The Civil Aviation Authority (“CAA”) understands that the Covid-19 pandemic is an unprecedented situation which is proving to be financially challenging for both tour operators and consumers. The CAA acknowledges the difficulties that some travel companies are facing in processing the extraordinary number of refunds.
The Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations 2018 remain in force and require package Organisers to provide consumers with a full refund within 14 days of a Package being cancelled. This obligation remains in place and has not been amended.
We understand that some ATOL holders have been issuing consumers with vouchers and credit notes (or similar documents) in lieu of cash refunds in respect of their cancelled ATOL protected booking. For the purposes of this note we refer to these vouchers and other supporting documents as a “Refund Credit Note” (RCN)1.
To ensure consumers that hold ATOL protected bookings retain financial protection in these circumstances, the Trustees of the Air Travel Trust (“ATT”) have published an addition to the ATT Payment Policy. The addition to the ATT Payment Policy outlines how the Trustees of the ATT will protect consumers holding an RCN issued for ATOL protected bookings which have been cancelled solely because of the Covid-19 pandemic, should the tour operator that issued the RCN fail. The Payment Policy also sets out what protection will apply if the RCN is subsequently redeemed against a new booking.
The exact terms of the ATOL protection which applies are set out in the amended ATT Payment Policy. The Trustees of the ATT have published both their existing ATT Payment Policy and the addition on the CAA's website: https://www.caa.co.uk/ATOL-protection/Air-travel-trust/About-the-Air-Travel-Trust/. Nothing in this note serves to alter or amend the terms of the ATT Payment Policy or the amendment.
Although the CAA is confirming the parameters of ATOL protection for RCNs cancelled solely because of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is essential that the consumer remains fully aware they are entitled to a cash refund if they do not wish to accept an RCN. It is acceptable for a consumer to accept an RCN or an amendment to a booking as an alternative to a refund, but only if, at the same time, the consumer was offered the opportunity of a full cash refund.
1 The ATT Payment Policy adopts a different naming convention of the issued vouchers. See https://www.caa.co.uk/ATOL-protection/Air-travel-trust/About-the-Air-Travel-Trust/
The contents of this document only apply to RCNs that are issued in respect of ATOL protected bookings cancelled between 10 March 2020 and 31 December 2020 inclusive due solely to the Covid-19 pandemic. It does not apply to any other vouchers or credit notes including those issued in relation to non-ATOL protected bookings. If the dates above change the CAA will publish a statement to this effect.
All RCNs will need to be redeemed with the issuing ATOL holder for either cash or against a new booking by 30 September 2021. In the event of an ATOL holder failure, the ATT, subject to the terms of the Payment Policy, will only consider claims for payment of the unredeemed RCNs if the failure occurs on or before 30 September 2021. After this date, the RCNs will cease to be ATOL protected.2
This document sets out the principles upon which an RCN can be issued in respect of an ATOL protected booking, the content of the RCN, and how ATOL holders are required to report to the CAA on the RCNs they have issued.
This document will be supplemented by an FAQ document and a Covid-19 RCN Return, which will be regularly updated. Both documents will be located on the ATOL pages of the CAA website.
10 March 2020 - 31 December 2020 inclusive RCNs issued during this period solely due to the Covid-19 pandemic will have ATOL protection.30 September 2021 subject to the terms of the Payment Policy, the ATT will consider claims in respect of unredeemed RCNs in relation to an ATOL holder failure on or before 30 September 2021 only. After this date, unredeemed RCNs will cease to be ATOL protected.
Disclaimer: These dates do not provide any advice about future travel. ATOL holders should refer to the latest advice from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.
2 If a new ATOL protected booking is made with the redeemed RCN, then that booking will benefit from ATOL protection in the normal manner, in accordance with the terms of the ATOL scheme and the ATT Payment Policy.
The ATOL financial protection scheme does not protect holidays booked using vouchers or other discount vouchers (including compensation vouchers), points, or holiday savings schemes, where there is no monetary loss to the consumer. This position remains unchanged.
However, where an ATOL protected booking has been cancelled solely due to the Covid-19 pandemic, consumers will now have three options regarding their bookings:
a.Receive a full refund;
b.Amend the original booking to a different date in the future; or
c.For ATOL protected bookings cancelled on or after 10 March 2020 up to and including 31 December 2020, receive an RCN that will be ATOL protected asset out by the terms of the ATT Payment Policy until it is redeemed for cash or for a new booking.3
Consumers must always be offered a cash refund, with an RCN as an alternative. It is not acceptable for consumers to be told that they can only accept an RCN.
