Frankfurt The corona crisis turns the lives of citizens and entrepreneurs upside down. Strolling through the shops, eating out, attending concerts, traveling – all forbidden. Against this background, different types of vouchers are currently being offered to consumers. They are intended to compensate for the costs of travel and events that have already been booked – or to support retailers and restaurants during the time of shop closure. What consumers have to consider.
Cultural and sporting events are canceled nationwide. As a result, customers cannot use their concert tickets, theater tickets or soccer season tickets. In such cases, the federal government decided at the beginning of April that organizers may issue vouchers to customers and that they would be valid until the end of 2021. If consumers don’t redeem them by then, organizers will have to pay the money out. The approval of the Bundestag is still pending. According to the previous rules, organizers had to refund the money two weeks after a cancellation.
The rule should apply to tickets bought before March 8th. It also applies to season tickets, such as museums and gyms. The government’s aim is to protect companies so that they do not run into liquidity shortages through a large number of recoveries.
Consumer advocates, on the other hand, criticize the planned new regulation. Klaus Müller, board member of the Federation of German Consumer Organizations (VZBV), complains that consumers are burdened in an “unreasonable and unfair way”. He also complains that vouchers are not covered in the event of a bankruptcy. Should a provider go bankrupt, consumers will probably be left at the expense.
It is also controversial whether such a new regulation could even apply retrospectively. However, there are also providers who have already paid back ticket prices or at least have announced this. A prominent example: The Bundesliga soccer club Borussia Dortmund recently said that it offers ticket refunds to all fans – and at the same time thanked those who waived their claim.
There is a lot of struggle as to whether tour operators can also issue vouchers to their customers instead of reimbursing the costs, as was previously the case. After all, holiday trips are not possible for the time being, and mostly this involves large sums. The so-called Corona cabinet of the federal government decided that the voucher solution should also apply to package tours and plane tickets. The government is now trying to ensure that a corresponding regulation that runs counter to current EU law is allowed.
Consumer advocates are sharply attacking the advance. “We simply consider this inadmissible,” says VZBV travel law expert Felix Methmann. He insists that funds already paid will be returned to customers within two weeks of the cancellation. “The national legislator must not violate the European package travel directive.”
Methmann demands that the travel industry be helped with a travel security fund that is set up specifically for this purpose. “This has to be dealt with quickly now,” he says.
Roughly speaking, the federal government would set up a fund from which travel companies can withdraw money for repayments to customers. The companies would have to repay these funds to the fund within a few years.
The VZBV legal expert points out that even in this case, vouchers would not be protected against bankruptcy and that customers might not receive any consideration in return. “We fear that issuing vouchers will only postpone the problem for tour operators. After the crisis, when customers redeem the vouchers, the companies don’t get any fresh money either. ”
Some tour operators are already paying back easily. Others embrace customers by granting a credit for their next vacation in addition to the voucher.
If there are difficulties with the repayment, Marija Linnhoff, chairwoman of the association of independent, independent travel agencies, advises not to let go: “In such cases, customers have to write to the tour operator themselves – sometimes several times,” says Linnhoff.
“I can only recommend customers: If you want your money, stay steadfast and if necessary point out that you should hire a lawyer.” Even those who have received a voucher from the organizer without being asked and would prefer the money should, according to Linnhoff, ” send it back immediately and insist on repayment ”.
Voucher from local dealers
Restaurants and shops have been closed for more than four weeks, as have cafes, hairdressers and theaters. Some stores are allowed to reopen this Monday under strict conditions. Hairdressers have to wait until May 4th, and restaurants remain closed indefinitely.
In order to support local companies, various internet portals have been created over the past few weeks, on which consumers can buy vouchers from their favorite shops. The idea: You pay the voucher now, provide the company with liquidity and help so that it can open again according to the Corona restrictions.
One of these platforms is called “PayNowEatLater.de”, a similar offer, “Hilfelokal.de”, was developed by the financial start-up Optiopay and is being used by the retail group metro supported. There are also regionally limited providers such as “HelfenFRM.de” in the Rhine-Main region. The platforms charge a fee for their services. At “HelfenFRM.de” the customer pays an additional four percent of the voucher value for processing. At Optiopay, almost four percent are usually charged to the retailer.
The users usually receive the vouchers by email. Oliver Buttler, expert for consumer law at the Baden-Württemberg Consumer Center, explains the validity period: “A voucher is generally valid for three years. For example, if a season ticket is involved and the price rises within these three years, the consumer may have to pay the surcharge himself. ”
However, some of the platforms differ: With “PayNowEatLater.de”, the vouchers should be valid for at least three years. At Optiopay, on the other hand, retailers can individually decide on the validity, so vouchers that are only valid for one or two years are also common. The provider bases the flexibility on the fact that the offers are subject to price fluctuations.
At the same time, vouchers from local companies also run the risk of customers being left empty-handed. Buttler warns: “The customer bears the risk in the event of insolvency.” The cooperative insurer R + V also discovered the lack of insolvency protection. Last week he launched the “VR-ExtraPlus Hilft” portal – a separate variant of the “Hilfelokal” platform. Vouchers for a maximum of 10,000 euros are secured for each company. However, the sum can be reached quickly. According to R + V, it reserves the right to raise it later.
More: This is how insurance customers can save in the corona crisis.