TONY HETHERINGTON: We hit choppy waters trying to get a refund for Waverley paddle steamer trip

Tony Hetherington is Financial Mail on Sunday’s ace investigator, fighting readers corners, revealing the truth that lies behind closed doors and winning victories for those who have been left out-of-pocket. Find out how to contact him below. 

Ms D.C. writes: I appear to have exhausted all avenues to help a friend get a refund for a trip on the Waverley paddle steamer, cancelled for a second time. 

The company argues that it was paid with vouchers so can only refund in vouchers, when in reality my friend paid with his credit card. 

Refund trouble: Ms D.C. writes, ‘I appear to have exhausted all avenues to help a friend get a refund for a trip on the Waverley paddle steamer, cancelled for a second time’

They advised him to buy a book of vouchers and immediately convert the vouchers into tickets as this was better value. 

No vouchers actually changed hands and my friend paid £210 and received boarding passes for a group.



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Tony Hetherington replies: The Waverley is a beautiful old preserved vessel and the last sea-going paddle steamer in the world. 

Run by a preservation charity, she is normally based on the Clyde, but often travels around the coast, offering trips from the Mersey, Bristol Channel and River Thames, among other locations.

Your friend Mr S made a booking in 2017 for himself and a small group of mainly elderly friends. Unfortunately, the Waverley was damaged in an accident and needed repairs, so the sailing was cancelled.

Passengers were offered free membership of a support group, the Friends of Waverley, and since they intended to book again, the group went along with this.

Last year, they tried again. Mr S rang the Waverley booking office and asked for seven tickets on a sailing from Liverpool to Llandudno. 

He was told that as a member of the Friends of Waverley he was entitled to a book of vouchers at a discount and could make a saving by immediately converting the vouchers into tickets. 

He gave his credit card details, paid £210 and while still on the phone he converted his vouchers into sailing tickets.

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Sadly, the trip was cancelled again. But there was no refund. Waverley boss Kathleen O’Neill told me it was common practice not to send the vouchers to members. 

She explained: ‘If at the time of buying vouchers they know what sailing they want to take, they just ask for the voucher exchange to take place in our office and for sailing tickets to be sent.’

So, Mr S never saw the vouchers and did not realise that there were strings attached which meant that if a voyage was cancelled, the only option was to try to book for a trip in the future. 

There would be no cash refunds. A pensioner himself, he felt he had let down the rest of his group and would have to find the cash from his own pocket to repay them. Advancing years and health problems mean that at least a couple of the group are unlikely to be able to travel now.

At first, Waverley resisted. Kathleen O’Neill insisted: ‘If any of our sailings are cancelled, the customer is always refunded in the same manner as they paid.’ As far as she was concerned, you paid with the vouchers you had bought but never seen, so all you would get were fresh vouchers.

But a few weeks ago, she left and a new manager was appointed. Paul Semple went over the discussions I had with his predecessor and took the initiative in contacting me even before he had officially started work.

Whatever the rules about vouchers and sailing tickets might be, he took a common sense view that your friend Mr S had originally paid with real money. 

He told me: ‘I have authorised that he will receive a full refund for the vouchers purchased. I will now write to him, offering my sincere apologies on behalf of all at Waverley for the delay in refunding.’

You have just confirmed to me that Mr S has indeed received his refund. It may not have been plain sailing, but we got there in the end.

If you believe you are the victim of financial wrongdoing, write to Tony Hetherington at Financial Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TS or email [email protected] Because of the high volume of enquiries, personal replies cannot be given. Please send only copies of original documents, which we regret cannot be returned.