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Coronavirus: Is it possible to get refunds for transport season tickets, gym membership, cultural events?
During the confinement period, many commuters worked from home, while some were temporarily laid off. The lockdown measures also meant gyms were closed and cultural events were cancelled. So where do people stand when it comes to refunds for these services and activities? RTBF reports on the situation.
Thousands of workers and students use annual passes and season tickets on Belgium’s public transport network. From mid-March until at least the month of May, rail commuters remained at home. But there’s little chance of a refund for the periods of non-travel, concludes the public service media.
All major travel companies, SNCB/NMBS, Stib, De Lijn and Tec are applying their usual conditions regarding refunds. These cover the possibility of cancelling or suspending a travel pass for a date in the future, not one in the past.
"Travellers who know that they will not use Stib next month can therefore cancel their annual subscription and resume a new one once they resume public transport of Stib", communicates the Brussels transport operator.
So a commuter who did not use a subscription in April would have had to anticipate the situation and request a reimbursement in March.
At Stib, refunds can only be requested for annual subscriptions at a prorate rate for the months not used. SNCB/NMBS and TEC operate a similar policy. For De Lijn, partial refunds are possible on three and 12-month season tickets, with similar conditions.
One justification by the public transport companies for this policy is that they continued to run services during the confinement period.
There’s also the question of ‘force majeure’ in subscription contracts. Consumer organisation Test Achats/Test Aankoop says: "Unfortunately, there are no specific rules which apply in the event of force majeure of a subscription. Some believe that it is the one who has already performed the service, for example the consumer who has already paid, who bears the risk. Others consider… that the parties must be placed in the context in which they were before the contract and the money returned to the consumer. There is no unanimity."
Consumer organisations are requesting SNCB/NMBS and the transport minister extend subscriptions, so far without success. “We believe that in exceptional circumstances, exceptional measures are required. We ask SNCB to provide either an extension of the subscription or a partial refund for the period during which the subscription could not be used,” says Test Achats/Test Aankoop spokesperson Julie Frère.
Some fitness chains have attempted to respond positively to customer requests, offering either reimbursements, suspension of the subscription, or switching to a more advantageous subscription. Alternatively, some clients have been happy to let their subscriptions to support clubs and their staff during the financially difficulty time.
Theatre and concert tickets
The cultural sector has also been suffering since the lockdown. Each theatre or company has its own policy, depending on its financial situation: "It is on a case-by-case basis. You have to look at what each company offers. Here too, we saw that there was great flexibility, both on the part of the organisers and consumers who are also ready to make a gesture to support a sector which they consider to be in difficulty", explains Julie Frère.