With 25,000 pilgrims estimated to be heading overseas to Saudi Arabia from the UK for Hajj which takes place between 24 & 29 October 2012, ABTA is warning all potential Hajj pilgrims about the dangers of booking with unlicensed travel companies, which every year sees individuals paying for travel arrangements that are sub-standard, or in the worst cases, non-existent, leaving victims out of pocket by thousands of pounds.
Every year pilgrims pay thousands of pounds for specialist Hajj flight and accommodation arrangements. However, pilgrims should be aware of the dangers of booking with unlicensed travel companies. By UK law, if a travel company books a customer on a flight-based package holiday, they must have an ATOL licence in place to ensure the customer is financially protected in the event something goes wrong. In addition if the companies are not members of ABTA, they are not policed by ABTA’s Code of Conduct which ensures customers receive high standards of service, fair terms of trading and accurate booking information. ABTA membership also means that if something should go wrong before or after the trip pilgrims will be able to use ABTA’s cost effective and swift complaint handling service.
The City of London Police are so concerned about this problem that they have produced a leaflet for Hajj pilgrims giving sensible advice, but also encouraging victims of fraudulent traders to report the matter to the police. Currently only 10% of victims of Hajj fraud are estimated by the Association of British Hujajj (pilgrims) to report the crime.
Steve Abrahamson ABTA Risk, Claims & Membership Administration Manager said: “Every year the police and Trading Standards offices have to deal with cases of Hajj pilgrims who have lost substantial amounts of money or arrived in Saudi Arabia to find that their accommodation and other travel arrangements are of a much lower standard than they had paid for. For many Hajj is a once in a lifetime trip and fraudsters don’t just steal pilgrims’ money but the opportunity to fulfil a religious duty.
Whether you are offering a hajj trip or a holiday, the same laws apply and companies must have an ATOL licence when selling flights and accommodation as a package or act as an agent for a company that does. Hajj pilgrims should always check that they are legitimate ABTA members and that they hold an ATOL licence when booking. Also we would strongly encourage all victims of fraud or misrepresentation to go to Trading Standards offices or the police so that we can finally put a stop to this unscrupulous and dishonest practice.
The Director of the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau Det. Supt. Dave Clark advises pilgrims to be vigilant when booking their trip. He also emphasised how important it is to report this type of crime to the police or Action Fraud. It cannot be stressed enough how important it is to follow his advice which can be found on the NFIB website http://www.nfib.police.uk/hajj-2012-latest-advice.html if these matters are not reported fraudsters will continue to target the Muslim community.”
In 2011 there were a number of court cases in Birmingham with defendants accused of purporting to be members of ABTA, ATOL and IATA where this was not necessarily the case. Hujjaj are encouraged to check on www.abta.com or with ATOL on 020 7453 6700 whether the company they are booking with is registered with either organisation.