Stop Sickness Scams and what to do when you have a genuine claim

Why fake holiday sickness claims could mean higher holiday prices for all

Over the last three years, the number of people claiming compensation because they say that they have fallen ill on a holiday overseas has sky-rocketed by over 500%. Over this same period, the actual number of sickness cases reported in resorts has either remained stable or gone down and the problem is only associated with UK holidaymakers.

There is strong evidence to suggest the majority of these claims are exaggerated or fraudulent. Some unscrupulous Claims Management Companies (CMCs) have been witnessed encouraging holidaymakers to submit fraudulent or exaggerated claims and coaching people on what to say to make a claim. This is similar to what they did around whiplash claims, which caused car insurance premiums to rocket.

The CMCs take a cut of any award made and the firms of solicitors they work with also add their legal fees, further driving up the costs of claims. The cost to tour operators, insurance companies and overseas hotels is substantial. A hotel association in Mallorca recently revealed that the cost to their members alone was £42 million last year. Hoteliers in Spain and Turkey have said they may have to stop offering all-inclusive package to British tourists because of the devastating financial impact fake claims are having..

Inevitably, if this problem isn’t stopped then just like the false whiplash claims, it will result in higher prices for everyone.

The consequences of making a fake or exaggerated holiday sickness claim

Claims Management Companies can be very persuasive when encouraging people to submit an exaggerated or false claim and may make some very misleading claims, including that it is a straightforward and risk-free process. This isn’t true. If you put in a fraudulent or exaggerated claim for holiday sickness, you should be aware of the potential penalties:

Submitting a fraudulent claim is a criminal offence in the UK, which could result in a criminal record and fine.

Pursuing a fraudulent claim will also be illegal in the country where you took the holiday. These are the penalties in the following popular overseas destinations:

  • Spain
  • Portugal
  • Greece
  • Turkey.

In addition to breaking the law, there can be severe financial consequences. A Greek hotel is currently pursuing a counter-claim for £170,000 against a British couple where they have evidence which proves the couple have submitted a fraudulent claim.

Tour operators and hotels are increasingly aware of the tell-tale signs of fraudulent or exaggerated claims and are taking steps to challenge and defend these claims.

What to do if you have a genuine claim

Although cases of food poisoning caused by poor hygiene practice in hotels used by British tour operators are relatively rare, problems can occur. Food poisoning is a serious issue which can cause long term problems and it is very important that it is treated straight away. So if you or anyone in your party falls ill on holiday it is very important that you let your tour operator and the hotel management know immediately. They will then make sure that you get the correct medical attention.

Notifying the hotel or tour operator immediately also enables them to identify the source of the problem and put in place any necessary hygiene measures. This will ensure that no other holidaymakers have to go through what you have suffered.

Once you get back to the UK, if you wish to take the case further, contact the tour operator directly. If you are considering submitting a holiday sickness claim through a claims management company be aware that they will take a substantial chunk of any damages awarded.

If you are not satisfied with the response from your tour operator, contact ABTA to use our Alternative Dispute Resolution schemes. If your tour operator is not a Member of ABTA you can pursue the claim through the small claims court.

The fraud culture thriving on holiday sickness claims

Has someone approached you on social media asking if you have been on an all-inclusive holiday in the last three years? Have you been cold called by a company claiming that if you have fallen ill on an overseas holiday you may be “entitled” to thousands of pounds in compensation?

If the answer is yes, the company probably then went on to claim that the travel industry or even the Government, has set aside a fund to compensate customers who have fallen ill on an overseas holiday.

On the face of it, this might look like a very tempting offer. However, there are some rather shocking facts behind the claims made by these companies whose activities could have serious consequences on the cost and types of overseas holidays available for UK holidaymakers. They are also having a very damaging effect on the reputation of UK holidaymakers overseas.

So what are the facts behind these holiday sickness claims?

Firstly, there is no “fund” that has been set up to compensate customers; secondly, the reason why these companies want you to claim is because they will generally take 25% of any award you might get, the legal firms they work with will also get paid thousands of pounds in fees.

Many of these companies were active in encouraging false “whiplash” claims, which have put everyone’s car insurance premiums up. Due to changes in the law made three years ago, the amounts their lawyers can charge were severely restricted, so they went looking for another area to target and found one - overseas package holidays, particularly all-inclusives.

What to look out for and be aware of!

These rogue claims management companies are often very unscrupulous, they will coach people into what to say to make a successful claim, in effect to lie. However, if you follow this advice you need to be aware that putting in an exaggerated or bogus sickness claim is a form of fraud. You would be committing a crime, which could lead to prosecution in both the UK, and the country where you took the holiday.

Prosecution is a very real possibility with hotels, tour operators and the police working together to stamp out this problem. Private detectives and undercover journalists are also active in resort with customers committing fraudulent claims named and shamed in the national press.

The total amount of money paid out in claims and legal fees is substantial and it is growing. ABTA Members have seen the number of claims go up by over 500% in the last three years, one by a staggering 1000%. The money paying these claims comes out of the pockets of tour operators, insurance companies and hotels.

The effects of these bogus claims

If these bogus claims do not stop, they will push up holiday prices for everyone, just as whiplash did to car insurance premiums. The problem is so serious that some hotels are reconsidering accepting any British guests. They say that other nationalities are not making these claims. Other hotels are considering whether they will continue to offer all-inclusive holidays to British people.

So please do not be tempted by these companies’ offers of easy money.

If you do legitimately fall ill on holiday, let your travel company and the hotel management know straight away. They will help you get medical assistance immediately, which is essential for your health and others staying in the hotel; food poisoning can be very serious with long-term consequences if not properly treated.

Finally, if you want to claim compensation, do it directly with your tour operator or if you are not happy with their offer, use the ABTA's voluntary concilliation scheme or the small claims court. That way you will receive the full amount of any compensation awarded and will not be putting large sums of money into the pockets of claims companies and their lawyers.

Holidaymaker, Tracey Krieger, spoke to ABTA about holiday sickness scams.

Watch key industry people talk about holiday sickness scams and the impact its having on the travel industry.

Mark Tanzer, Chief Executive, ABTA
Chris Mottershead, Managing Director, Thomas Cook UK & Ireland
Nick Longman, Managing Director, TUI UK & Ireland