Highlands letting firm set for further investigation over refunds row
A Highlands holiday lettings firm which has received a deluge of complaints from customers who have not been refunded after their holidays were cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak is now to be further investigated by Trading Standards following an initial probe by the competitions watchdog.
The Competitions and Markets Authority has written to holidaymakers who had booked with Dingwall-based LHH Scotland that they had considered their complaints and as a result, would pass the information on to the Highlands Council Trading Standards Service (HCTS) for further investigation.
Many customers who had booked breaks with LHH have complained that they have not been refunded after their breaks were axed due to the lockdown. Some have had a full or partial refund in recent weeks, but others have still been refused a refund, with many believing they are owed hundreds of pounds.
HCTS shares similar enforcement power to the CMA and can take action if it considers a firm to have breached the rules.
LHH Scotland owner Wynne Bentley has previously claimed that the legal structure of the company, which acts as an agency, rather than a holiday letting company, means that the holidaymakers’ contracts are with the owner of each individual property, rather than with the firm.
In the email, sent to a number of customers who lodged a formal complaint with the CMA earlier this year, the watchdog said: “In considering the information you provided us, the CMA has been liaising with our enforcement partner, Highlands Council Trading Standards Service. HTCS is the local authority within which the trader LHH has their head office located.
“HTCS have now asked the CMA to share your information and your contact details with them. They have asked for this information in order that they might consider what action might be taken against the trader, should they find practices that breach consumer law.”
It added: “Thank you for sending the CMA your information, which has been important in helping our understanding of how the market has been affected by Covid-19 restrictions.”
The CMA has recently taken action against major holiday lettings firms Sykes Cottages and Vacation Rentals and forced them to reverse their policies of refusing to give refunds to customers. Other large firms, such as Airbnb, have also had full refund policies.
The CMA has previously said it expected “all companies” to follow in the footsteps of Sykes Cottages and Vacation Rentals, which are now offering full refunds to consumers, following enforcement action from the watchdog.
Highland Council's Trading Standards Manager, David MacKenzie, said: “Highland Council Trading Standards recognises the uniquely difficult situation that local tourist businesses have experienced during 2020. As usual, the vast majority of them have acted very responsibly and provided re-bookings and refunds as requested by consumers.
“Thankfully the season was not completely lost and many visitors were able to come to the Highlands and safely enjoy our beautiful countryside and some excellent hospitality.”
He added: “It is always the case that a very small minority of businesses do not act fairly and we do not hesitate to deal with these firmly to ensure consumers’ rights are protected and the excellent reputation of the Highlands is maintained”.
LHH owner Wynne Bentley has not yet responded to a request for comment.