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Car insurance relief might be coming; Why travellers want more from Vrbo: CBC's Marketplace cheat sheet

CBC's Marketplace rounds up the consumer and health news you need this week.

Newsletter: Consumer and health news you need from the week

Traffic on Canadian roadways has decreased because of people staying at home due to COVID-19. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Miss something this week? Don't panic. CBC's Marketplace rounds up the consumer and health news you need.

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Stuck at home because of COVID-19? Your car insurance might get cheaper

Windsor, N.S., resident Rebecca Richardson says she had no problem getting her car insurance premium reduced. (Ned Kelleher)

If you've been driving a lot less since the COVID-19 pandemic began, you're not alone, and if you're looking for some relief from your car insurance payments, you might be in luck. Many of Canada's auto insurers have reduced premiums to compensate drivers who aren't travelling quite as much. On Wednesday, the Insurance Bureau of Canada announced its members were reducing premiums for the next 90 days that "could result in $600 million in savings to consumers."

Canadians to get travel vouchers for cancelled flights while U.S., EU mandate refunds

The Canadian Transportation Agency states that airlines only need to provide travel vouchers, not refunds, for flights cancelled due to the pandemic. (motive56/Shutterstock)

The Canadian Transport Agency (CTA) says it will not mandate cash refunds for consumers who've had flights cancelled due to COVID-19, despite similar mandates in the European Union and United States. 

The agency said in an email to CBC News that its position that airlines are only obligated to offer travel vouchers "strikes a balance" between passengers' rights and airlines, which are suffering financially during the pandemic.

But many consumers aren't satisfied.

In late March, a proposed class-action lawsuit targeting Canada's major airlines was filed in federal court, alleging breach of contract for not offering refunds for cancelled trips. The suit has to be certified by a judge before it can proceed.

Mushrooms, oregano oil and masks targeted in crackdown on misleading COVID-19 ads

Health Canada has sent compliance notices to a number of companies about advertisements the regulator found to be misleading or false for products claiming to prevent or treat COVID-19, such as masks. (Romeo Ranoco/Reuters)

It's worth repeating that there's still no approved treatment for the novel coronavirus, but that hasn't stopped companies from trying to profit off it with bogus products promising special health benefits. Health Canada says it has fielded dozens of complaints over the past few weeks for products that claim to prevent, treat or cure coronavirus infection. Among them: mushroom spray, oil of oregano and an "anti-dust, anti-fog, anti-coronavirus" hat said to isolate infected saliva. 

Last week, Marketplace investigated immunity boosting claims being made on online platforms like YouTube and Eventbrite. 

Ontario's long-term care workers still working at multiple sites as B.C. clamps down

Ontario is still allowing staff to work in multiple long-term care homes despite numerous COVID-19 outbreaks at multiple facilities. The B.C. government quickly stopped allowing the practice after outbreaks in the province’s long-term care facilities. 1:49

After B.C. officials learned COVID-19 likely arrived at Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver through a care worker who had multiple employers, the province issued an order requiring all care staff to work in only one home.

While there have already been multiple outbreaks at long-term care homes in Ontario, the province hasn't implemented a similar order

Lynn Valley has been one of the hardest-hit homes during the pandemic, and after recording the country's first COVID-19 fatality, has since seen at least 16 others die, and almost 80 staff and residents infected.

Ontario's government has recommended health care workers only work at one location. But Andy Savela, the director of health care for Unifor, says that's just not realistic for many without the province promising full-time hours, as B.C. has done.

Watch Marketplace host David Common's full report on The National

Some Canadians are having a hard time getting refunds for short-term vacation rentals

Jenna Wagner, centre, was planning to go Coachella for her stagette in April. She split a four-night vacation rental through Vrbo with six of her friends before the festival was postponed, and she is angry the company isn't giving her a full refund for her stay. (Submitted by Shaye Fleming)

We've been tracking the many ways COVID-19 is affecting you and your money and hear some of you are having a hard time getting refunds for short-term rental bookings affected by the pandemic.

Vrbo and Airbnb are two of the biggest players in the short-term rental industry, but they've adopted different approaches to resolving customer issues. 

Airbnb says all customers who booked before March 14 for travel until May 31 are entitled to a credit or a full refund if they can provide documentation explaining why they can no longer travel.

