What if you don't get your visa? Wendy Knowler investigates

What if you don't get your visa? Wendy Knowler investigates

On Consumerwatch this week, Wendy Knowler warns about the cost of having a travel visa denied, and cautions companies about going into victim mode when they’ve failed their customers.

Listen to the podcast or read the details under it.
What if you don't get your visa?

Having to apply and pay for a visa to visit so many countries takes a lot of the joy of travelling away for those of us who have South African passports.

Visas are expensive and the process is both time-consuming and expensive. Plus you have to worry about whether or not you’ll get the visa before your departure date.

And after all that, sometimes the visa is not granted, with the immigration officials of the country the person intends to visit suspecting that they are not really going on holiday - they intend to stay in the country.

That’s exactly what happened to a 21-year-old Durban man, currently studying at the University of the Western Cape.

His parents saved up to send him on a special holiday as his 21st birthday present - his first overseas trip, a four-day package holiday including tickets to see his team Manchester United play this Saturday. He was due to leave today.

His mom, Sammy, told me she’d booked and paid for the package on August 21 - flights, hotel accommodation in Manchester, and a museum and stadium tour - around R25,000.

Plus R1853 to the UK embassy for the visa application. His visa appointment was on September 3. 

When Sammy followed up a month later, she was given the devastating news - visa denied. All the family was told was that they don't believe that he intends to come back to South Africa, as he didn't specify his “future plans" on the application form.

As his mom said, he’s a full-time registered student at a university in Cape Town. She provided his current registration documents from the university, stating that he’s registered for this year, but apparently that wasn’t enough.

The family is devastated at the nightmare this dream holiday has become, as you can imagine. And then there’s the issue of a refund.

The tour company initially said the parents would only get around R3,000 back from the airline as a total refund, but has since said they’ll also get half what they paid for the match ticket, and a portion of the accommodation payment. In total, R9,786, which is about 37% of what they paid.

Sammy is not happy, but given that she cancelled less than three weeks before departure, that could be considered a “reasonable” cancellation penalty in terms of the Consumer Protection Act. The main reason I’m mentioning this is to say there are insurance products available to cover you in the event that you can’t travel because you weren’t granted a visa.

Ask your travel agent about it. One such policy reads: 'If your visa is denied resulting in your international journey being cancelled, we will pay for or reimbuse you the non-refundable portions of travel or accommodation for which you are legally liable.' Apparently such claims are on the increase, so it’s definitely something to consider.

This week’s ShopTalk: Don’t compound your delivery failures with a lack of empathy

If you don’t keep your promise to your customers; if you fail to deliver the goods they have paid you for, in full, when you said you would, apologise and refund their money - as soon as possible.

It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s the legal thing to do. The Consumer Protection Act gives your customer the right to a refund if you don’t deliver when you say you’re going to.

Here’s what you must not do - talk like you’re the victim, and fail to show any empathy when responding to them privately or on social media.

On a Consumerwatch show almost six months ago, I reported that the Ombud for Consumer Goods and Services had named and shamed several SA businesses for taking upfront payment for online orders and then failing to deliver - for many months.

Durban-based company Milo Designs, which makes furniture, mostly for bedrooms, was one of those companies. Owner Marco Wood felt that was unfair. “Yes, we have experienced a major backlog, yet we have a store,” he said. “Clients can come to to lay a complaint and to see that we do not scam them.

“We always deliver.  Yes, months later but we have never not delivered.”

There were 12 unhappy customers on the Ombud’s list, and I have two complaints of my own.

Anathi Ngxoxo bought not one but three bedroom suites to the value of R26,000 on lay-by in November 2017, making final payment last August, but eight months on, no suites. Shortly after that CW show of early May, Anathi got her suites.

“You have no idea how grateful I am for what you have done as I was on the verge of giving up as I had tried everything,” she told me in an email.

But others in a similar predicament, which I also forwarded to Wood, haven’t been so lucky.

Such as Thelma Masete, who paid Milo Designs R9,000 for a queen headboard and two pedestals in April 2019; Tshwarelo Kekana, who paid R12,600 in August last year for a bedroom suite; and Solomon Thulare, who paid R16,392 paid for a bedroom suite last November.

And the Ombud’s complaints manager told me they’d received 19 complaints since May.

Marco Wood told me yesterday that he had to close the Durban store, “due to it not making any income due to your broadcast (of May).” 

“I have also suffered under all this,” he said.

"We are working hard and we are making progress. Maybe not all clients on your list have been sorted but 50 others that’s not on there have been sorted.

“In the last month we’ve had over 38 collections,” he said. The company is asking its customers to collect their furniture instead of sending it to them.

Pity about those I’ve been asking him about.

Again, deliver within a reasonable time frame or refund. Whatever it takes. Save the excuses, the blame game and the “woe is mes".
Consumer advice
BEFORE you do business with an online retailer, check if the company is registered with the Consumer Goods and Services Ombudsman – the list can be found on their website.

Also check if there are previous complaints against the company and how they have dealt with them. And look for online reviews from previous customers on their Facebook pages and websites such as HelloPeter.com.

Get in touch with Wendy via her website or her Facebook page. Please note that Wendy is not able to personally respond to every email she receives. If she is able to take up your case, she will contact you directly. Here are other avenues for you to consider.

Listen to past Consumerwatch shows below:

Show's Stories