One of the hottest topics in the area of personal injury claims currently is holiday sickness claims with ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents) recently publishing an array of feedback from its membership. We have covered holiday sickness claims in the past but it appears that fraudulent activity continues to grow with many claimants unaware of the potential consequences. According to ABTA the number of holiday sickness-related compensation claims has increased more than 500% since 2013. Indeed, some ABTA members are reporting increases of up to 700%!
It is also interesting to see that while historically holiday illness compensation claims have been around 65% of all ABTA related injury claims this has recently risen to 90%. This has also created an environment where valid holiday illness compensation claims are being looked at in the same light as potential fraudulent activity which is unfair.
Why Has The Been A Sudden Increase In Holiday Sickness Claims?
Information from ABTA confirms that around 19% of the British population have been approached about making potentially fraudulent holiday sickness compensation claims. This equates to in excess of 9 million people and even with a relatively small success rate, we can only imagine what some of the more dubious claims management companies are making in legal costs. The most common forms of communication tend to be over the telephone, text messages and emails – however, there are even reports of some companies approaching holidaymakers at UK airports!
The main issue seems to revolve around recent changes to the UK personal injury regulatory system. This was brought in by the UK government in 2017 to control legal expenses, introduce fixed compensation rates and stamp out fraudulent activity. In theory, this has been relatively successful if not controversial but the authorities scored something of an own goal with overseas holiday sickness claims.
No Limit On Legal Costs
If you are one of the many UK holidaymakers who have been approached by dubious claims management companies in relation to “fictitious” holiday illness claims, you will no doubt be aware of the relatively small compensation awards available. The temptation seems to be the opportunity to at least use this compensation to offset the ever increasing cost of holidays. However, this is now turning into something of a self-fulfilling prophecy!
At the moment there are restrictions on legal aid and the level of legal fees which can be reclaimed when pursuing different types of compensation claims in the UK. The problem is that there is a loophole on overseas claims brought about by UK holidaymakers. This means that legal fees of up to £25,000 can be reclaimed if a compensation case is successful. In reality the claimant’s actual compensation award will be but a fraction of the potential £25,000 in legal fees although to all intents and purposes they are taking all of the risk.
Fraud Is Fraud
Many of the dubious claims management companies operating in the field of fraudulent holiday illness claims seem to assume that this is a victimless crime. The simple fact is that fraud is fraud no matter what the circumstances and we have seen a number of UK holidaymakers prosecuted and in extreme circumstances jailed as a consequence of fraudulent holiday illness claims. Claims management companies and fraudulent claimants are dependent upon the assumption that insurance companies would rather pay the relatively small compensation fees, and initial legal expenses, than drag even potentially fraudulent cases through the courts. The problem is, as we saw with whiplash claims in the past, insurance companies and the regulators are now fighting back.
The UK government is currently reviewing evidence and data from a variety of groups in the travel industry. The hope is that by the 2018 holiday season there will be new regulations in place to limit legal expenses in such cases. This will not impact valid holiday sickness claims, where there may well be a No Win No Fee arrangement, but will probably force the more dubious end of the claims management industry to look elsewhere for their “easy money”.
Increase In Holiday Costs
As families across the UK look to book up for their 2018 holidays it is highly likely they will see an increase in overall costs. The simple fact is that the recent increase in holiday sickness claims will make hotel and travel agent insurance more expensive and this cost will be passed onto the consumer. In many ways this is a replay of the whiplash situation of years gone by which forced a significant increase in car insurance premiums. Indeed, there is even evidence that some holiday companies and holiday hotels are excluding UK holidaymakers from certain resorts. This may smack of discrimination but with the ever increasing amount of compensation paid as a consequence of fraudulent holiday sickness claims, can you blame them?
What Should You Do If Approached About A Holiday Sickness Claim?
Any cold calling should be treated with trepidation whether claims management companies, loan sharks or other service operators. If you work on the basis that if you had a valid claim for holiday sickness compensation, then you would find your own claims management company or solicitor, you will not go too far wrong. It is imperative that you avoid the temptation to join in with any fraudulent holiday illness claim because ultimately it is the claimant that will sign the forms, put forward fraudulent evidence and take the consequences if the fraud is uncovered by the authorities.
Do not be under the impression that the insurance companies and the authorities will simply ignore fraudulent activity. Reputable claims management companies are very keen to repair the reputation of the sector, the authorities will not hesitate to prosecute and insurance companies are likely to pass all evidence of possible criminal activity to the police.
Pursuing A Valid Holiday Illness Claim
It is easy to forget that amongst the growing trend in fraudulent holiday illness claims there are many valid claims which have been tainted by recent activity. If you have a valid holiday illness claim it is imperative that you make a detailed report of the incident, the consequences and the type of illness experienced – medical attention/treatment should also be arranged where applicable. While these illnesses can often take some time to work through your system, where possible it is also helpful to register details of your illness with the hotel and travel agency in question before you return home.
It is also very useful to collate witness statements and perhaps details of others who have suffered similar illness at the resort/hotel in question. Any collaborating evidence will strengthen your case and while there is a three-year time period during which you can lodge a claim, it makes sense to do this as soon as possible. Many of those attempting to fight fraud in the claims management industry are suspicious of those who wait three years before making a claim. However, upon reading details of your illness and supporting medical and witness statements, it will be clear to a solicitor whether you have a strong case.
While many people still think that pursuing fraudulent holiday illness compensation is a “victimless crime” the truth is that the regulators, travel industry and insurance companies have had enough. A 500% increase in the number of holiday illness claims since 2013 is out of sync with a relatively stable claims environment for non-UK holidaymakers. We know that claims management companies are cold calling holidaymakers, perusing social media accounts for potential clients and even trying to drum up interest in UK airports.
The recent tightening of regulations regarding UK based personal injury claims was controversial but it has had the desired effect. This overseas loophole, with possible legal expenses of up to £25,000 on offer to claims management companies, is the reason why bogus holiday illness claims have increased in number. The government is addressing the issue and there are high hopes that new regulations will be in place for the 2018 holiday season.