Schools angered by holiday firm’s failure to refund cancelled trips

An adventure holiday firm is facing a furious backlash and the threat of a boycott for failing to refund thousands of cancelled school trips.

Teachers, parents and those representing education providers have lined up in recent days to condemn PGL, which has provided a host of school trips both in the UK and abroad since 1957.

But with overnight stays and all foreign travel banned in the UK, and many schools still closed to large numbers of pupils, all trips are off.

PGL, which is private-equity owned and last week announced pre-tax profits of £35m made before the pandemic hit, has been telling schools they must cancel booked trips, and claim the deposits paid from insurance.

The company has argued that the law requiring tour operators to refund consumers for cancelled holidays does not apply to school trips.

Maria Kemble, who is the executive head of two Suffolk primary schools, is among a growing number of headteachers warning they will boycott the company unless it resolves this.

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“We were due to take a group of 56 year 6 pupils to Normandy in the last week of June, as in previous years. It’s the end of their time with us and a celebration of them moving on to secondary school. The total cost would have been around £25,000 but all we have had from PGL is a letter telling us that we must cancel. And since then a wall of silence.

“The company seems to expect to keep the £10,000 deposit that we have so far paid, and is hoping that the insurance we bought from PGL will pay up. The insurer has told us that this is not the case. Our parents have been very understanding but unless this is resolved, PGL will not be getting any more business from us. A lot of other schools are in the same position,” she said.

Neil Roskilly, who runs the Independent Schools Association, agreed PGL’s reputation was at significant risk: “Rather than cancelling the trips it knows it can’t legally operate, the company appears to be playing a game of brinkmanship and hoping the school cancels first, and therefore it won’t have to refund. To me it smacks of sharp practice. Schools have long memories and PGL may find they no longer have a business if they do not do an about turn.”

Parents have increasingly vented their anger at the company on social media, with some calling on the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, to intervene. Some local authorities are reported to be considering legal action.

The Competition and Markets Authority is investigating a number of tour companies’ refusals to refund customers despite the law being firmly behind consumers.  

PGL told the Guardian it was treating schools fairly and that it had adjusted its standard terms and conditions to their advantage.

“The vast majority of schools are paying cancellation charges of 30-35% of the trip cost, rather than any higher costs that might typically apply by cancelling late on. We are proactively supporting nearly 1,000 schools whose trips have been impacted to make insurance claims, many of which have already been paid out, and the vast majority of which believe this approach has been fair and reasonable,” it said.

In 2018, Midlothian Capital Partners and a consortium of investors paid £467m for PGL. On 1 June it reported a turnover of £132.8m for the 18-months to the end of August 2019. It also made a pre-tax profit of £35.1m in that time.

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