Consumer rights

Voucher companies irritate consumers by refusing refunds for gifts that expired during lockdown

Coupon companies have been accused of defrauding consumers by failing to deliver promised gift experiences and denying refunds to those who cannot use their coupons.

Virgin Experiences, Groupon and Wowcher have come under fire from customers who say they have been unable to use vouchers during the pandemic and are no longer able to extend them. A backlog since the end of lockdown means many are unable to book slots for experiences, ranging from afternoon tea at Brighton Pavilion to a track day at Silverstone.

In some cases, customers say they are being charged to extend their voucher for another six months or being offered an alternative to what they paid for because third-party vendors are unable to fulfill orders. A Virgin Experiences customer said the hour-long massage he had booked had been downgraded to half an hour.

Sonia Tonkin, 35, from Dorking, said she felt ‘aggrieved’ after Virgin Experiences charged her £20 to extend her £85 voucher for afternoon tea at the Brighton Pavilion. The voucher expired during the winter lockdown, when it was not possible to use it.

“My mother bought me [the voucher] around February of last year. I’m an NHS nurse so she wanted to do something really special for my birthday,’ she said. “Went to use it and saw it was expiring on December 13, 2021, and thought ‘it can’t be’, as we’ve been in lockdown and with restrictions for most of the year. .”

Ms Tonkin said she was unable to extend the voucher online and ‘there was no phone number on the website or anything to have a conversation with someone . Which made me really angry, because it’s a gift. After approaching the company on social media, she managed to pay for an extension. “They sent me a link to pay about two weeks ago, but I still haven’t received my voucher,” she said.

“Beyond a Joke”

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is currently investigating whether there is evidence of wrongdoing at Virgin Experiences after The Telegraph alerted it to a flood of customer complaints. The company still openly advertises its Track Experience Day at Silverstone, even though existing customers say they are unable to book a slot.

The CMA has already launched an investigation into Groupon. In October, the regulator said it had secured commitments from the company to improve customer service, ensure the accuracy of descriptions on its website and offer refunds to some customers.

He said: “The CMA was concerned that Groupon did not respond satisfactorily to customer complaints and did not always provide customers with refunds and other forms of redress, such as replacement items, that the CMA considers they had. legally right. For example, in cases where customers did not receive the goods or services they paid for, they were sometimes only offered Groupon credits instead of refunds.

The company has been warned it could face legal action if it does not improve, but customers are still struggling to get refunds. Michael Tinker wrote on the Groupon UK Twitter feed: “How many customer service reps does it take to get a refund? Apologies are beyond a joke now.

Gemma Dearsley complained to Groupon: “I’m very confused, you seem to be one of the only companies not giving credit due to the pandemic.”

Another said: ‘Very disappointed that you are not extending restaurant vouchers which were purchased in December with a validity of four months and expired when said restaurants were forced to close during the pandemic.

Martyn James, consumer rights expert at Resolver, described it as “a real problem”. The complaints resolution service has handled 12,003 cases since the start of last year, many involving Groupon, Wowcher and Virgin Experiences.

Wowcher customers say they also have trouble getting repairs. Charlene Williams, 39, a secondary school teacher in Ashford, Kent, told the Telegraph she felt ‘locked in’ by Wowcher’s policy of issuing urgent credits rather than refunds.

She said: ‘I booked a hotel for us in Hampshire in July but was then told there was limited availability for us so I had no choice but to cancel. But instead of a refund from Wowcher, I got a credit that had to be used within two weeks, which I couldn’t use.

Mark Rogerson, from Lincolnshire, complained about an order for rattan furniture which did not arrive, as he worked from home specifically to receive it.

He said Wowcher refused to refund him when he tried to cancel the order, saying he had “changed his mind”.

He told the Telegraph: “I thought all internet transactions were covered by a 14 day money back guarantee, but Wowcher doesn’t seem too keen on canceling orders even when they haven’t been delivered.

“They come across as a terrible company right after your money with no customer service.”

“We have proactively extended live vouchers”

Groupon said: “The pandemic – including omicron’s most recent surge – has posed unprecedented challenges for consumers and businesses, and we’ve worked as hard as we can to ensure everyone has the opportunity to use their experience. Groupon or receive a cash refund.

A Virgin Experience Days spokesperson said: “At the height of Covid-19, we proactively extended all live vouchers – approximately 750,000 – until Experiences were open again to ensure customers can book and attend. Since the beginning of this year, more than 25,000 customers have extended their vouchers through their My Account account or through our customer service. Free four-week extensions are available on all experiences for added flexibility.

“We help between 4,000 and 5,000 customers each week: 40% of these contacts are handled via social networks or live chat, and the rest via email contacts. Our customer satisfaction score, measured at each interaction, is over 85%, which we are very proud of.

Wowcher was approached for comment.