday companies allow flexible rebooking and cancellation options for those no longer able to travel.”

Which? Travel editor Rory Boland said: “For months, people have faced lengthy, time-consuming battles with airlines and travel companies who have unlawfully delayed or denied refunds for cancelled holidays, and in some cases, forced customers to accept refund credit notes in lieu of the cash they are owed.

“Trust in the travel industry has hit rock bottom and the government must urgently step in to restore some order to a sector that has been left in disarray by the pandemic, and where the law is being widely ignored.

“As a first step, it must urgently clarify whether refund credit notes for package holidays are financially backed by the Atol scheme, while also setting out a clear plan to support the industry to resume safe air travel.”

Kane Pirie, leader of the Right To Refund campaign, said: “We welcome the intervention of the cross-party group of MPs into this sorry saga. Right To Refund has nearly 30,000 supporters who have been asking for government action for months. Perhaps now they will finally listen.

“The law is clear and airlines and tour operators have enjoyed a grey-grace period of over three months since March 17 already. Customers awaiting refunds do not want more excuses, apologies or false promises. Just pay over the money, it is long overdue.”

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