3 All RCNs will need to be redeemed by their expiry date or by 30 September 2021 (inclusive) at the latest.
Where a consumer with a cancelled ATOL protected booking4 agrees to accept an RCN, the RCN will be financially protected under the ATOL scheme, subject to the terms of the ATT Payment Policy.
If an ATOL holder fails whilst a consumer is holding an unredeemed RCN: Where a consumer has been supplied with an RCN5 in exchange for the non-performance of some or all of an ATOL protected booking that has been cancelled solely because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the ATT will consider6 the payment of consumer claims where an ATOL holder has failed on or before 30 September 2021 up to the maximum ATOL protected value of the unredeemed RCN.7
If an ATOL holder fails after a consumer has redeemed an RCN against a new holiday: Where the RCN has been redeemed with the issuing ATOL holder against a new ATOL booking, that new booking will benefit from ATOL protection in the normal manner, in accordance with the terms of the ATOL scheme and the ATT Payment Policy. The consumer's monetary loss that will be considered by the ATT will include the maximum value of the RCN which was used as payment or part payment for that new ATOL protected booking.
IMPORTANT: Where the RCN has been redeemed against a non-ATOL protected booking the consumer will have no protection under the ATOL scheme.
ATOL protection will not apply to any incentive voucher offered alongside an RCN or to any incentive element included within the face value of the RCN.
Where a consumer has multiple bookings with an ATOL holder, individual RCNs should be issued for each cancelled booking.
4 Only licensable bookings, i.e. those bookings for which a seller is required to hold an ATOL can be protected by the ATOL scheme. In a small number of cases sellers mistakenly issue ATOL Certificates for bookings that are not ATOL protected as they are not licensable and so cannot fall under the protection of the ATOL scheme.
5 Issued on or after 10 March 2020 up to and including 31 December 2020.
6 Subject to the terms of the ATT Payment Policy.
7 The ATT Payment Policy sets out the full definition regarding the maximum value of the unredeemed RCN.
It should be clear on the face of the RCN and any supporting documents why the RCN has been issued i.e. solely because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The ATT will only consider RCNs that have been issued as a direct result of the pandemic.
Where a consumer agrees to receive an RCN in place of a refund, the maximum ATOL protected value of the RCN (at the date of RCN issue) is the lower of either:
a.the amount charged for the ATOL protected booking shown on the ATOLCertificate or ATOL holder's Confirmation Invoice; or
b.the amount paid by the consumer (whether direct or via the ATOL holder's agent) less any amount paid for insurance and any administration / cancellation charges.
If an ATOL holder wishes to offer a consumer an additional incentive, the additional amount (i.e. the amount over and above the balance paid toward the licensable transaction) should be documented separately and will not be ATOL protected. This could be in the form of a normal goodwill voucher or other similar document.
The ATOL holder should make it clear to consumers at the time a goodwill voucher is issued, that the incentive is not financially protected and that if they were to use this goodwill voucher against the value of a new ATOL protected holiday, then this amount will not be considered by the ATT Trustees in any future ATOL claim.
If any incentive is included in the RCN value this would be also deducted in calculating the maximum ATOL protected value of the RCN.
If a consumer purchased items which were not sold as part of the ATOL protected package, but were sold separately, for example attraction tickets, airport car parking etc. the RCN must not include these items. Where a separate voucher is issued in respect of these items it must explicitly state that these items were not ATOL protected (and therefore neither is the voucher).
The following section sets out the minimum information which should be included on the RCN:
1.The booking reference and lead passenger name for the original licensable booking that the RCN relates to. Where possible, it should also contain the names of the other passengers on the booking;
2.The cash value should be clearly stated. The RCN must be for the total amount the consumer had paid to the ATOL holder (or the ATOL holder's appointed agent) in respect of the ATOL licensable booking only, as at the date the RCN was issued less any amount paid for insurance premiums, cancellation fees and administration fees. Where the consumer purchased a package, this should cover all travel services included in the package. The total value maybe less than the total amount paid for the licensable booking where a partial cash refund has been given;
3.A statement to the effect that the RCN can be exchanged with the ATOL holderfor cash by a specified date in the future if the RCN has not been redeemedagainst a new booking (for the same amount as in (2) above);
4.The name of the ATOL holder issuing the RCN;
5.Date of issue;
6.Date of expiry (as in (3) above) which must be no later than 30 September 2021;
7.Include the following statements:
•“This Refund Credit Note, or an ATOL protected holiday purchased withit, is protected under ATOL subject to the terms of the ATT PaymentPolicy (hyperlink if possible). If it is redeemed against a non-ATOLprotected product that new product will not be ATOL protected.”
