Holiday Illness is Fake News; think again?

It is now 2 years since I relinquished the helm of HolidayTravelWatch

leaving behind an organisation with a strong reputation for being the ethical voice of holidaymakers rights.

The period before I left was turbulent, not just within the now defunct structure of the new owners, but also because those around me failed to comprehend the politics of Consumer Rights.

Industry lobbying and a government hell-bent on masquerading its deregulatory agenda, behind a faux-outrage, against ordinary Consumers seeking recompense for their failed holidays. I demonstrated time and time again the need to rise and be the voice above the carefully orchestrated campaign. I was disappointed that in the general legal world, none of my legal colleagues (at least none that I could detect) had openly cried foul against the misinformation, the fake news if you like, on the so-called disease of fraudulent holiday claims.

Just before I passed the baton, one of my final presentations was made to the Claims Management Regulator (Ministry of Justice). There I set out the range of complaints and indeed statistics of the ‘market-place’. In discussions that followed, it was clear that they were mystified by the near apocalyptic claims made by an Industry. We agreed that there were elements of the Claims Industry that needed attention, but not on the scale suggested by politicians. It was agreed that the lack of data was the problem; in 14 years, our helpline had only encountered some 3 or 4 suspect cases and these were quickly detected and dispatched! I was asked what percentage did I think represented fraudulent claims; I offered that it was likely to be less than 1% and certainly no more than 1% of all claims made. My figure did not appear to surprise officials at the Ministry. Indeed, many months after the presentation, when the government went through the motions of a ‘Consultation’, the first indication of figures from the Industry were offered, it confirmed my estimation to the Ministry.

Whilst I no longer directly help holidaymakers, I nonetheless hear of their difficulties and write generally about their Consumer Rights.

One Consumer told of a recent holiday to Majorca.

About 4 days before they were due to return home, they became very ill at their all-inclusive hotel. It appears that they were not the only ones to suffer with holiday sickness. They did what many holidaymakers did and complained to the rep, but as night follows day, the response was predictable, claiming that there wasn’t a problem at the hotel. The holidaymaker was then sent to the hotel ‘clinic’.

When they met with the Doctor, they did what all holidaymakers do and offered their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), only to be told by the Doctor that they were no longer valid in Spain. Incorrect.

It could be a language issue, but it's likely that the Doctor probably meant that the EHIC card was not valid in the private clinic. At rep level, they should have advised this holidaymaker of two options; the private clinic or to visit the public health clinic where the EHIC would have been accepted. Reps are after all obligated to provide proper assistance!

The holidaymaker was asked to produce their Travel Insurance and then asked to pay €280, which I presumed was their excess.

The holidaymaker was examined by the Doctor and prescribed several medicines, including one normally prescribed to those suffering with motor-neurone disease to stop spasms.

None of the medicines worked and a further return to clinic barely got them fit enough to fly and return back to the UK, where hospitalisation beckoned along with ongoing tests.

This I suspect will be a story repeated time-and-time-again, not just this summer but in the summers to come.

Two years have changed a great many things, including a holidaymaker's right to easily access Justice. The government (supported by newspapers who were also accepting lucrative ads from the Travel Industry), were hell-bent on crushing what it claimed was a rampant ‘Compensation Culture’. They introduced fixed-fees for lawyers dealing with these claims. The courage of many law firms melted away and holidaymakers are left adrift, with too few legal experts willing or indeed able to deal with the normal level of claims.

In this whole saga, I also blame the Consumers at-large. We had noticed for several years before I left HolidayTravelWatch, the trend of Consumers to fatally accept their lot, quite happy to secumb and agree with the words of a sophisticated machine. Consumers could perhaps be forgiven for believing their favourite newspapers, who essentially told them that to claim is wrong; those were the actions of snowflakes and frauds. Equally, we also detected a general fatigue with law firms, based on how many law firms Consumers had hopped from; usually due to a lack of expertise or courage in representation.

Today’s Consumers are not like the Consumers of the late 1990’s, early 2000’s - they were inspirational and took no notice of those who denigrated them in the courts or the press; they were the true legal pioneers. They devoured so-called fake news and spat it back; a lesson for all Consumers-to-come in our brave new world?