Holidaymakers have lost out on hundreds of pounds after currency exchange company Ace-FX cancelled 1,000 orders made around the time of the EU referendum – but only notified those affected days later.
By the time customers received cancellation emails the Brexit vote had caused the pound's value to plummet, forcing them to seek far worse deals elsewhere.
Some of the affected customers bought from Ace-FX using MoneySavingExpert.com's TravelMoneyMax (TMM) currency comparison tool. Although we've not heard of complaints like this before, the nature of these recent problems means we will consider removing the company from TMM.
Ace-FX blamed the cancellations on technical problems with its site last Thursday (23 June), and the temporary crash on Friday of industry-wide live currency feed XE.com, which it uses to determine its rates.
But we've heard from Ace-FX customers who bought their currency from the site last Tuesday – days before either of the technical problems cited by the company – who have still had orders cancelled.
After taking days to notify customers, Ace-FX took a further one to two days to refund their money, meaning some people have been left out of pocket for almost a week.
One MoneySaver told us he was $200 worse off (£150 at the time of writing) after having to reorder with another company. Another said she was left without travel money after Ace-FX cancelled her order shortly before her holiday started.
The spate of cancellations has affected customers who ordered currency for branch collection or home delivery from Ace-FX from early last week through to lunchtime on Monday.
Many people with a foreign holiday planned had hurried to buy travel money before the EU referendum result was announced in the early morning of last Friday (24 June), fearing the value of the pound would fall if the country voted leave.
Others rushed to purchase foreign currency as results began to roll in from around the country and a leave vote started to look more likely.
Days after they'd placed orders, Ace-FX customers began to receive emails stating they had been cancelled.
Bizarrely, Ace-FX promised to "make up any losses" by offering preferential exchange rates for life to affected customers if they use the firm's services in future.
The emails stated: "Due to the EU referendum, the live industry rate feed from www.XE.com had crashed. This meant that, as an example, we were left processing Euro orders with a rate of 1.3 (the rate before the sterling crash). It was unfortunate that this situation occurred, and I reiterate that it was no fault of Ace-FX.
"Ace-FX have received over 5,695 five-star Trustpilot reviews during the last year alone.
"Once again, I apologise for any inconvenience the EU referendum has caused our customers. If you continue to use our services, we will guarantee to make up any loses [sic] on future orders. Please ensure that you let our staff know that you were caught out by the EU referendum result and we will give an enhanced rate, which is guaranteed for life."
Who exactly was affected?
Ace-FX hasn't been clear about when it started cancelling orders due to the EU referendum, but we've heard from customers whose orders were cancelled after placing them last Tuesday and Wednesday – well before Thursday's referendum and Friday's result.
It told us Friday was the first day on which all orders couldn't be fulfilled, adding that its service was back to normal at around noon on Monday.
We asked the company why it had apparently cancelled some orders placed before its or XE.com's technical difficulties on Thursday and Friday, Ace-FX told us that "although the orders were placed on those days they were to be processed" on the Friday.
The firm also explained that cancellation emails took several days to go out because its payment portal, through which the emails are sent, only lets one member of Ace-FX staff access it at any given time.
What are Ace-FX customers saying?
One unhappy customer emailed us: "We purchased £500 of euros on Wednesday 23 June before voting had taken place for Brexit and despite the order being processed and us receiving an email saying our euros were on their way, we got an email today saying that the EU referendum had crashed their internet site and they were unable to process any orders for the past few days.
"It seems it has happened to lots of people and I can't believe there is nothing we can do about it."
Another says: "Poor planning. They've backed out of a verified currency purchase. They were happy to take my money but because things didn't go their way they've refunded me."
Unhappy customers have been leaving negative comments about the firm on review site Trustpilot, but dozens have been removed after Ace-FX began reporting them for 'breaching Trustpilot guidelines'.
Ace-FX told us it was reporting the reviews as "malicious".
What does Ace-FX say?
The company says: "On the night of the referendum, our services were supposed to be suspended, like many other companies decided to do. However, due to a technical fault, our systems continued to accept orders throughout the night.
"As well as this, our live feed (which is supplied by XE.com) went down, meaning our systems were allowing customers to place orders at incorrect and over inflated currency rates."
It adds: "Typically, we have around 100-200 orders a day. This increased to over 1,000 orders [during the referendum]. The vast majority of these orders were from new customers trying to benefit from incorrect exchange rates, and the majority of these orders were placed during the middle of the night."
The firm says it has "the right to cancel any orders without warning as per our terms and conditions. At times, this may upset customers, however, due to the nature of our business we have to cover ourselves and our staff from irreplaceable losses."
In a blog we gave our take on whether you should buy currency before the referendum.
Commenting on the situation involving Ace-FX, MSE founder Martin Lewis says: "It's a real shame to see Ace-FX doing this, although there is a clause in its T&Cs that covers it.
"Those that we've been suggesting [in the blog] are big travel bureaux, such as Sainsbury's and the Post Office, which are more likely to be able to weather the vagaries of the market [following the Brexit vote]. Ace-FX should be doing all that it can to make it up to people for their current holidays."
Why was I able to buy from Ace-FX on MSE's TravelMoneyMax tool?
TMM is a tool that aggregates a large number of exchange rates offered by different companies, to allow you to compare them and find the best deals.
Ace-FX is one of dozens of currency exchange companies whose rates are displayed on TMM. We will assess whether or not to remove Ace-FX from TMM in light of recent events.
Have other travel money firms done this?
We've not yet heard of other companies cancelling orders because of the EU referendum, but if this has happened to you, let us know by emailing us.
Thomas Cook suspended its online currency ordering system on Friday to avoid running out of cash.
Some customers of separate firm Travel FX are reporting delays in their orders being confirmed, though they do appear to be receiving their cash. Travel FX posted on its Facebook page: "The Brit Exit has caused an unprecedented demand and movement in FX [foreign exchange] markets. We are currently dealing with all emails and calls ASAP but would like to stress that the best method of communication is email."
My order's been cancelled. What are my rights?
Ace-FX's terms and conditions state: "Due to exchange-rate fluctuations, Ace-FX have the right to cancel any orders without warning," adding that it can refuse to process an order "at any stage". So it hasn't breached its contract with you just by cancelling your order.
If you're still unhappy or feel you've been treated unfairly, you could complain to Trading Standards. To do this, you should contact Citizens Advice.
The Financial Ombudsman Service has also been approached for comment.