•“This Refund Credit Note is non-transferable and should not be resold”.
Please email an example of RCNs being issued to ATOLTradeCovid19@caa.co.uk. We do not need to have copies of each RCN you have issued.
If any of the information listed above has not been included on RCNs that have already been issued, it is acceptable for the missing information to be included in a supporting document which is sent to affected customers following the publication of this statement. That document should also state that it needs to be retained along with the RCN, the original ATOL protected holiday booking documents, invoices and any other relevant documentation. You are not required to reissue replacement RCNs.
When the RCN is redeemed against a new ATOL protected booking, APC will be payable on the new booking. The booking will be ATOL protected in accordance with the terms of the ATT Payment Policy. An ATOL Certificate and booking Confirmation Invoice will also need to be issued for the new booking (as usual).
In the unlikely event an RCN is redeemed against a lower-valued holiday (whether licensable or not) then the consumer should be immediately refunded the remaining balance of the RCN.
An RCN should not be redeemed against two (or more) separate bookings. Whilst recognising this may be desirable in a limited number of cases, the RCN should be redeemed against one new booking only, the consumer refunded the difference, and then payment taken as normal for any other new bookings.
If a consumer combines an RCN and another type of voucher (e.g. a compensation or a goodwill voucher) to purchase a new ATOL protected holiday, then it is the responsibility of the ATOL holder or its agent to explain that part of their payment for the new booking is not ATOL protected.
If a consumer agrees to accept an RCN, then the ATOL holder must ensure its systems and records can link the RCN back to the original booking that has been cancelled. Where an RCN is redeemed against a new booking or refunded to the consumer the ATOL holder must also ensure its systems and records can provide the details of this transaction.
Consumers should not transfer RCNs to other people's names.
ATOL holders should advise consumers to retain all documents relating to their original booking, their RCN and, if relevant, the details of their new booking. If the consumer does rebook a new holiday, all the information should still be kept.
ATOL holders are responsible for all bookings made by Agents on their behalf, including the production and provision to consumers of any RCNs where the consumer has agreed to accept an RCN instead of an immediate refund. ATOL holders may provide RCNs to their agents for their agent to pass to the consumer but the RCN should be completed with the required information by the ATOL holder.
In the same way that Agents are required to immediately pass on any Confirmation Invoice from the principal ATOL holder, RCNs should also be immediately passed to consumers.
Agents should address any questions they have about RCNs to the principal ATOL holder.
ATOL holders will be required to submit a Covid-19 RCN Return stating how many RCNs have been issued and the total value of those RCNs. The Covid-19 RCN Return is required to be provided in accordance with ATOL Standard Term 4.1 'Material Information Provision Obligation'.8
The purpose of the Covid-19 RCN Return is to allow both the CAA and ATT to understand each ATOL holder's liabilities to consumers as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The first Covid-19 RCN return must cover the period between 10 March 2020 and 30 June 2020 inclusive.
Thereafter, the reporting frequency of the Covid-19 RCN Return is the same as the APC reporting frequency, which is determined by licence type, (the 'Reporting Period'). The Covid-19 RCN Return is required in addition to an ATOL holder's normal APC Return, which should continue to be submitted online within 14 days of the relevant Reporting Period.
A separate guide and RCN Return document will be published on the CAA website.
8 As set out in Official Record Series 3 which can be found here https://www.caa.co.uk/ATOL-protection/Trade/Compliance-and-regulation/Official-Record-Series-3/
Q. Are the RCNs I have already issued still valid?
A. RCNs issued between 10 March 2020 and 31 December 2020 inclusive, due solely to the Covid-19 pandemic, are valid.
Q. Do I need to reissue my RCNs if they do not contain all the information set out in this document?
A. No, you do not need to reissue the RCNs. However, any missing information should be provided to the consumer in a supporting document. It is important that the consumer knows to keep all documents together until after their trip.
