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Published on Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Scottish agents urge Government to relax furlough scheme

The Scottish Passenger Agents' Association is pleading with the Government for a flexible furlough arrangement to be introduced to allow travel agency staff to carry out 'limited work'.

ABTA has also asked ministers to relax the rules around the Job Retention Scheme to allow furloughed staff to continue to handle customer enquiries.

More than 85% of travel agents surveyed by the SPAA report that they want to be able to use furloughed staff for limited work during the period of furlough. 

Some 70% of all agents surveyed have furloughed some or all staff to protect at least 80% of their income during the UK lockdown.

However, despite having virtually zero revenue from bookings, travel agents are encountering an unparalleled crisis due to the volume of time spent on re-bookings and processing refunds which they are facing due to the travel ban, said the SPAA.

SPAA president Joanne Dooey said: "Travel agents are the first link in the chain for a client booking a holiday, but the last link in the chain when it comes to airline and travel company refunds. This means that client monies are held up in a refund pipeline and some companies in this pipeline are either refusing to refund or offering only credit notes. Travel agents are faced with having a significant amount of work to do from which they derive absolutely no income, whilst still being responsible for all other outgoings. The travel industry needs urgent tailored support as our business model differs considerably from that of a retail operation. Travel agents receive their revenue for a holiday just prior to the client's departure and not at the time of sale."

"We're urging the government to allow some form of flexible return to work for furloughed employees, for example staff being permitted to work for 20% of their contracted hours to help. Those currently still working in agencies, many of whom are business owners, are struggling to manage their clients' expectations."

The SPAA has also added its voice to ABTA's in calling for the furlough scheme to extend beyond June.

"Travel agents pride themselves on customer service and our members are certainly not going to let their customers down now, but they need a degree of limited access to the furloughed workforce to help their customers at this highly stressful time for all," added Dooey. 

"Many airlines and travel companies have themselves furloughed their own staff as they are making no sales, and this is obviously adding to timescales as there is no one there to take calls. We've had several reports of agents being abused and threatened for not giving refunds."

None of the agents surveyed has successfully claimed on business interruption insurance to date, said the SPAA. Of the 35% who had made a claim, 85% had been unsuccessful and 15% are still waiting for a decision.

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