Thomas Cook customers face refund delays
Customers of defunct tour operator Thomas Cook have reacted angrily after learning they will face delays in getting refunds for Atol-protected package holidays.
The Civil Aviation Authority originally said all valid claims made on the first day of its refund programme would be paid within 60 days, or by this Friday.
But now it says only two-thirds will be paid on time.
It said it had asked the remaining claimants for more information.
Customers have reacted angrily on Twitter, with some arguing they should have been made aware from the start that the process could take longer than 60 days.
Others say they have struggled to reach the CAA by phone to get information.
CAA boss Richard Moriarty acknowledged many would be worried about not getting their money back before Christmas.
"We thank consumers for their ongoing patience as we continue to do all that we can to work through the UK travel industry's largest ever refunds programme," he said.
"I appreciate that this is a concerning time for Thomas Cook customers who are waiting for their refunds, particularly at this time of the year."
When Thomas Cook ceased trading on 23 September, anyone who had paid for a future Thomas Cook package holiday protected under the CAA's Atol scheme was entitled to a full refund.
From 7 October an online refund application system opened, and customers were told the Civil Aviation Authority aimed to pay out within 60 days.
The CAA said it had received 67,000 claims on the first day, and two thirds would be paid by this weekend, bringing the total amount of compensation paid to date to £160m.
'Was this a deliberate delaying tactic?'
Sue Moore applied for a refund for her Thomas Cook holiday on the day the CAA launched its online form.
She told the BBC: "We submitted our claim online and gave the information that they asked for, which was only the information on our Atol form. They did not ask for full booking information or evidence of payment.
"We have waited nearly 60 days only to be told that this additional information was now required, and that we would have to wait a further 60 days before we would receive our refund.
"We are very disappointed and feel that the agency working for the CAA should have thought through what information would be required in the first instance before people submitted their claims. I wonder if this was a deliberate delaying tactic to delay the payment of refunds?"
But it said the refunds operation had been challenging due to the potential for fraudulent claims, and some 85,000 claims it had received so far were invalid or duplicates.
It said it had "paused" the 60-day claims period for certain customers, and urged anyone who had been asked for further information to respond at "the earliest opportunity".
The regulator stressed that all valid Atol-protected payments would be refunded, without giving a specific timeframe. But some who spoke to the BBC said they had been told they would have to wait a further 60 days.
Thomas Cook collapsed in September after last-minute negotiations aimed at saving the 178-year-old holiday firm failed.
It triggered the biggest ever peacetime repatriation, aimed at bringing more than 150,000 British holidaymakers home. It also put 22,000 jobs at risk worldwide, although some of those roles have been saved.
The refunds process has been rocky, with the CAA's online form crashing due to high demand on the day it launched.
The website was also targeted by scammers, while many customers have said the long wait for refunds has stopped them rebooking holidays.
The CAA said it had received 260,000 valid claims to date. But around 40,000 of the cancelled holidays eligible for a refund have still not been claimed for.
Customers have until September next year to submit the online form.
One of the reassuring things about booking a holiday with a tour operator is that the trip is Atol protected - you know you'll get your money back if anything goes wrong with the company.
So the 300,000 customers who had booked package deals with Thomas Cook were at least comforted that they'd get their money back. However, the process has not been an easy one.
It's been a difficult job to weed out any hoaxes, and verify passengers across different Thomas Cook booking systems. But the CAA set themselves a tight deadline, to make sure people weren't out of pocket for long.
But now it's more disappointment for 22,000 of those early bird customers who applied immediately for a refund and still haven't received a penny back. For many it'll mean things are extra-tight this Christmas, or a longer wait before they can afford to book a new holiday.
Those customers are being advised to provide any extra information asked for, and be patient.