A regulator’s efforts to force package holiday firms into timely refunds for breaks disrupted by COVID-19 has resulted in lastminute.com agreeing a payment schedule.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said the company had signed a legal undertaking to hand back more than £7m to more than 9,000 customers amid customer anger over coronavirus refund delays across the industry.

It had received hundreds of complaints about lastminute.com alone.

The company, the watchdog said, had agreed to repay at least half the customers by 16 December and the rest no later than 31 January.

It added that lastminute.com’s commitments meant that anyone entitled to a refund for a holiday cancelled by the firm on or after 3 December 2020 will be paid within 14 days – the legal deadline.

The CMA said it was continuing to investigate the sector having already secured commitments from several operators, including TUI UK and Virgin Holidays.

Firms have cited delays elsewhere in the supply chain for difficulties in repaying customers on time, while airlines have also been at the forefront of criticism from consumer groups over the issue.

But the regulator’s chief executive, Andrea Coscelli, said: “Online travel agents have a legal responsibility to provide prompt refunds to customers whose holidays have been cancelled due to coronavirus – irrespective of whether the agent received refunds from airlines and accommodation providers.

“Our action today means that customers whose holidays were cancelled by lastminute.com will receive their money back without undue delay.”

Lastminute.com was yet to comment.

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