Q. Does the RCN have to be signed off by a Director or other authorised individual of an ATOL holder?
A. It is not a requirement that RCNs are signed off by Directors or other authorised individuals. It is acceptable for the RCN to be issued via the same process used for issuing refunds.
Q. Should the RCN display our ATOL logo?
A. It is not mandatory for your ATOL logo to be displayed on the RCN. However, you may do so if you wish.
Q. Does the RCN need to be on ATOL holder headed paper?
A. Paper copies of RCNs do not need to be on the ATOL holder's headed paper. However, the document should clearly state the name of the relevant ATOL holder as well as all the other content set out within the “ATOL Protected Covid-19 Refund Credit Notes” guidance document.
Q. Should I issue an RCN for a sale I have made on an ATOL to ATOL basis?
A. No, ATOL to ATOL sales are not made to the public, so are not AQTOL protected.
Q. Should the entire amount the consumer paid for their ATOL protected booking be refunded, including the APC, if the booking is cancelled?
A. Yes, consumers should be refunded the full amount paid for the ATOL protected booking (inclusive of APC if this has been separately itemised).
Q. Can I still issue RCNs after my ATOL expires?
A. Only RCNs issued (in respect of cancelled ATOL bookings) between 10 March 2020 and 31 December 2020 inclusive are recognised by the Air Travel Trust, so after 31 December 2020, firms must not issue RCN's with the offer of ATOL Protection. If your licence is not renewed upon expiry, you are required to refund consumers for any forward licensable bookings or transfer their booking to another ATOL holder.
Q. I have provided an incentive voucher along with the RCN, is the incentive ATOL
A. No, any incentive value offered alongside an RCN is not ATOL protected.
Q. If an RCN is not redeemed by 30 September 2021 (for either a new holiday or cash) is it still ATOL protected?
A. Subject to the terms of the Payment Policy, the ATT will consider claims in respect of issued and unredeemed RCNs in relation to an ATOL holder failure on or before 30 September 2021 only. After this date, RCNs will cease to be ATOL protected.
Q. Do I still need to pay APC for redeemed RCN bookings?
A. APC is payable for every licensable sale (booking) irrespective of subsequent action such as a refund, cancellation or issuance of an RCN. Consumers have accepted an RCN as an alternative to a cash refund in respect of the cancelled booking, and APC will be payable for any new bookings undertaken.
Q. If I issue an ATOL Certificate against a new booking which has been paid for by redemption of an RCN, and the ATOL Certificate has the same booking reference as the original booking, do I still need to pay APC?
A. If the original licensable booking has been cancelled and a new licensable booking made, then APC will be payable on the new booking. If a licensable booking is amended, then no additional APC is payable.
Q. When redeeming an RCN, if the new booking and flight information is currently unavailable, can I still issue a new ATOL certificate?
A. Yes. The ATOL holder is legally obliged to issue the ATOL Certificate as soon as it accepts the consumer's initial or full payment for their booking. Where any booking information has been amended more than 72 hours before departure then an updated ATOL Certificate would need to be issued containing the up to date information to the consumer. If a booking amendment has been made and the flight details are not known at the time of a booking amendment then, the ATOL holder should inform the consumer that the flight details are not yet available. The ATOL Certificate should state that the flights details are to be confirmed, then when the details are available the ATOL holder must issue the consumer with a replacement ATOL Certificate including those details.
Q. If an RCN is redeemed against a non-ATOL protected booking does the new booking receive ATOL protection?
A No, where the RCN has been redeemed against a non-ATOL protected booking sold by the ATOL holder the consumer will have no protection under the ATOL scheme.
Q. In the event that my ATOL expires, what action should I take in respect of unredeemed RCN's previously issued in respect of cancelled ATOL bookings?
A. If your licence is not renewed upon expiry, you cannot accept a previously issued RCN against a new booking that you would be required to cover under your own ATOL. You should make arrangements to refund consumers and we would remind you that an RCN is immediately exchangeable for cash, at any point before its expiry date.
Q. If an incentive voucher is redeemed against a new ATOL protected booking, is the incentive ATOL protected?
A No, if the incentive value is redeemed against the value of a new ATOL protected holiday the incentive value will not be ATOL protected.
