Coronavirus: Ontario parents await refunds 5 months after school trips cancelled

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Coronavirus: Waiting months for refunds from cancelled Ontario class trips
WATCH ABOVE: COVID-19 wiped out travel plans for tens of thousands of people, including students who were supposed to make trips on March Break. But five months later, many have not seen refunds despite having insurance. Sean O'Shea reports – Aug 25, 2020

Melissa Smith wanted her son to have a memorable March break experience this spring.

A year earlier, the Burlington mother prepaid $3,300 to a school tour operator so the teen could participate in a one-week adventure trip to London and Amsterdam.

Now, more than five months later, she’s still waiting for a refund.

“I want my money ASAP, $3300 is not chump change for me,” said Smith.

“I’m done waiting.”

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Smith is among many Ontario parents who contacted Global News out of frustration.

“They keep stalling, they’re making excuses, they’re saying there are too many claims,” said Peter Tanz of Thornhill, ON.

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Tanz paid $1400 to send his daughter, who attends school in York Region, on a bus trip to New York. That trip, like others, was cancelled in March.

Both parents had insurance through different companies that was sufficient to cover refunds. But, months later, neither parent has seen their money.

“To me it seems excessive and an unreasonable amount of time,” Tanz told Global News in an interview.

Toronto lawyer James Fireman agreed.

“It’s not surprising, but it’s not right,” said Fireman, a partner with Samfiru Tumarkin LLP.

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus: Consumers struggle to get refunds from airlines'
Coronavirus: Consumers struggle to get refunds from airlines

“At this point in time for an insurer to say it’s still going to take more time strikes me as very disingenuous,” Fireman said.

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In Tanz’s case, tour operator Brightspark said the claims process has been much longer than expected.

“We understand the insurance process has been extremely frustrating for parents, students and teachers,” said Justin Stepanowicz, the company’s director of sales and marketing.

“No customers of Brightspark have had their claims rejected and we have no reason to believe there will be any issue with any of the remaining claims,” Stepanowicz said in a written statement to Global News.

The travel insurance provider, Travel Guard, a subsidiary of AIG Insurance Company of Canada, declined to comment for this story.

Click to play video: 'WestJet customer denied refund after flight change'
WestJet customer denied refund after flight change

Smith’s trip was booked through WorldStudies Explorica, which also did not return calls.

WorldStudies Explorica wrote to clients saying it has done everything possible to have claims paid by Old Republic Insurance, the company underwriting the school trip in Burlington.

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“We want to be very clear that Explorica has twice provided all the documentation necessary to process and pay your claim,” wrote David Conklin, the company’s general manager, in a letter to clients.

“We sincerely regret that Old Republic continues to provide you inaccurate information,” Conklin wrote.

Old Republic didn’t return calls from Global News. The elevator to its 11th floor Hamilton offices was locked when a news crew attempted to get answers from the company in person.

Click to play video: 'COVID-19 refund struggles'
COVID-19 refund struggles

“I’m caught in the middle and everyone is pointing figures at everyone else,” Smith said.

But lawyers say even apart from delays related to the pandemic, insurance companies are often slow in paying out claims.

“It’s absolutely part of the tactics to just wait people out and hope people go away,” Fireman said.

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Smith said she’s frustrated, but unmoved.

“I have no intention of going away. I want my money back plain and simple.”

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