In June I booked a hire car with Europcar for a week’s holiday in France. I paid a higher rate which allowed me to cancel for a cash refund and phoned to confirm that this was what I was entitled to. However, when the government advised against travel to France, Europcar told me that under French law it was allowed to issue a credit note instead of a refund. It claimed that since the car was booked in France my contract was with its French counterpart, despite the fact the payment was taken in sterling and Europcar’s address on my credit card statement given as Watford. I think Europcar is choosing the law that suits it best.
You have good reason to think that. I began by asking Europcar why customers who need to cancel a booking by phone are directed to a number that costs up to 75p a minute from a mobile. Premium rate numbers are banned for after-sales service.
Europcar replied that it does not consider a contract is formed until a customer collects their rental vehicle. That argument does not stop it holding that same customer to its terms and conditions as soon as they make – and pay for – a booking.
As for those terms and conditions – your booking confirmation indisputably states that Europcar provides free cancellation up to 48 hours before pick up. The terms and conditions on its website state the same. Nowhere does it warn that its policy may vary depending on where you hire a vehicle.
“Europcar has investigated this case and found that whilst it operated within the law and its own terms and conditions, it appreciates that the current process for cancelled bookings made for France may not have been made clear at the reservation stage and on the UK website,” it says. “Therefore a refund for the cancelled booking has been processed and the company’s apologies extended to the customer.”
It says it is reviewing the wording on its website. Customers are not bound by terms and conditions which are unclear or a figment of the trader’s imagination. Anyone else affected by Europcar’s concerning approach to small print can make a claim through their credit card issuer or the small claims court.
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