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Coronavirus: Schools face losses for cancelled trips

By Robbie Meredith
BBC News NI Education Correspondent

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Some schools in Northern Ireland face losing thousands of pounds paid for trips cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

One school which cancelled a trip just before the UK lockdown on 23 March had paid around £18,000.

Another has already paid £12,000 for a trip due to take place in June.

The travel firm involved in both cases, NST, advised both schools to check with their insurers.

New-Bridge Integrated College in County Down had paid NST over £18,000 for 46 pupils and staff to travel to London for a music and theatre trip from 14-16 March.

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The cost per pupil was £399 for the trip which included flights, accommodation and theatre tickets.

No compensation

However, due to the worsening coronavirus situation, the school's board of governors made the decision to cancel the trip on 12 March, two days before departure.

The school had hoped that the trip could be rescheduled for November 2020 but the most recent correspondence from NST said that was not possible as they had already been charged by suppliers for arrangements for the March trip.

image copyrightPA Media
image captionTaoiseach Leo Varadkar announced a coronavirus lockdown in the Republic of Ireland a week before the UK

The school's principal Anne Anderson told BBC News NI the decision to cancel had been made in the interests of the health and wellbeing of pupils and staff.

"I totally acknowledge that this late cancellation normally would mean losing money but these are unprecedented times," she said.

"Neither the school or our families, who have saved for this trip, will receive any compensation for their loss.

"I have appealed to NST travel to relax their normal cancellation rules.

"I've also asked MLAs if there could be some form of contingency funding to support schools who have had to cancel their trips.

"We have been in touch with our insurers to see where we go from here as normal cancellation policies need to be revised, but very few insurance policies cover for unexpected events like this."

Schools seeking urgent clarity

In a statement to BBC News NI, NST said that New-Bridge College cancelled their trip "prior to the UK Government putting in place any restrictions on travel or advising against school trips".

"We spoke with the customer regarding cancellation and they were advised that no government advice was in place that restricted travel and that cancellation just two days before travel would incur a 100% cancellation charge.

"Note that we have been charged for their flights, hotel, theatre and other visits arranged."

image copyrightPacemaker
image captionBanbridge Academy is still booked to go on a history trip booked through NST in June

Meanwhile Banbridge Academy, also in County Down, has already paid NST £12,000 for a year 10 history trip due to take place in June.

A final instalment for the trip is still to be paid but the school faces losing around £300 per pupil - which would add up to thousands of pounds.

The school principal Robin McLoughlin said they had also been left with other uncertainties.

"We have already made two payments to NST and were told that we would lose these completely," he said.

"But now we might be able to move some of that money to another trip the school has arranged in October."

"Also, if NST allow our June trip to remain 'live' without the scheduled final payment then in the event of government restrictions not being lifted before then we may be able to claim back against our insurance."

"We are seeking urgent clarity from NST on these matters."

A compensation scheme?

NST said they had offered to move some of the £12,000 Banbridge Academy have already paid to the October trip minus "the cost of flights that have been paid and in accordance with terms and conditions for cancellation".

"The customer should be able to make a successful insurance claim here if they wait for government advice to be issued before cancelling their trip but should check with their insurer in the meantime in case they qualify already."

A number of politicians have raised concerns about schools losing money due to cancelled trips.

Sinn Fein MLA John O'Dowd, Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie, DUP MLA Carla Lockhart and Alliance MLA Stephen Farry have responded to contact from Anne Anderson to say they will investigate whether a compensation scheme for affected schools can be established.

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