Can the small claims procedure be a helping tool to react to some problems arising from the Covid-19?
Yes, of course! Let’s think about the non-refund of money paid for a service that cannot be performed, in particular for a travel that we could not realize considering warnings or restrictions at borders.
On 13 May the Commission adopted a recommendation on this issue. In the Recommendation on vouchers offered to passengers and travellers as an alternative to reimbursement for cancelled package travel and transport services in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic (questo lo potremmo usare come link al documento), the EC has clarified that several EU Regulation (see Regulations (EC) No 261/20046, (EC) No 1371/20077, (EU) No 1177/20108 and (EU) No 181/20119 of the European Parliament and of the Council – “the Union passenger rights Regulations”) provide for passenger rights in the event of cancellations. In the event of a cancellation by the carrier, passengers have the choice, to be offered to them by the carrier, between reimbursement (refund) and re-routing. As re-routing is hardly applicable under the present circumstances, the de facto choice is mainly between the various possibilities for reimbursement.
Therefore, passengers have the right to get a full refund and the right to choose between cash reimbursement and reimbursement in the form of a voucher.
Even if the numerous cancellations entailed by the COVID-19 pandemic can led to liquidity problems for the operators and, if operators become insolvent, there is a risk that many travellers and passengers would not receive any refund at all, this cannot lead to a violation of the right to reimbursement.
The Justice and Transport Commissioners, Didier Reynders and Adina Valean, have sent a formal letter to several Member States asking to review the law adopted and allow travellers to choose between a full refund or a voucher. Italy, for instance, has to provide a satisfactory response before 28 May. The European Commission can decide to start an infringement procedure if interested Member State will no respect EU law establishing the right to receive a reimbursement.
Of course it will be important follow the development of the dialogue between Member States and Commission, but we can assume that the European Small Claims Procedure can be an helpful instrument to ask the reimbursement to the travel company or to the tour operator based in another Member State if they only offers a voucher!