Coronavirus cancellations: How to get your money back in Sweden

Coronavirus cancellations: How to get your money back in Sweden
When are (and aren't) you entitled to a refund? Photo: Martina Holmberg/TT
For many of us, the coronavirus pandemic has meant cancelled concerts, holidays, and other activities – sometimes at a significant cost. So when exactly can you get your money back?

How do I get my money back?

In general, there are four steps you may need to follow to get a refund in Sweden.

The first is to take it up directly with the company you purchased from.

In many cases, they should reach out to you to give updates on their processes and cancellations, especially during extraordinary events like the coronavirus outbreak. But if you haven't heard from them, or if you're not happy with the solution they offer (like a partial refund or vouchers instead of cash) get in touch with their customer service department.

Then you can reach out to other organisations for support. Many municipalities have a specialist consumer advisor who can give you detailed information about your rights and tips on the right course of action to take – you can find the options in your area here. Alternatively or as well, consumer organisation Hallå Konsument can offer free impartial advice about your rights.

The next step is filing a report with Sweden's National Board for Consumer Disputes (ARN), which will assess the case for free if a business has rejected or failed to respond to a complaint. In normal times, ARN says it takes about six months to conclude each case, but waiting times are longer than usual due to a high volume of coronavirus-related complaints.

The board has already made several decisions in cases that set a precedent for how coronavirus-related disputes will be handled, so here's a run-down of what you need to know. As a general rule, future decisions will likely follow the precedent, but of course it will depend on the specific details of your situation, so it could be worth submitting a complaint even if similar cases have been rejected. To complicate matters further, ARN's decisions are not legally binding, but companies generally respect them.

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The T&C's matter – but they're not decisive

Decisions about refunds are made in the first instance based on what you and the seller agreed, usually regulated by their terms and conditions (avtalsvillkor).

If you didn't read the small print in full when you first paid, your heart might sink when you realise you've already agreed that you wouldn't get money back if the event is cancelled, the organiser might still be obliged to give you that refund. But even if that was part of the terms and conditions, you may still be entitled to your money back. There's a rule that terms and conditions must be reasonable.

“You can't just put whatever you want in the agreement. If the terms and conditions put the entire risk on the consumer if the event has to be cancelled, without balancing that with any advantage for the consumer, the reason of the conditions can be questioned,” ARN's head, Marcus Isgren, told the TT newswire. 

The basic principle is that if you paid for something and didn't receive it, you could well be entitled to a refund. In one recent decision by the ARN, a consumer was given a refund for a concert which was cancelled due to coronavirus, even though the terms and conditions stated that the buyer would not be refunded in the event of cancellation or extraordinary circumstances. These terms were ruled to be unreasonable.

Football has started up again in Sweden, but without the audience. Photo:  Adam Ihse/TT

Worry isn't enough

If it was your decision to opt out of the event, you're less likely to get money back, even if the reason for your choice was concern about the coronavirus.

The main question is whether you paid for a service, product or event which wasn't delivered – so if the event goes ahead but you choose not to go, you may not get your money back. The same would apply to holiday bookings within Sweden, since the guideline against domestic travel was lifted on June 13th.

It's a different situation if you're in one of the groups identified in Sweden as at high risk of coronavirus, including over-70s. People in these groups have been asked to avoid social contacts, so you may be entitled to a refund even if the event went ahead.

So when am I entitled to a coronavirus-related refund?

It depends on a few different factors, including whether the event went ahead or not, or how much money you lost out on. Because the coronavirus outbreak is such an extraordinary event, ARN has taken different decisions in some cases than you might normally expect. 

Several decisions have been taken that set a precedent – this means that if your case relates to similar circumstances, it's very likely you'd get a similar decision.

ARN has decided consumers were entitled to a refund after paying for a concert (as outlined above), as well as for hire of a student float after the Transport Administration banned their use, and a football match which was postponed for one year later. Both the football match and concert were postponed and the consumers offered the chance to attend the new date, but ARN's judgment is that the company cannot just pick a new date, but must offer a refund if the customer doesn't approve of the new date.


Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

All these cases included terms and conditions giving the companies the right to keep the full amount paid in the event of circumstances outside their control, but these were overruled by ARN.

However, in one precedent-setting decision, where a woman asked for a refund of the 595 kronor deposit for the now-cancelled Göteborgsvarvet race, the ARN ruled she wasn't entitled to it. This was due both to the low amount and the fact the race wasn't organised for profit.

This decision contrasts to another decision where a participant in a cycle race was given the full refund of their deposit even though the terms and conditions said organisers only had to refund 50 percent in the event of unforeseen circumstances.

What about travel?

Again, if your trip has been cancelled, exactly what you can claim will depend on the exact circumstances, but here are a few points to be aware of.

If the airline or tour operator cancelled the trip themselves, you are always entitled to a full refund – and always in cash, not vouchers, following ARN decisions. And if it's a question of a cancelled flight, it's the airline that's responsible for the refund even if the trip was booked through a travel agency.

Officially, travellers have a right to refund within seven days of a cancelled flight, and 14 days for a cancelled holiday but due to the increased pressure the coronavirus outbreak has placed on many travel operators, there are delays for many. 

If the flight went ahead, things are more complicated. For flights, it will usually be the terms and conditions which determine whether you can still get a refund if you chose not to travel – for example, if you booked a ticket with cancellation cover. For package holidays, there's slightly more protection under consumer law; if the consumer can prove that they cancelled due to the risk to their health, they can be entitled to compensation.


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