More parents have come forward to share their frustration over school trips cancelled because of Covid-19 after the Weekend Herald revealed yesterday that some families have received only a fraction of the money they had paid specialist company Student Horizons.
Parents from a number of Auckland schools have contacted the Herald, asking how and why Student Horizons continued to book accommodation and activities when borders around the world were starting to close.
Many families have lost thousands of dollars because Student Horizons has a force majeure contract clause, which frees both parties of liability and states all money paid is non-refundable, even in the event of unforeseen circumstances including epidemics.
Student Horizons said on Friday that despite not being contractually obliged to, it would try to refund some of the money.
"Our normal terms of business state that all monies paid to Student Horizons are non-refundable under force majeure events," it said.
"We decided in March to temporarily waive those terms for April and July 2020 travel periods and do our best to present options that contractually we were not obligated to do, but something we felt strongly that we wanted to do."
• Covid 19 coronavirus: travel classes you can take to prepare for future trips
• Covid-19 coronavirus: Travel details of latest confirmed cases revealed
• 'Do not travel': Coronavirus sparks highest ever travel alert for New Zealand
• Coronavirus New Zealand travel restrictions: What it means for you, your job
The mother of a Mt Albert Grammar student whose daughter's trip to Europe was also cancelled, said she was"gobsmacked" to read the story about the Epsom Girls' Grammar situation.
Her daughter's trip was one of three at Mt Albert Grammar affected by Covid-19.
Yesterday she received a $250 refund – after the family shelled out more than $7000 for the trip.
"I was shocked," she said.
"I thought they had forgotten a zero."
Her daughter had been due to travel last month and she paid the $4300 balance for the trip at the end of January.
But Mt Albert Grammar School headmaster Patrick Drumm said $250 was only the first instalment of the refund.
He expected about 45 per cent of what students and parents paid for would be refunded.
"We are hoping to get more than $3000 back for those families. It's a possibility it'll come back as credits and we'll just have to deal with that when it happens."
Drumm acknowledged the situation was particularly upsetting for students considering many had raised the funds themselves and the trips were seen as a highlight in their final year of school.
The student's mother queried how Student Horizons was able to fully book travel and accommodation after the final payment, when travel was already affected and border restrictions were beginning to be put in place.
"How did you spend everything in a month when half of Europe was already closed?
"It's a lot of money for nothing," she said.
She said that she understood that the trip was non-refundable and she was clearly told that when she first signed up but said that she did not receive adequate information about the insurance policy.
The single mum said she was "furious" about the situation, adding that her daughter had worked hard in an after-school catering job to raise money for the trip, a job that been now put on hold because of lockdown restrictions.
Contacted by the Herald about the situation at Mt Albert Grammar, Student Horizons CEO Jamie Wansey said: "Where airlines are providing credits, we are passing these airfare credits directly back to the school, in addition to supplier cash refunds".
Drumm said the school has not received any credits back as far as he was aware of.
He noted dealing with a group credit would be challenging considering many students were in their final year of school and said the usability of a credit was "pretty questionable" in the current environment.
The school has a good relationship with Student Horizons and is confident it's receiving "straight up" information from the organisation, Drumm said.
He said Mt Albert Grammar, like other schools, were all following the assumption trips would still go ahead.
"We were still looking at ways of making trips go ahead well into early March - and then of course it all just came crashing down."
A Commerce Commission spokeswoman said it received a complaint about Student Horizons on Friday, which was being assessed.
She said the Commission had received 353 complaints about travel cancellations and refunds relating to Covid-19.
Under the Commission's Covid-19 disrupted travel, events and trade guidance, when a contract is frustrated, the Contract and Commercial Law Act 2017 applies.
The CCL Act says the consumer is entitled to a refund, but the business may
retain reasonable expenses and overheads incurred in relation to the contract.
Consumer NZ chief executive Jon Duffy agreed travel agents should retain part of the deposit to cover costs.
However, he recommended the agent be asked to justify the amount being retained.