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Consumer & Business Advice
CBS updates
23 March 2020

COVID-19 has had a significant impact on both consumers and businesses, resulting in questions around consumers’ rights to refunds.

CBS understands many businesses are struggling to manage cancellations at this time. Mindful of this we are urging consumers to remain patient, and where possible to contact the business by email or website, rather than by phone.

This page provides general guidance but it does not amount to legal advice. Should you have a legal dispute around a consumer contract, it is recommended that you seek independent legal advice where required. 

The situation is changing rapidly and new requirements may come into force and these will be announced publicly. Check back here on a regular basis for new information.

On this page you will find information on:

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Travel cancellations

My flight, cruise or tour has been cancelled. Am I entitled to a refund?

If your travel has been cancelled by COVID-19 restrictions, you should look at the terms and conditions of your contract to see whether it specifically covers an epidemic or pandemic event. If not, you may still have rights to seek a refund or credit note under the law of contract in SA if the contract has been 'frustrated' by COVID-19 restrictions and the business is unable to perform its obligations under the contract.

Where that occurs, you should be entitled to a refund, less any reasonable expenses the business incurred prior to the contract being frustrated. Neither party should be unfairly advantaged or disadvantaged as a result of frustration and CBS encourages parties to resolve disputes amicably and fairly.

If the travel provider is offering a credit voucher, it should have an expiration date which is long enough to allow you to use the credit note or voucher.

If you booked through a travel agent, you should find out what the travel provider (e.g. cruise operator or accommodation provider) is offering in terms of a refund or credit voucher to make sure your travel agent is passing that on in full. Businesses must not mislead consumers about their rights to a refund or the right of the business to retain payments the consumer has made. If you think that you should be entitled to a refund (because the business is not able to provide the agreed goods or services in accordance with the contract) but are only being offered a credit note, you should try to resolve this amicably with the business. If this is not possible you may seek advice from CBS or obtain your own independent legal advice.

If your travel agent or provider is seeking to impose cancellation fees under the terms and conditions of the contract, you should consider whether they apply in circumstances where you are not choosing to cancel your travel, but rather the contract has been frustrated.

If you have purchased travel insurance, you should contact your insurance provider to check if you are covered.

My travel provider/agent is requesting the balance of payment for my travel booking. Do I have to pay?

At this stage, travel bans are in place with no end date specified. In those circumstances, businesses should not be demanding payments for travel bookings that cannot proceed under current travel bans.

If you still wish to keep your travel booking in case restrictions are lifted in the future, you may wish to negotiate to pay the balance closer to the date of travel, depending on whether restrictions are still in place.

It is an offence under the Australian Consumer Law for businesses to accept payment for services if, at the time of accepting payment, they were reckless as to whether they would be able to supply the services.

My flight, cruise or tour service has been cancelled. Am I entitled to compensation for related expenses booked separately, such as accommodation?

You should first approach the provider of the related service to see if they are offering a refund, replacement service or voucher. For further information about refunds, see above -  My flight, cruise or tour has been cancelled. Am I entitled to a refund?

The AFCA Significant Event Hotline (1800 337 444) provides priority service for those financially impacted by COVID-19 and wish to make a complaint about financial products or services

I want to cancel my future travel booking due to health and safety concerns about COVID-19. What are my rights in this situation?

If you no longer wish to travel due to concerns about COVID-19, this may be treated as a ‘change of mind’ depending on whether:

  • The terms of your booking allow you to cancel the booking and receive a refund (for example some types of airline bookings allow a cancellation with refund at any time).
  • The travel is booked for a date in the future and it is too premature to determine whether COVID-19 will prevent you from travelling.

You should consider the terms of your booking or contact the provider to see if you are entitled to a remedy such as full or partial refund, credit note or voucher. We encourage all businesses to work with their customers and treat consumers fairly in these exceptional circumstances.


Example: A consumer has booked flights and accommodation for November 2020 but now wants to cancel due to concerns around COVID-19. At this stage, it is too premature to say the contract is not capable of being performed as the situation may have changed by then allowing the contract to be fulfilled.

Cancelling now is likely to be considered a 'change of mind' so in the absence of any rights to vary or cancel under the contract, it is possible that the trader would be entitled to keep any upfront payment.


However, as stated above under My travel provider/agent is requesting the balance of payment for my travel booking. Do I have to pay?, businesses should not be demanding further payments for travel bookings that cannot proceed under current travel bans and it is an offence under the Australian Consumer Law for businesses to accept payment for services if, at the time of accepting payment, they were reckless as to whether they would be able to supply the services.

Does my travel insurance have to cover me if I cancel?

You need to check your policy to see if epidemics or pandemics are covered. Additionally, some travel insurance policies will allow cancellation for safety reasons if the advice level increases after the policy is purchased.

We advise you to read your travel insurance policy’s Product Disclosure statement and speak directly with your insurance provider to find out more about your coverage.

If you believe your travel insurance covers you for losses related to COVID-19 but your insurer has refused a claim, you can lodge a complaint with the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA).

The AFCA Significant Event Hotline (1800 337 444) provides priority service for those financially impacted by COVID-19 and wish to make a complaint about financial products or services.

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Weddings

I want to cancel or postpone my wedding because of the COVID-19 restrictions. Am I entitled to a full refund?

If your wedding must been cancelled because of COVID-19 restrictions, you should look at the terms and conditions of your contract to see whether it specifically covers an epidemic or pandemic event. If not, you may still have rights to seek a refund or credit note under the law of contract in SA if the contract has been 'frustrated' by COVID-19 restrictions and the business is unable to perform its obligations under the contract.

