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The law on package holidays: for consumers

Introduction

This article is based on the Package Travel Regulations 1992 and how it protects consumers’ rights. The article is directed at consumers. We have a similar article for tour operators and or travel agents here.

In the UK, anyone who (more than occasionally) sells or offers for sale package holidays must comply with the Package Travel Regulations 1992.

These set out travel organisers’ responsibilities to their customers and the remedies available should there be a breach of the Regulations.

As this is a reasonably long article, we have split it up into three sections:

  • What is a “package” holiday?
  • Operators’ obligations to you;
  • Now what do I do?

What is a “package” holiday?

A package must include at least two of these three components:

  • Transport;
  • Accommodation;
  • Other tourist service which compromises a significant proportion of the package.

Additionally, the package must extend over 24 hours or more, or include overnight accommodation. Day trips which compromise entry and a bus ride (for example), are not included.

Lastly, the package must be sold at an “exclusive price”. If the components are paid for separately, this is not a package.

Examples of packages

  • Putting on ‘murder mystery’ themed weekends at your country home;
  • A travel agent offering and selling accommodation, flights and day trips to newlyweds;
  • Hiring out your canal boat, with the addition of providing bicycles, maps and further booking hotels for your customers;
  • Skippered yacht tour through the Whitsunday’s (where the yacht belongs to you, or another);
  • Organising and selling fly / drive holidays.

Examples which are not packages

  • Day trips which include entry into a State House and the bus ride there and back;
  • Organising a holiday for the members of a club (who have already decided to go on holiday), to which you belong;
  • Letting out a holiday home for yourself;
  • Letting out a holiday home on behalf of a friend;
  • Putting on a special Christmas entertainment package for all the guests at your hotel;
  • Hiring out your canal boat;
  • Providing accommodation on an over-night train.

Who do the regulations apply to?

They apply to those who ‘put together’ and offer holidays for sale. Of course this includes all tour operators, travel agents etc. If you put together a holiday say, on behalf of members of your social club, it is most likely that the regulations do not apply. In this example, the members have decided to organise the holiday themselves and have merely appointed you as their organiser.However, if you offer a package for sale, the regulations will apply.

Geographic’s – where do the rules apply?

The rules have been established to implement a European Directive which binds all member states, therefore similar provisions will apply universally in all member states. However, these UK Regulations do not apply to packages sold in other countries by operators established in the UK.

Providing Brochures

  • The agent does not have to provide brochures. However, if they do, the brochure must contain:
  • The destination and the means, characteristics and categories of transport used;
  • The type of accommodation, it’s location, category or degree of comfort, it’s main features and it’s approval or tourist classification under the rules of that Member State;
  • The meals which are included in the package;
  • The itinerary;
  • General information about passport and visa requirements, including any health requirements;
  • The monetary amount or the percentage of the price which is to be paid and the timetable for payment of the balance;
  • Whether a minimum number of persons is required for the package to take place and, if so, the deadline for informing customers in the event of cancellation;
  • Arrangements which apply (if any) if consumers are delayed at the outward or homeward points of departure; and
  • The arrangements for security of money paid over and for the repatriation of the consumer in the event of insolvency.

Before the holiday is bought

Before a contract is concluded, the consumer must be provided in writing (or another appropriate form, which could include over the phone), the following information:

  • General information about passport and visa requirements, including the likely length of time it will take to appropriate the correct visas etc;
  • Information about health requirements for the journey and for the stay;
  • Arrangements for the security of the money paid over and (where applicable) for the repatriation of the consumer in the event of insolvency.

What must be in the contract?

This depends on the specifics of the holiday being bought. In general, you must be told:

  • The travel destination(s), and where periods of stay are involved, including the length of stay at each destination;
  • The means, characteristics and categories of transport to be used and the dates, times and points of departure and return;
  • Where the package includes accommodation, it’s location, tourist category or degree of comfort, main features and if in a Member State, the rules for compliance in that Member State;
  • Meals which are included;
  • Whether a minimum number of persons is required for the holiday to go ahead, and if so, the deadline for informing consumers of cancellation of the package;
  • The itinerary;
  • Visits, excursions and other outings which are included in the price;
  • The name and address of the organiser, the retailer and where appropriate, the insurer;
  • The price of the package, any dues, taxes or other fees chargeable those are not included in the package;
  • The payment schedule and the method of payment;
  • Special requirements (which the consumer has communicated) when making the booker and either the retailer or the organiser have accepted;
  • Periods within which the consumer can make any complaint about failure to perform or the inadequate performance of the contract.

You must receive a written copy of the contract.

Special requirements

Any special requirements communicated by you to either the retailer or the organiser, which has been accepted by either, must be included in the contract.

Changing the contract

The agent may change the contract. If they do, you have a choice either to agree to the amendments, or to withdraw from the contract without penalty.

Application of surcharges if costs increase

A surcharge may only be applied if the increase relates to variations transport costs, taxes or fees for certain services, and exchange rates.