Meanwhile, Vrbo, which is owned by Expedia, says it will refund all service fees for reservations booked before March 13 for travel until April 30, but that the decision to refund or credit customers for travel is ultimately up to property owners and managers. 

While Vrbo says it's advising partners to offer a full credit or at least a 50 per cent refund on these rentals, and that those who don't co-operate may face penalties, property owners are under no obligation to honour this recommendation.

50% refund offered

Jenna Wagner, a respiratory therapist living in Calgary, was set to head to Coachella with a group of six friends for her stagette in April. 

But after travel restrictions were put in place, and the California-based music festival was rescheduled for later this year, she asked for the money back for her four-night rental in nearby La Quinta, Calif. 

The property owner said she could only get a refund for 50 per cent of the cost of her stay, which falls under Vrbo's recommended guidelines — but that's not enough, says Wagner. 

That's half the money for the four nights she was due to stay at the property, including taxes; and full refunds for her damage deposit, owner fees and property damage protection. 

Thus far, she's been refunded $2,046 of the $3,961 USD fee for her trip, and is still waiting for Vrbo to refund her $320 service fee. 

Won't be satisfied without full refund

She says she won't be satisfied until she's given her money back in full. 

"It's frustrating that a company like Vrbo, in a time like this, can't step it up and rise above, providing maybe a light for people, instead of dread and anxiety," said Wagner. 

As a health care worker, Wagner has been on the front lines of the epidemic, treating patients who have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

"I feel like I can't deal with it right now because of everything else I'm trying to take care of." 

She says many of her friends who were planning to travel to California have now lost their jobs as well. 

"It's even harder for me because I have to tell them that they can't get their money back," said Wagner.

She wonders why Vrbo isn't offering a policy similar to Airbnb's. Had she booked her trip with that site instead, she would have been entitled to a full cash refund. 

Policies may change, says consumer rights advocate

Consumer rights advocate Ellen Roseman says that policies made by companies in the middle of a crisis are often done on the fly.

Consumer affairs advocate Ellen Roseman says companies like Vrbo may be responsive to feedback if there's enough outcry from consumers. (Submitted by Ellen Roseman)

They might reconsider if consumers speak out, she said. 

"That's the thing I want to advise people is: Yes, a policy may be so-and-so today, but don't give up because …  companies may have to change, and they may have to change because of consumer opposition."

Right now, however, Vrbo is not backing down on its policy. 

'A two-sided marketplace'

In a statement to Marketplace, the company said it's looking out for the needs of travellers, homeowners and property managers. 

"Vrbo is a two-sided marketplace, so for every traveller who paid hard-earned money for a trip they cannot take, there is a homeowner or property manager who relies on clear cancellation policies and the associated money within those policies to pay their mortgage and hard-working employees," said a spokesperson for the company.

Vrbo says most of its partners are reaching deals with customers that satisfy both parties. 

"The vast majority of our homeowners and property managers are rising to the occasion to give credits for future travel or refunds, given these extreme circumstances, and many travellers are working with them on agreements that work for both parties."

When asked for comment on Wagner's booking, Vrbo said the property owner acted within the company's emergency policy recommendations. 

But Wagner says after this experience, it's unlikely she'll book with Vrbo ever again.

What else is going on?

Canada's top doctor says non-medical masks can help stop the spread of COVID-19
The new advice represents a reversal for Dr. Theresa Tam, who has been reluctant to recommend the use of masks

Air Canada to rehire 16,500 laid-off workers with help of federal government's wage subsidy
The airline qualifies for the expanded program in which Ottawa will help pay salaries amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

'You're not breaking your children': Experts say more screen time right now is OK
"Kids are going to survive this," says Jennifer Shapka, an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia.

The latest in recalls

This cheese has been recalled due to possible Listeria contamination.

Health Canada is warning Canadians that homemade hand sanitizer might not be safe.

Marketplace needs your help 

Many Canadians are encountering empty shelves while others walk away with quantities that far exceed what would be needed for self-isolation or even quarantine. (CBC News)

Have you been on a constant search for things like hand sanitizer, toilet paper or face masks? Even bread, milk or eggs? And when you find it, are you outraged by the price? Then we want to hear from you.

Send us an email with your shopping experience and pictures at marketplace@cbc.ca.

Thanks in advance for helping us tell this very important story.

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