The false claims compensation crisis appears to have reached its head with both the British and Spanish travel industries having agreed on a plan to tackle the mounting problem.
Yesterday, Abta, the Association of British Travel Agents, launched a “Stop Sickness Scams” campaign with the support of its members and travel industry partners. The campaign calls on the UK government to crack down on fake holiday sickness claims. It also warns holidaymakers of the consequences of making false or exaggerated claims. Campaign supporters include destination representatives and Abta members, such as Thomas Cook, Tui, Monarch and Jet2 Holidays.
Fake claims are costing the wider travel industry tens of millions of pounds and threatening to increase holiday prices and limit choice for honest British holidaymakers. Hoteliers in Spain and Turkey have already said they may have to stop offering all-inclusive packages to British tourists because of the devastating financial impact fake claims are having. Since 2013, there has been more than a 500% increase in the number of compensation claims for holiday sickness with tens of thousands of claims in the past year. Yet during the same period, reported sickness levels in resorts have remained stable, and the problem is only associated with UK holidaymakers.
To mark the launch of “Stop Sickness Scams”, CEOs and leaders from across the travel industry today published an open letter to David Lidington, the new justice secretary, calling on him to address urgently the rise in fake sickness claims. The campaign is urging the ministry of justice to close a loophole in legislation that was introduced to help stop the surge in fraudulent “whiplash” claims, but which excludes overseas claims. A simple amendment would bring the travel industry into line with other sectors, and place a limit on the legal fees that can be charged by law firms pursuing these cases.
The campaign partners are also warning holidaymakers of the consequences of submitting a fake claim. Claims firms are encouraging customers to submit false claims by coaching them as to what evidence they need to make a claim and telling them there is no risk involved. This is untrue; the potential penalties for making a fraudulent claim are very serious. The Foreign Office recently issued warnings to UK holidaymakers that they may face prosecution if they pursue a fraudulent claim. UK tour operators and overseas hoteliers are increasingly challenging suspected fake claims by customers, and Police forces in popular tourist destinations are taking action.
The Majorca Hoteliers Federation (FEHM) has warned that hotels will be cracking down on claims touts and UK holidaymakers submitting fake claims. Anyone found guilty could face up to three years in Spanish jail with no opportunity for a suspended sentence.
Mark Tanzer, Abta chief executive, said: “The government must urgently address this issue. The legal loophole that is allowing firms to unduly profit from these claims must be closed. This would allow people with genuine claims access to justice but make this area less attractive to claims firms. Holidaymakers need to know that whatever a claims firm might say, fake claims are fraud. Holidaymakers pursuing fake or exaggerated claims risk ending up in jail either in the UK or abroad.”
Professor Jaime Campaner Muñoz, the solicitor acting on behalf of the FEHM, said: “We will be seeking convictions against anyone who is involved in these fraudulent claims. In addition the Spanish penal code has recently included a new offence 'belonging to a criminal group', for which there are very severe penalties, and we will be seeking convictions under this law as well.”
Emy Anagnostopoulou, director of the Greek National Tourism Organisation UK & Ireland Office said: “The Greek Tourism Organisation is strongly committed to supporting Abta in all matters that help to protect the British public and holidaymakers. We are proud to offer our encouragement towards their efforts to raise and maintain the industry’s standards with regards to fake holiday sickness claims. This is an important issue for Greek tourism and Greek hoteliers.”