Families still waiting on refunds for cancelled March Break trip

Some parents and students at Merivale High School say they've been waiting almost seven months for a refund on a trip to Italy that was cancelled during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Merivale HS students were headed to Italy, but COVID-19 changed things

Jennah Faruqui (left) and her mother, Natasha, are still waiting for a $4,000 refund from insurance company Old Republic after a Merivale High School trip to Italy was cancelled at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Submitted by Natasha Faruqui)

Some parents and students at Merivale High School say they've been waiting almost seven months for a refund on a cancelled March Break trip to Italy. 

The trip was cancelled in late February at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak there, and while Natasha Faruqui is fine with that decision, she and her daughter, Jennah, are still out $4,000. 

Jennah had saved up half the money for the trip by working a part-time job in the summer of 2019. She made a deal with her parents that she would borrow the rest of the money and then pay them back after working this summer. 

Because of COVID-19, her job was cancelled, so now she owes her parents that money while also being out her share.

"A lot of us are in the same boat," she said, referring to friends who'd made similar deals with their parents. "We're not eligible for CERB or anything like that. So it's kind of a low blow." 

The trip was organized by education travel company Explorica. Natasha Faruqui bought the travel protection plan that was offered by insurance company Old Republic. 

After the trip was cancelled, she filed her claim with Old Republic in March, but the company said it needed more documentation. Faruqui said she finally got everything to the company in August — a 20-page package of documents. 

But the insurance company continues to say they don't have enough to assess the claim.

"We have filed a complete information package based on the insurance company's online checklist for claim applicants. And they continue to say that it is missing information," Faruqui said. 

She said she doesn't have the missing information the insurance company needs, but Explorica would. 

A man wearing a protective mask passes by the Coliseum in Rome in March 2020. Some Merivale High School families are still waiting on refunds for a March Break trip to Italy that was cancelled due to COVID-19. (Alberto Pizzoli/AFP via Getty Images)

Official complaint lodged

In a statement, a spokesperson for Explorica said they have met all the requirements under the policy's terms and conditions and submitted the required documents twice to Old Republic in July. 

Explorica told CBC News that a formal complaint has now been filed against Old Republic with the Financial Services Regulation Authority of Ontario, claiming the insurer is "not meeting their responsibilities under Insurance Act regulations."

The travel company said they would also reach out to their customers with advice on how to file formal complaints themselves.

"We will not stop advocating for our clients until they have been refunded," the spokesperson said in an email. 

CBC News reached out to Old Republic for comment but has not heard back. 

Others in same spot

Faruqui said she feels Merivale High School families have been caught in the middle of a dispute between the  companies. 

"The families are at the heart of the conflict. They're caught in this entanglement of the two companies," she said. "And we don't seem to be making any traction."

Merivale students aren't the only ones waiting for refunds from Old Republic for a cancelled Explorica trip. 

Students in Woodstock, Ont., were supposed to go to Europe to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Canada's role in the liberation of the Netherlands. 

Some of those families have received money from Explorica but are waiting for a larger pay out from the insurance company. 

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