This is the question that many people are now asking me and in many cases my answer is now YES. Here’s why:
On 23 March the Government stepped up measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus by putting in place a number of quarantine measures, including directing all non-essential premises to close. Hotels are amongst the list of premises classified as non-essential.
Within its guidance document published on the Gov.uk website, the Government has stated the following in relation to the amount of time non-essential premises must be closed for:
We are asking the businesses and premises and other venues outlined above not to open for trade from close of trade 23 March 2020. The Government will look again at these measures in three weeks, and relax them if the evidence shows this is possible.
The legal effect of the Government announcement
As Government has made it clear that hotels must now close, and there is currently no end date to the closures (at best there is a promise to ‘review’ the situation in 3 weeks’ time), they technically can no longer honour bookings. In these circumstances where the service cannot be provided, the law states that the contract (that is the contract formed between the consumer and hotel for the supply of accommodation) is ‘frustrated’. When this occurs, the position in law is that the contract is immediately brought to an end and both parties are immediately released from any further performance under the contract.
With general contracts there can be an exception to the above which would be where the contract contains a valid and binding ‘force majeure’ clause. However, as time is of the essence with a hotel booking (i.e. you book for a specific date and most likely need the room for those dates) it is unlikely that a force majeure clause would trump the consumer’s right to a refund. Further, I’ve been looking at the terms and conditions of lots of hotels and many of them do not have a sufficient force majeure clause which they can rely upon.
The hotel says the closure will be lifted in time for my booking
Of course they can’t tell you this with any degree of certainty at present, but they may be right. I would advise anyone with a hotel booking to take the following approach:
If the booking is within the next 3 weeks: demand a full refund, for all the reasons set out above and don’t take ‘no’ for an answer.
If the booking is for a date between mid-April -end of June: still demand a refund, citing everything above and the fact that the general consensus is that we will be on lock-down for at least 3 months.
If the booking is for a date after the end of June: do nothing at this stage, and if you have any further payments to make in the meantime, make the payment but make it on your credit card. If it then later transpires that the closures will still be in place at the time of your booking, you will be able to demand your refund.
What if they refuse to refund me?
If you paid by credit card you can contact your card provider and tell them that you want to make a ‘section 75 claim’.
If you paid with a debit card, you can contact your bank and tell them that you want to make a ‘chargeback claim’. If you paid via paypal, you can raise a dispute with them. In all other circumstances, you will have to demand your money back and then take them to the small claims court if they continue to reject your claim