Pre-contact information

You must be told all pre-contact information, in good time, before the holiday starts. This includes:

  • The times and places of intermediate stops and transport connections, including the place you should go during these connections (i.e. should you stay on board, in your cabin etc);
  • The names, addresses and telephone number(s) of;
  • The representative of the other party to the contract in the locality where you will stay; or
  • If no agent exists, of an agency in that locality, on who you a call for assistance.

Jury service

If you cannot go on the package for circumstances outside of your control, you may transfer your booking to a person who is able to go on the package. This might mean the package is transferred to someone on a waiting list and not someone chosen by you.

Is the agent responsible for the hotel in Spain / France?

Yes

Is the agent responsible for your safety on his holiday?

They are liable to the consumer for anything that goes wrong which is caused by the improper performance of the contract.

Limiting liability

A tour operator cannot limit liability for personal injury or death. He can limit his liability for other loss or damage as long as it is reasonable.

Now what do I do?

What should I do if I am unhappy with my holiday?

In the first instance, you should let the resort representative know of your concerns. Alternatively, on your return home you should address your complaint direct to whomever you bought the holiday from. This will usually be a tour operator rather than the travel agent where you booked your holiday, though travel agents sometimes also arrange packages.

If you cannot resolve the problem, and the travel organisation is a member of a Trade Association, such as the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA), you should consider seeking the assistance of the Trade Association to resolve the dispute.

What if a tour operator is not covered by ABTA/ATOL?

Your rights are the same. If a tour operator is an ABTA member you can choose whether to pursue a case via the ABTA independent arbitration scheme, instead of through the small claims court.

Do I really need travel insurance if I go on holiday?

Yes. Additionally, if you are taking a ski holiday, or going scuba diving, make sure the policy of your choice covers the risks associated with sports such as these.

Am I compelled to buy the insurance policy that the travel agent offers me?

A travel agent or tour operator can only insist that you take out their insurance as part of their package holiday if it is included as part of the package itself. If no insurance element is included in the contract then the consumer has the right to seek independent insurance cover.

There is no legal requirement that the consumer takes out insurance cover although we would strongly advise that you do so and to shop around for the insurance best suited to your needs.

My holiday did not match the description in the brochure

If you think you have been misled by material in a brochure, you should report it to your local Trading Standards Department who will investigate as appropriate.

The regulations also prohibit travel agents from knowingly supplying to consumers brochures containing misleading information.

My flight was altered at the last minute

Such a significant alteration to a holiday itinerary should be made known to you as soon as possible. If a tour operator has not done so he may be liable to compensate you - but each case will depend on its individual circumstances.

I had to pay a costly flight supplement because I flew from my local airport. This does not seem fair.

Following an investigation into complaints about the cost of flight supplements for package holidays from Scottish and local airports, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has concluded that there are no grounds for further action under competition law. The report does, however, call on tour operators to provide a clearer explanation of their charges to consumers.

Why should I have to pay a single person supplement?

The travel industry argues that there are sound economic reasons for charging them. It is worth pressing tour operators to explain and justify these charges if you object to them, since such pressure may help to produce market solutions to the problem. Not all travel companies impose such charges and if you are prepared to shop around you may be able to find operators who do not charge single supplements.

Why are cancellation charges so high?

The setting of such charges is primarily a matter for the commercial judgement of individual tour operators. The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is concerned that some tour operators' cancellation charges may be excessive and has asked the operators concerned to justify them. OFT enquiries are as yet at an exploratory stage.

Justice for your holiday trauma

You have only to turn on your television to find a programme about the horrors encountered by many people on holiday. The things that could go wrong are as many as the grains of sand on Ben dorm beach. But these regulations do strengthen the legal muscle power of you or me as consumers. The fact is that if you can show the judge that your tour operator acted unlawfully (a criminal offence was committed), that alone gives you a civil claim for compensation. The regulations do not spell this out clearly.

Only in recent years has it become possible to claim compensation for anything more than money you have spent or lost, and personal injury. Now you can also claim for "loss of amenity". That means the lost pleasure of your holiday. As a rough rule of thumb, a disaster holiday could be worth compensation of: all costs incurred (known as economic loss) plus twice the same again for loss of amenity. However, it would have to be a nightmare holiday to be worth that much. It is more realistic to assess what proportion of your holiday was spoiled and make a realistic claim for just that.

If your holiday was spoiled in a way that caused you sickness or injury, you can also claim for "personal injury".

One of the strongest and most consumer-friendly elements of the regulations is that they make the tour operator responsible in law for his sub contractors. You do not have to show that the tour operator was negligent, merely that the subcontractor was. What is more "negligence" is judged by our standards in the UK, not those where the accident took place.

In reliance on this, the writer has successfully claimed for clients for injury in falling off a camel on a trip sub-contracted by the tour rep (lack of instruction on how to mount a camel safely) and for injury incurred in falling down a manhole with a loose lid, at the side of a swimming pool in Greece. Unfortunately Net Lawman does not undertake litigation. You need a specialist personal injury solicitor.

Please note that the information provided on this page:

  • Does not provide a complete or authoritative statement of the law;
  • Does not constitute legal advice by Net Lawman;
  • Does not create a contractual relationship;
  • Does not form part of any other advice, whether paid or free.

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