Following publication of the new PTRs last month, the industry was given just 10 weeks to prepare for the biggest change to law governing sales of package travel in a generation.
The PTRs define what constitutes a package, who counts as a package organiser and the responsibilities of package organisers.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) was obliged to transpose the EU’s Package Travel Directive (PTD) into UK law by January 1 after it was published in December 2015. The department missed this deadline.
Consortia and other trade organisations have now backed a call for grace, the terms emerging from a meeting between TTG and the Association of Atol Companies (AAC).
It reads: “We seek an immediate delay to implementation of the new Package Travel Regulations for six months, during which time BEIS should set up a working party involving stakeholders from across the industry and hold immediate, fresh and meaningful face-to-face consultation on the new regulations.”
Organisations backing the call include:
Julia Lo Bue-Said, Advantage chief executive, said: “We welcome industry collaboration on the implementation timescales for the new PTD given July 1 is only eight weeks away.
“We have yet to receive any guidance notes [from BEIS] and there appears to be no leeway on the implementation date.
“This does not appear reasonable and we would ask a review is undertaken on the reasonableness for a travel agent to implement such significant changes in the timescale.”
Gary Lewis, chief executive of the Travel Network Group, added: “While we’re aware of what’s coming on July 1, it does seem unreasonable we’ve been given just a couple of months.
"We have to change contracts and T&Cs, and we have to be very clear on how things like flight-plus are changing. We need to see what government can do about an interim period.”
Lewis added the new PTRs came amid a period of unprecedented regulatory change following PSD2, GDPR and ongoing discussions with the CAA over changes to the Atol scheme.
BEIS launched a six-week written consultation on changes to the PTRs last August, the results of which were published on April 12.
However, Lindsay Ingram, AAC chairman, said despite having 28 months to draft new PTRs, BEIS’s final draft was filled with EU phraseology and legal jargon and amounted to little more than “a copy and paste job”.
“The industry needs to make it clear to government that with just weeks until implementation, it cannot introduce new laws when it is not certain itself of the definitions [of a package],” he said.
“It is clear they [BEIS] ignored the concerns and recommendations voiced by the industry during the consultation period and have just transposed the European document [PTD] almost word-for-word into the new regulations - and with the implementation date of July 1 fast approaching, BEIS has fallen short providing any guidance notes, despite their promise to do so.”
Ken McLeod, SPAA president, said: “We absolutely support this. We have already requested BEIS give us at least six months grace. I raised this at our annual dinner last month. We are all of the same mind on this.”
Derek Moore, Aito chairman, said: “The government has ridden roughshod over the travel industry and left us with the burden of dealing with this timescale. While larger operators have big legal departments to deal with this, smaller specialists are going to be in danger. It’s clear our lawmakers have no understanding of the issues facing the industry.”
When approached by TTG, Abta said as the government was not legally able to delay implementation, it could not support the call and was instead focusing on supporting members ensure they are compliant.
Simon Bunce, Abta’s director of legal affairs at ABTA, said: “We have conveyed our, and the industry’s, strength of feeling and frustration to both the government and the CAA that the series of delays has given the travel industry an extremely tight timescale to put these changes into place.
“We are doing everything we can to help our members get ready for July 1, which is in the best interests of our members and their customers who will ultimately hold them responsible if they don’t believe they are doing the right thing. We are continuing to stress to the CAA the importance of not pursuing any changes which go above and beyond the directive for July 1.”
A BEIS spokesperson said: “We have been working with the travel industry to develop guidance for businesses to help them comply with the new regulations and will be publishing this shortly.”
BEIS added it would take a “pragmatic approach” to implementation that imposes “minimal additional burdens on business” and pledged to work with the trade, the CAA and Trading Standards on “genuine issues” around implementation.
Bunce said the government was not able to delay implementation of the PTRs as they derive from an EU directive.
“The government itself could face legal action if it did not implement the directive, which is why it will maintain the July 1 deadline,” he said.
However, Alan Bowen, legal advisor to the AAC, told TTG the government had in fact already breached the PTD - without sanction - by missing the January 1 deadline to transpose it into law, adding it was his understanding few EU countries, bar Germany which passed its PTD legislation last June, would be ready to comply by July 1.
Matt Gatenby, partner at TravLaw, said it was his belief “common sense would prevail”: “In effect, if the UK was not to comply, it would be in breach of its EU treaty obligations. The question though becomes - do they care? They should, we live in a society where rules and law are important, have the rule of law. It just seems the UK government has had other things on its mind."
Gatenby said there was “plenty of precedent” for the EU taking enforcement action, usually through fines, when member states fail to comply with directives.
However, in terms of BEIS or the CAA taking action, he said there would likely be a more conciliatory approach: “In these early stages, they tend to be educational in the first case rather than coming down on people, especially against the background of the past couple of years.
“The caveat is some rules are strict like those relating to Atol where they can’t give much by way of grace.”