Lettings firm under investigation settles out of court with German holidaymaker
A Highlands lettings agency which has come under fire from customers who say they have not been refunded for holidays cancelled due to the pandemic has paid out to a German customer who took his case to court in Inverness.
LHH Scotland, which has been referred to Highlands Trading Standards by the Competitions and Markets Authority, had a scheduled hearing at Inverness Sheriff Court to face a complaint made by holidaymaker Veit Hoffmann last week but has settled out of court, refunding Mr Hoffmann's £1,382 cancelled trip.
Mr Hoffmann, from Achim, Germany, booked two holiday homes – one near Inverness and one on Lewis – through LHH Scotland in June 2019 for May this year - and paid for the bookings in full in January, before the coronavirus pandemic hit.
After lockdown was announced, he received an email from Dingwall-based LHH, telling him that his trip would not be able to go ahead, however he was told that he would need to pursue a refund through individual owners or claim on travel insurance. The owner of one of the two houses paid back her share of the booking costs - minus LHH’s 20 per cent fee - out of her own pocket after LHH refused to repay the tourist.
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.
Mr Hoffmann said: “LHH Scotland sent an email in April that the bookings had to be cancelled. I asked for repayment and even offered that LHH can withhold 10 per cent of the sum for their efforts.
“They refused to do this and refused to pay back a penny. The owner of one of the two houses asked LHH Scotland to reimburse us for the full amount. LHH has also refused this.”
In an attempt to recoup the rest of the money owed to him - £964 - Mr Hoffmann submitted a European Small Claim to the Sheriff Court in Inverness.
He said: “After the court had scheduled a hearing and several emails between their lawyer and me, LHH ultimately reimbursed all amounts including the court fee in advance.”
Dozens of holidaymakers who had booked through LHH Scotland contacted Scotland on Sunday earlier this year to complain that they have not been refunded after their breaks were axed due to the lockdown, with some losing hundreds of pounds. Some were offered the chance to rebook their holidays, but did not want to – or were not able to commit to a new date due to issues related to the outbreak. Others say they were told they could not rebook, but still had to forfeit their deposit.
Ms Bentley said: “Any other outstanding claims are rather more complex than you may have been led to believe. For example, there are cases of customers cancelling when the property in question was legally available for occupation and the customers simply changed their minds and ignored their binding contracts. If such cases cannot be resolved by negotiation with the customers concerned, LHH would much prefer these to be determined by the Scots courts looking at each individual dispute.”