Over recent years and in particular the last few months, this Organisation has been concerned about the rise of so-called regulated and unregulated claims management companies and their practices. In particular, we are concerned by the robust way in which holidaymakers are approached in resorts or when they return to the UK, appearing to encourage them to make a claim for illness following their recent holiday.
Whilst we have not received any direct call from holidaymakers alleging that they have been encouraged to 'upscale' their complaints, we have nonetheless heard from holidaymakers concerned about the cold-calls they have received from 'after-travel' companies in the UK.
News reports however suggest that the scale of the problem in resorts is serious because it is alleged that the companies touting or 'seeking' holidaymakers are ignoring the protocols of making complaints and suggesting that holidaymakers can gain much by either inventing or exaggerating any complaint that they may have.
We are deeply concerned as to these alleged practices and condemn them without qualification.
What is of concern however to this Organisation is the fact that UK holidaymakers may be consciously or unwittingly opening themselves to the commission of a serious criminal offence.
If for example, a holidaymaker is approached by a 'seeker' in resort and either elicits or suggests that they may have a holiday complaint, then Consumers should avoid any contact with any such individual or company. If the 'seeker' then suggests that any holidaymaker could gain not just compensation, but extra compensation for a minor illness claim that is exaggerated or indeed to claim that you have been ill, when in fact no illness has been suffered, should strongly suggest to Consumers that they are being invited to take part in a transaction that is not honest. If the 'seeker' then suggests to the holidaymaker levels of compensation could be achieved through the manufacture of evidence or actions, Consumers should be aware that they are being taken along a route that goes beyond a normal conversation about making that holiday complaint. If then the 'seeker', encourages the holidaymaker to make an in-resort 'real-time' 'upscaled' complaint, by completing details and submitting those details via electronic or other means, the holidaymaker will potentially be committing an act of fraud; the 'seeker' will also be considered to be aiding in the commission of an offence, through the transmission of false information, encouraged by them, through the use of electronic or other means.
Some commentaries have suggested that the fraud is committed in the country where this transaction is made; we consider that the fact that these 'claims' companies appear to be UK based, the benefit of such a fraud will be obtained in the UK against a company based in the UK, therefore we conclude that the fraud is being committed in the UK.
The Fraud Act 2006 is specific about the offence of fraud, for example where it has been committed by a Consumer:
- Section 2 makes it an offence to commit a fraud by false representation;
- Section 1 advises that if you are found guilty summarily, you could go to prison for 12 months - if you are found guilty on indictment, you could go to prison for 10 years!
The Serious Crime Act 2007 is specific about the actions of 'seekers' as described above:
- Section 44 makes it an offence to intentionally encourage or assist in the commission of a crime - in this example fraud;
- Section 56 deals with perpetrators or those who encourage the commission of a crime, and
- Schedule 4, Sections 1, 2 & 3 provides for the 'extra-territory' commission of the offence.
We consider therefore that holidaymakers should take the following action when approached either in resort or by a cold-call when they return to the UK:
- If you are in resort, walk away - if they persist, advise the 'seeker' that you will report them to the police for offences under the Serious Crime Act 2007;
- If the 'seeker' provides details of what is on 'offer', retain that information and provide it to the police, along with your complaint upon return to the UK;
- If you are approached by a cold-call in the UK and encouraged to 'upscale' your holiday complaint, then take details of the company and report them to the police;
- Under no circumstances provide personal details, sign or agree to any transaction where you are being encouraged to 'upscale' a holiday complaint!
Equally, under no circumstances should Consumers be tempted or encouraged to make false claims for their holiday complaints; the consequences of doing so could have a major impact on your life!
However, where you have a genuine complaint, with real evidence, you should seek independent guidance and follow the normal protocols and options in the furtherance of that complaint.
Frank Brehany, the Consumer Director for HolidayTravelWatch states:
"There are 2 important distinctions to be made here:
- The genuine holidaymaker, which accounts for the vast majority, who find that they have experienced a genuine complaint, be that through quality, illness or accident are to be supported and encouraged. This Organisation has for nearly 22 years supported their right to make such a complaint, with genuine evidence, following the normal rules of making such a complaint or the normal protocols of making and bringing a claim. Many thousands of UK holidaymakers have done so successfully and very few require the input of a false expertise;
- The holidaymaker, who knowingly or is unwitting as to the potential consequences, is encouraged to 'upscale' their complaints and agrees to make a claim that they know to be false or at the least suspects will be false in order to make a financial gain. Not only is this an offence in law but it is also an offence to the morals and good behaviour of our society;
In the first example, Consumers have my total support; in the secondary example, such Consumers are not only condemned by me but I also condemn the companies and individuals who aid in this activity and both should feel the full force of the law!"
"This Organisation has existed for 22 years, operating to a very high ethic and providing much needed assistance to ordinary Consumers. Holidaymakers lie at the heart of everything that this Organisation does; I would say to those holidaymakers tempted by this kind of activity to resist and join the many thousands of holidaymakers who have honestly pursued their complaints to a just end"