Five new complaints about a student travel agency have been lodged with the Commerce Commission over hundreds of thousands of dollars of unpaid refunds, and a petition has been set up urging compensation.

But Student Horizons owner Jamie Wansey says almost $400,000 has already been refunded either in cash or airline credits to some of the 63 schools that had educational trips to Europe, America and Asia cancelled due to Covid-19.

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With the pandemic closing borders around the world in March, one family with two students travelling on different tours was left out of pocket by $18,000 with only a $400 refund projected so far.

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Kim Matheson's 15-year-old daughter, Pippa, worked all summer to raise the $3500 deposit for a Student Horizons history trip to Europe with Epsom Girls' Grammar School in July, and faces getting only a $539 refund.

A spreadsheet set up by some parents shows six tours across four schools where $837,000 had been paid in deposits and fees by 155 students.

This week the Commerce Commission confirmed it had received another five complaints about Student Horizons on top one it had two weeks ago.

A spokeswoman said the complaints were being assessed and broadly related to the terms and conditions of the refund available to the consumer, including fees that apply and the time frame of that refund.

Kim Matheson (left) said daughter Pippa is out of pocket almost $3000 because of a cancelled school history trip to Europe. Photo / Supplied
Kim Matheson (left) said daughter Pippa is out of pocket almost $3000 because of a cancelled school history trip to Europe. Photo / Supplied

At the same time, a petition had been set up on change.org by an affected Mt Roskill Grammar student who called on the Government to compensate families.

Student Horizons has a force majeure contract clause, freeing both parties of liability, and states all money paid is non-refundable, even in the event of unforeseen circumstances, including epidemics.

However, Wansey told EGGS parents in a statement the company felt "morally obligated" to offer refunds.

Wansey said Student Horizons was fighting to survive, was down 100 per cent on revenue and that staff were working hard to secure as many refunds as possible.

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Abbey Language Travel, another student travel group in New Zealand and Australia, had organised almost full refunds for students on trips from Baradene College in Auckland and Rangiora High School.

Napier Girls' High School was refunded through their school insurance, provided by Chubb.

Abbey Language owner Alyson Moore said she was personally out of pocket by a "significant amount" because she had used her own money to advance some of the refunds.

In other cases she and Service Travel, the Auckland agency partnered with Abbey Language to organise the school tours, had secured refunds from suppliers in Europe and Asia.

"We did have a lot of success in getting a lot of our suppliers for the April and July tours to refund as much of the money they could that we'd prepaid."

The language tours to Spain and Japan cost $6000 and $4500 respectively and Moore said the July tour received everything back except $800, which was money the airline would not refund.

She said group refunds were not straight forward and she hoped her refund advances would protect Abbey Language's reputation when travel opened up again.

Wansey said Student Horizons had paid out $345,698 in cash refunds and $46,774 in airline credit refunds, a total of $392,472 for April and July tours.

He said the Student Horizons tour guide cost would be refunded as well as insurance costs because it was not claimable due to a non-payment pandemic clause and "cancel for any reason" clause that did not apply to group bookings.

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Wansey said flights to or via America had been refunded in line with transportation department regulations there.

Covid-19 had had a catastrophic effect on global travel and his business, Wansey said.

"Given our revenue effectively stopped overnight and we don't envisage receiving any revenue until 2021, we are not in a financial position to offer any further cash refunds to the 30 groups that still have active tours with us," he said.

"I understand parents are hurting and angry but we are a small business fighting for our survival, not some large corporate with deep pockets.

"My people have lost their livelihoods. Students stand to lose out on an overseas experience or alternatively parents and students stand to lose some of the funds they had laid down for the experience.

"My family stand to lose everything we have worked for over eight years. There are no winners in this."

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website