Where this occurs, you should be entitled to a refund, less any reasonable expenses the business incurred prior to frustration. Neither party should be unfairly advantaged or disadvantaged as a result of frustration and CBS encourages parties to resolve disputes amicably and fairly.

You are advised to try to deal with these issues reasonably and amicably, but legal advice should be obtained if required.

I ordered a wedding dress few months ago and I am worried that it may not arrive in time for my wedding?

If you ordered a wedding dress online a few months ago and you plan to go ahead with the wedding, you should check the restrictions that relate to events due to the impact of COVID 19.

As the supplier has accepted payment for the wedding dress, they must supply it by the date they have indicated, or if no time was specified, within a reasonable timeframe. However, due to the impact of COVID-19 internationally, events may have occurred outside the control of the supplier which will prevent them from supplying the dress.

You should discuss with the supplier whether the timeframe is still realistic and if the supplier confirms it is, you are unlikely to be entitled to a refund in this situation.

If the supplier indicates they cannot supply the dress within the agreed timeframe, you should be entitled to a refund.

Will I receive a refund if the wedding business shuts down as a result of the COVID-19 impact on businesses?  

We suggest trying to contact the business to discuss a possible remedy.

In certain situations you would have to register as a creditor, however where a business has entered insolvency it often the case that creditors will only receive a portion (if any) of the money owed to them. More information is available on the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA).  

The AFCA Significant Event Hotline (1800 337 444) provides priority service for those financially impacted by COVID-19 and wish to make a complaint about financial products or services.

Am I entitled to a refund for travel I have booked for my honeymoon?
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Gyms and food delivery service

I have membership to a gym which has closed down or a food delivery supplier which has stopped its delivery service. Do I have to continue making regular payments?

You do not have to make payments while the gym is closed, or the delivery of food has stopped.

The Australian Consumer Law prohibits businesses from taking payments for goods or services when there are reasonable grounds to believe the goods or services won’t be supplied.

This applies even if your contract does not allow you to suspend payments.

If payments have been deducted, you should contact the business to have the payments refunded.

What if I made an upfront payment that covers the closure period?

If you’ve made an upfront payment that covers the period of the closure, then you should receive a refund or other remedy such as a credit note or voucher for the period of the closure.

However, if the service has been suspended due to government restrictions, this impacts your rights to a refund under the consumer guarantees (see previous information).

You should look at the terms and conditions of your contract and any cancellation policy announced by the business, and get in touch with them directly. You may also have rights under contract law where the contract can no longer be performed.

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Event cancellations and refunds

I bought tickets for an event that has been cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions. Am I entitled to a refund?

If your event is cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions, CBS expects that in many circumstances you will receive a refund in some instances you may be entitled to some other remedy, such as a credit note or voucher.

You should contact the business directly to request a refund or other remedy such as a credit note or voucher. If the event organiser is offering a credit voucher, it should have an expiration date which is long enough to allow you to use the credit note or voucher.

CBS encourages all businesses to work with their customers and treat consumers fairly in these exceptional circumstances.

I bought tickets to an event that has been cancelled. Am I entitled for compensation for travel or accommodation expenses booked separately?

You should first approach your travel or accommodation provider to see if they are prepared to offer a replacement service, refund or voucher.

You should also check whether you are covered under any travel insurance policy.

For further information see Travel cancellations.

I bought tickets to an event which has been rescheduled but no longer want to attend due to concerns about COVID -19. Am I entitled to a refund?

If an event has been rescheduled but you no longer wish to attend due to concerns about COVID-19, depending on the circumstances you may be entitled to a refund or this may be treated as a 'change of mind'. You should contact the event organiser to discuss your remedies such as full or partial refund, credit note or voucher. If you view that you are entitled to a refund but the event organiser is not providing one you may wish to consider seeking legal advice or contacting CBS for advice.

If you have a health condition that means you are at higher risk, you should contact the event organiser to see if they will offer you a refund or a voucher for a later date.

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Sports membership

Many public sporting events cannot go ahead due to COVID-19 restrictions. A consumer’s first step should be to check any membership or ticket terms and conditions for the seller’s refund policy.

With sports memberships, a range of services may be offered as part of that membership. Each club should clarify which services are being cancelled because they can no longer be provided. This may be a ‘frustrated contract’.

A consumer contract may be “frustrated” if:

  • An event outside the control of the parties to the contract has occurred (such as restrictions imposed by COVID-19) and as a result, the contractual obligations are incapable of being performed.
  • The situation under the contract which has resulted from the COVID-19 restrictions is fundamentally different to what was contemplated by the consumer and trader when they entered into the contract.

If the contract has been frustrated, or the trader is unable to fulfil its obligations under the contract due to the COVID-19 restrictions, it is recommended that the parties should reach a resolution which ensures that neither party is unfairly advantaged or disadvantaged as a result.

In some cases, in order to reach a fair outcome as a result of the frustration, the reasonable costs already incurred by the business and costs of already having delivered part of the contract may in whole or in part be deducted from the monies to be refunded – although this will depend on the specific facts of each case. While clubs may deduct reasonable expenses they have already incurred. consumers are entitled to a refund for any services which have not and are not able to be provided.

You are advised to try to deal with these issues reasonably and amicably, but legal advice should be obtained if required.

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More information

Visit the following website for additional information: 

In addition to the disclaimers on the CBS website, users of this information sheet should note that information on this page:

  • Does not amount to legal advice. You should seek your own independent legal advice should you require it in relation to a contract or dispute affected by or arising from COVID-19.
  • The situation arising from COVID-19 is complex and constantly changing which could impact on the accuracy and currency of this information.

If you need further advice, contact Consumer and Business Service

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