A HOLIDAY lettings company responsible for more than 1,000 properties in Cumbria has reversed its Covid-19 refund policy following intervention from the competition watchdog.

Until recently, Sykes Cottages had been refusing to provide full cash refunds to all customers whose break had to be cancelled due to the pandemic.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) received scores of complaints and intervened, forcing the company to change its policy. Had it not, the watchdog could have launched court proceedings.

Until the change in policy, Sykes customers were offered rebooking and in some cases vouchers and/or a partial refund. Some consumers may have obtained refunds through other means, however, such as from their credit card or from property owners.

Sykes has agreed to offer full cash refunds to those affected, convert previously offered credit vouchers (that have not been used) to cash and to provide the CMA with monthly reports on refunds that have been made and accepted.

The commitments apply to 24 businesses and brands owned by Sykes, including the Pure Cottages Group and Carbis Bay Holidays, as well as Sykes Cottages itself.

This is the second investigation into COVID-19 cancellation policies by holiday letting companies, and the CMA has again secured full refunds for customers. Last month, Vacation Rentals – another major holiday lets group – agreed to offer refunds for all trips which could not go ahead due to the pandemic, following CMA action.

The news comes as a part of a wider programme of CMA investigations into businesses which reportedly have failed to respect cancellation rights during the pandemic.

Based on complaints received by its COVID-19 Taskforce, the CMA identified holiday accommodation as one of the key areas for investigation. The Taskforce has so far received over 5,500 reports about holiday rental accommodation providers, with complaints about Sykes making up a significant proportion of those reports.

Since the CMA issued a statement to help consumers understand their rights and to help businesses treat customers fairly, a number of firms have voluntarily changed their behaviour and are now doing the right thing.

However, others are still not providing refunds to consumers and risk further action from the CMA, which recently expanded the scope of its investigation to include package travel.

Andrea Coscelli, CEO of the CMA, said: "Our COVID-19 Taskforce has received thousands of complaints about holiday rental firms, so it’s good to see our action bringing results for consumers. Sykes is the second major holiday lets company to change its COVID cancellations policy by offering full refunds following CMA intervention. We expect all companies to do so.

"As lockdown restrictions lift, consumers are still having to recoup their losses from cancelled holidays, which increases the financial worries which many people face. The CMA has shown it will act to protect consumer rights and enforce consumer law. Businesses must now do the right thing or risk similar enforcement action themselves."