I fully appreciate the concerns and seriousness of the situation for the whole UK travel industry, which I recognise has faced significant challenges during the Covid-19 pandemic. As such, I have taken the liberty of providing a link to the speech that I made on travel in the relevant debate in Parliament recently. Please be assured that I have raised this issue in Parliament on a number of occasions:
I am pleased that all accommodation and hospitality in England has reopened fully and, following our transition to Step 4 of the roadmap, restrictions have been lifted in time for the summer holidays. I imagine that when indoor accommodation and hospitality reopened in Step 3, many livelihoods were restored and since then travel businesses have been focusing on their recovery.
On international travel, I am pleased that, following the publication of the Global Travel Taskforce's report which contained recommendations on how international travel can resume safely, the Government announced that international leisure travel has resumed. To protect public health and our vaccination programme, strict border controls have been put place and as such people returning from 'amber' or 'red' list countries for leisure currently have to self-isolate on their return and follow other requirements in the Government guidance. I am pleased that, since 19 July, the Transport Secretary has confirmed that fully vaccinated passengers no longer have to self-isolate on their return from 'amber' list countries, therefore in essence making it the same requirements for travellers to 'green' list countries.
In addition, since 2 August passengers fully vaccinated with vaccines authorised by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in Europe and the USA will be able to travel to England from amber countries without having to quarantine on arrival. These measures also give the go ahead to the restart of international cruise sailings.
I am delighted that these new changes have immediately boosted the travel industry and given travel businesses certainty to plan ahead for the summer.
I am pleased the Chancellor has extended and expanded business support schemes to help businesses during this difficult time. For example, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has been extended until the end of September 2021 to protect jobs over the coming months as we begin our recovery.
In addition, the Chancellor announced further financial support in the Budget, including reduced VAT rates for hospitality and tourism businesses and a one-off Restart Grant for eligible businesses of up to £18,000.
If applicable, I would also encourage businesses in the travel industry who are facing cashflow or other financial difficulties to explore the Government-backed loans and guarantees that have been made available. While the original Covid-19 Government-backed loan schemes have closed for applications, the Recovery Loan Scheme launched on 6 April and is available to support eligible businesses as they reopen with loans of between £25,000 and £10 million, 80 per cent guaranteed by the Government.
Package travel agencies are required to comply with the Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations 2018, which protect consumers who have bought package holidays. Therefore, if a package holiday is cancelled due to unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances, consumers are entitled to a full refund which should be issued within 14 days.
I understand that the Competition and Markets Authority published further information on the rights and responsibilities of consumers and businesses. In addition, they have established a Covid-19 taskforce for consumers to register any complaints. This is available online at: https://www.coronavirus-business-complaint.service.gov.uk/.
In cases where payments were made using a credit card, redress may also be sought from the credit card company under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974.
I have been reassured by colleagues that the UK Government has been engaging with both the package travel sector and consumer advocacy bodies to assess the impact of cancellations made due to the coronavirus outbreak. I am closely monitoring the situation too and taking on board the views of those living and working here in South West Bedfordshire, including on introducing Government-backed vouchers.
While I do understand the reasons why travel companies are calling for bespoke help, I hope the £25 billion support which has been made available for all travel industry businesses who have struggled has been of some assistance.