Concerns have been aired that new measures to curb false holiday sickness claims do not go far enough to clip the wings of cold callers and “unscrupulous” claims management companies (CMCs).
The industry this week cautiously welcomed a government pledge to bring claims arising from overseas package holidays within a fixed costs regime, after previously being unlimited.
This shuts a loophole the industry says has fuelled a rise in bogus claims and pushed up costs for British tourists, with operators often settling out of court – emboldening CMCs.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said the rules would be enforced in the coming weeks, in time for the summer holiday season.
However, separate legislation working its way through government to ban cold calling and bolster regulation of CMCs is still thought to be some way off.
The backlash from the travel industry comes after a series of high-profile false sickness prosecutions in March.
Among them were Jessica Hegner and Karl Hancock, who demanded £4,000 compensation from Red Sea Holidays after falsely claiming they fell ill in Sharm el Sheikh in 2013.
Following the ruling, Red Sea executive director Peter Kearns said it had been “open season on tour operators for too long”.
“It is excellent to see the government responding to a very real, and very costly, problem for the industry,” he told TTG this week. “However, we are still not helped by the sinister practice of cold calling to harvest potential sickness claims, many of which you have to suspect don’t really exist until the phone rings.”
In 2015, the government vowed to curb the so-called “claims farming” industry, ending cash payouts for whiplash and capping lawyers’ fees, hitting CMCs hard. However, overseas claims were exempt, and the MoJ said it believed many may have migrated to sickness claims.
Earlier this year, a YouGov poll, commissioned by Abta, found one in five British adults had been contacted about making a holiday sickness claim.
Steve Heapy, Jet2.com and Jet2holidays chief executive, said: “We welcome the news the MoJ has taken decisive action… we urge the government to follow this by banning cold calling in relation to sickness claims, as we know some unscrupulous claims management companies are attempting to mislead customers through this dishonest activity.”
Thomas Cook, Tui and Abta have also all pledged their support for the government’s renewed efforts to tackle false sickness claims.