Q. How should cancelled bookings be reflected in the APC Return?
A. All licensable sales (bookings) made should be reported in Part A of the APC Return, irrespective of subsequent action such as refund, cancellation or issuance of an RCN. Once a licensable booking is cancelled, then these bookings should not be shown in Part B or Part C of the APC Return.
Q. Should I report in Part B planned departures for that period that were cancelled?
A. No, if a licensable booking is cancelled, then it should not be shown in Part B.
Q. If a booking has been cancelled but we have not yet issued a refund or RCN because of a delay in processing, do I still need to report the cancellation?
A. If a licensable booking is cancelled, irrespective of whether an RCN or refund has been issued, then this booking should no longer be including in Part B or Part C of the APC Return. The cancelled booking should be reported in Section A of the RCN Return, as though you had issued the RCN or refund.
Q. If a booking has been cancelled and I am waiting for a response from the consumer in regard to either deferring the trip or receiving a refund or an RCN, should I report the cancellation?
A. No, you should not report this as a cancelled booking until the consumer has agreed how it is to be dealt with.
Q. If there is an amendment to a booking by the ATOL holder or consumer (e.g. date of travel) is additional APC due?
A. No, if a licensable booking is amended, then no additional APC is due (unless additional passengers are added). Part B and/or Part C of the APC Return should be completed on the basis of the new date of travel as applicable.
Q. Will the CAA grant an extension to submitting the APC Returns?.
A. No, the statutory APC reporting times remain unchanged. If an ATOL holder is having difficulties in meeting these timescales, then they should contact their licensing Case Officer and/or the APC team.
Q. Will there be a deferral of APC payments taken by Direct Debit for those who pay by this method?
A. No, the statutory APC payment times remain unchanged. If an ATOL holder is having financial difficulties, then they should contact their licensing Case Officer immediately.
Q. How do I record on my APC Return where a non-ATOL protected RCN is redeemed against a new ATOL booking?
A. Any new licensable booking should be reported in Part A and Part B and/or Part C of the APC Return as normal. For the normal APC Return, 'how' and 'why' a new booking is taken are not relevant.
Please read all of these notes thoroughly before completing your return.
The purpose of this additional RCN Return is to allow both the CAA and ATT to understand how your liabilities to consumers has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The data asked for on the RCN Return is necessary to determine how the use of Refund Credit Notes has altered your exposure and will continue to do so until all affected bookings are completed.
You MUST complete the RCN Return for each ATOL holder, in accordance with the Standard Terms of your ATOL Licence.
Please note the RCN Return is still required even if you have not issued any RCN's. The RCN Return captures information about both cash refunds and RCN's, even if you have not issued any refunds or RCN's we still require you to submit a RCN Return as confirmation of this.
The RCN Return is required in addition to your normal APC Return, which you should continue to submit online within 14 days of the relevant Reporting Period.
The RCN Return is to be used to report to the CAA details of Refund Credit Notes you have either issued to, or subsequently refunded or redeemed from consumers as a direct result of COVID-19.
Do not report any other form of discount voucher, loyalty/incentive voucher or compensation voucher, that is not as a result of COVID-19.
With the exception of (18) and (19) below, the RCN Return relates to COVID-19 Refund Credit Notes in respect of licensable sales only.
For ease of reading, "ATOL COVID-19 Refund Credit Note" will be referred to throughout as "RCN".
In (18) and (19) you must report the value of credit notes originally issued against non-licensable bookings, that have now been redeemed against new licensable bookings.
For the initial return, covering the period between 10 March 2020 and 30 June 2020 inclusive, please use the form below that relates to the frequency you submit your APC returns:
ATOL Covid-19 RCN Initial return for Monthly APC submitters
ATOL Covid-19 RCN Initial return for Quarterly APC submitters
For all subsequent returns, again please use the form below that relates to the frequency you submit your APC returns:
ATOL Covid-19 RCN return for Monthly APC submitters
ATOL Covid-19 RCN return for Quarterly APC submitters
All ATOL COVID-19 RCN returns should be sent to ATOLTradeCovid19@caa.co.uk
The RCN return is still required even if you have not issued any RCN's. The RCN return captures information about both cash refunds and RCN's, even if you have not issued any refunds or RCN's we still require you to submit a RCN return as confirmation of this.
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