Big holiday rental names such as Hoseasons and Sykes Cottages are refusing refunds for UK Easter breaks that have been cancelled as a result of the current lockdown.
Trips to holiday cottages have been banned until at least 13 April to combat the spread of coronavirus. Holiday parks have been forced to close and rental homes have cancelled bookings.
But Which? has heard from hundreds of disappointed holidaymakers who are struggling to get their money back. While others are being asked to cough up even more money to move their holiday to a later date.
Some customers face losing thousands of pounds, or paying up to an extra £1,000 to rearrange a holiday they no longer want or can no longer afford.
UK holiday park and rental home company Hoseasons has told affected customers that it won't refund them for cancellations. Instead, they're being offered the chance to rebook.
One customer, Susanne Owens, had booked a cottage for her family during the school holidays at a cost of £2,500. Hoseasons cancelled the holiday and told her she's not entitled to a refund.
Susanne said: 'This situation is probably going to last for most of the summer. It's basically forcing us to rebook what was meant to be an outdoors holiday for the kids in the middle of winter. I don't think that's fair - that's not what we booked.'
Hoseasons told us: 'We are doing everything we can as a business to help rebook customers' holidays, including offering price-matched breaks for the same or equivalent date in 2021.'
Worse still, some cottage rental companies are asking for yet more money to rebook holidays for later this year.
Which? thinks that it's unfair to put a consumer in a position of having to choose between losing their money, or paying even more.
When Jessica Tappin's holiday lodge in Cornwall was closed, Sykes Cottages did not offer to refund the £310 paid for the weekend break. Instead it said she could rebook, but that she would have to fork out for the price difference.
She said: 'This wasn't cheap, it would have cost anywhere between £250 and £1,000 to change the dates. Despite numerous requests for a refund, it refused.'
After seeking legal advice, Jessica pointed out to Sykes Cottages that its booking T&Cs made no mention of extra fees for rebooking. It then agreed to pay some of her money back, but still not the full costs.
Jessica said: 'It's keeping commission fees for themselves. I'm still £94 out of pocket for a holiday I haven't been able to take.
Sykes Holiday Cottages said: 'We have spoken to Jessica to amend her booking or provide a refund in cash or credit. For the commission and booking fee, we are offering credit to Sykes Holiday Cottages accounts.
u201cSome of our customers who are looking to amend their travel dates may find they are quoted more. Looking at the same departure day in 2021, the cost of Ms Tappin's break remains the same.
u201cAccommodation prices have always, and continue to be, seasonal. Some might find their trip is more, while others may find that their holiday is cheaper.'
If a customer finds that a price has increased beyond what they would ordinarily expect we have encouraged them to email us so we can help.'
Mark Cooper told Which? that he's been trying to contact Cottages.com about getting a refund for a cancelled cottage stay in Norfolk for more than three weeks.
Mark said: 'I refused its offer of credit and have asked for a refund several times. It's now gone cold on me.
'Their website gives no information whatsoever about what to do if your holiday is cancelled, or who to contact. It looks like they're sticking its heads in the sand.'
We asked Cottages.com to clarify its policy, but it did not respond.
In some cases, where the holiday cottage company is an intermediary, you can approach the cottage owner directly and ask for a refund, or fairer rebooking terms. We have heard from customers who have had success dealing directly with an individual owner.
If you do have to deal with the cottage company, be aware that you don't necessarily have a right to a refund. Everything that the holiday cottage company can and can't do is in the T&Cs of your booking contract.
If your contract states that you will be refunded in the event that the company cancels, then you should push for a refund.
However, companies are likely to have terms that state what your rights are during 'extraordinary circumstances'. Whether they're fair will depend on the wording of those terms. If the T&Cs say that refunds will not be forthcoming in any circumstances, even if the cottage company has cancelled, this could be an 'unfair term' and may not be enforceable.
If instead of a refund you're told you need to rebook, check the terms to make sure this is all you're entitled to. If you do accept a change of dates, make it clear this doesn't mean you're agreeing to a new booking at the prices applicable for the new date.
Consider taking legal advice if you think the cancellation clauses in your contract could be unfair. Which? is currently looking into unfair terms in cottage companies' contracts and will report back.
If your provider continues to refuse a refund, consider making a Section 75 or chargeback claim through your card provider. Whether you're able to make a claim on this basis will again depend on the T&Cs of your contract with the cottage company.
If your contract clearly indicates that you should be refunded in the case of cancellation, then you can approach your card provider and demonstrate that there has been a breach of contract.