50,000 Thomas Cook customers are still waiting for holiday refunds

As at least 50,000 disappointed Thomas Cook customers wait for their money back, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has said it is “making good progress” with the refund operation.

Paul Smith, the consumers and markets director for the CAA, said on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that four out of five customers have been refunded.

When the travel giant went bust on 23 September 2019, 250,000 customers had paid for future holidays. The Independent calculates that this represents around 650,000 individual holidays.

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Customers were promised refunds within 60 days of submitting their applications under the Air Travel Organiser’s Licence (Atol) scheme.

The Atol scheme is a form of compulsory insurance to protect against the risk of the travel firm going out of business between paying for a package holiday and the intended departure date.

Everyone who books a package must pay a £2.50 levy into the Air Travel Trust fund, administered by the CAA.

If the holiday company fails, the CAA is responsible for giving a full refund to every customer with an advance booking. All Thomas Cook holidaymakers who applied on or before 12 October 2019 should by now have had a full refund.

But many frustrated customers have contacted The Independent to say that they heard nothing for weeks, and only in the final few days before the CAA’s own deadline they were asked for more information.

Some say they have been asked twice for the same evidence.

One customer, Chris Charlton, told The Independent: “The biggest frustration is that after patiently waiting 60-plus days now we’re still unable to get hold of the CAA.

“The number provided online simply leads you down a number of call options and eventually hangs up without any chance of waiting to speak to someone

“I’ve been astounded by how poorly people are being treated and never seen such a badly handled event in recent times.”

But Mr Smith of the CAA told the programme: “We are making good progress and we’re sorry for the people we’ve not been able to pay.”

He explained: “We’ve had to put some extra checks in because we were concerned about fraud.

“We had some challenges with the data we’ve received from the company.”

Mr Smith said £160m had been paid out so far and that an additional £20m would be paid out “over the next couple of days”.

“It is one of the largest travel refund operations that has ever been run,” he said.

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