STATE-CONTROLLED CalMac have come under fire for forging ahead with a "draconian" plan to withhold refunds for customer cancellations despite telling islanders that they were doing away with the idea..

The ferry operator is set to tell users in the terms and conditions for the first time in changes that are due in place on Monday that they will offer no refund to users who cancel sailings within 24 hours notice.

The proposal formed part of a plan which it had told users had been dumped, after it carried out a 'u-turn' by carrying out an islands impact analysis having been warned of legal challenges if they did not.

The ferry operator had been planning to introduce a cancellation levy of at least 25% in a bid to reduce ‘no shows’ and the number of unused car spaces on each sailing.

The company had planned a sliding scale of charges for cancellations, including 100 per cent of the fare for less than 24 hours notice.

'A mess': Ferry operator CalMac forges ahead with no refunds plan after telling islanders it was scrapped

Islanders were told that the penalties had been dropped after Calmac carried out an Island Communities Impact Assessment (ICIA) - after being told they were acting unlawfully as it was not going to carry one out.

The ICIA analysis said: "The consensus from communities was that they did not want the proposed changes to go ahead."

The plan also involved customers seeing a 75% cut in the total vehicle fare if they give between 24 hours and seven days notice of cancellation. Those who give between eight and 28 days notice would get a 50% cut and the rest would get a 25% cut.

It added: "As it stands, the proposed changes to terms and conditions will not go ahead for now."

But now it has said that from Monday it will "rigorously enforce" the existing terms and conditions "with only a few additional exceptions added".

According to the current terms and conditions cancelled bookings will be subject to a £10 refund administration fees. In the past those fees have been waived in certain circumstances, such as if there has been service disruption.

It also says that changes to bookings affecting vehicle deck space may be subject to an unspecified fee.

But now CalMac has said that it will be updating its terms and conditions to show that customers will not get a refund if they cancel within 24 hours - one of the measures that were in the dumped plan.

The ferry operator says this is less than the 48-hour cut-off point for refunds imposed on members of the travel trade and who currently use CalMac services as part of their travel packages, who have business accounts.

The ferry operator insisted that they had the option to also refuse refunds if cancellations were made by non-trade customers including islanders within 48 hours - but did not always enforce it.

They say the fees charged for cancellations have not been explicit in the terms and conditions provided to customers because there was always leeway for the charges to be either implemented or waived, depending on circumstances and it had not been enforced.

It also admitted that it had made a "mistake" by telling islanders in its ICIA that the current terms for sailing already stated that there would be not refunds if cancellations were made within 24 hours of a departure (see below).

'A mess': Ferry operator CalMac forges ahead with no refunds plan after telling islanders it was scrapped

Joe Reade, chairman of the Mull and Iona Ferry Committee said CalMac's no-refunds move was "contrary" to the outcome of the ICIA which he described as "slapdash".

"It is such a mess," he said.

"They have gone through what they say is an informal impact process, and the outcome of which is supposed to be that they aren't going to change anything. But they are.

"It makes a mockery if they are not even sure what their own T&Cs are.

"They don't seem to know their a*se from their elbow."

"What they have done is come up with something new that was in the original plan."

They say there will be exceptions to the 'no refunds' rule for those mourning the death of an immediate family member, for those suffering a debilitating illness, users who have been involved in a road traffic accident, and where one leg of a journey was cancelled by CalMac.

They also plan to provide an exception where a user has had a cancelled medical appointment.

They are also investigating the practicalities of providing an exception for offshore workers.

The Mull and Iona Ferry Committee, which had been concerned about the charging plan calling it "draconian" are now believed to be raising the issue over what CalMac will and will not be enforcing.

The committee previously warned that the move would be unlawful as CalMac were using a law loophole to avoid doing an Island Communities Impact Assessment (ICIA).

And it said that the ferry operator would face a series of legitimate claims from islanders if penalised as part of the scheme.

'A mess': Ferry operator CalMac forges ahead with no refunds plan after telling islanders it was scrapped

The proposals that are not to go ahead - except the 100% deduction plan

Any policy or service being applied to the islands must have an Island Communities Impact Assessment (ICIA) carried out on it by a "relevant authority" under the terms of the Islands (Scotland) Act (2018).

The Mull and Iona Ferry Committee said that Calmac were trying to "dodge their responsibilities" through a loophole in the law with managers telling them that CalMac owners David MacBrayne Limited (DML) were the 'relevant authority' in the Islands Act but the Scottish Government-controlled ferry operating subsidiary was not.

CalMac in response said that its consultation used measures similar to those in the Islands (Scotland) Act. It later carried out the ICIA.

Diane Burke, CalMac commercial director, said: “After carefully assessing the feedback received from communities during extensive public consultation with our designated community forums, we have decided not to proceed with proposed changes to ticketing terms and conditions. The current terms and conditions currently in force will be applied consistently across the network.

"We fully embraced the spirit and requirements of the Scottish Government’s “Island Community Impact Assessment” (ICIA) framework, one of the first companies to do so. The ICIA is a collaborative process which helped to ensure that our communities were listened to and their needs were truly considered.

“We greatly value the views of the people who rely on the ferry network, and genuinely listened to their concerns. We will use the high quality information we will gain from our new ticket system to continually review our terms and conditions to make best use of our car deck capacity for customers and our community.”