Holiday sickness fraudsters should face criminal prosecution

A legal crackdown is the only way to save the travel industry from an epidemic of false claims

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Jun 23, 2017
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With the recent rise in false holiday sickness claims threatening to cost the travel industry millions each year, we can expect a strong reaction against rogue claims management companies and dishonest holidaymakers as the travel industry starts to consider criminal and civil prosecutions (Sarah Hill writes). 

With the suggestion that a whiplash-scale epidemic is already here, the industry will be keen to stamp out the problem. 

Cowboy firms are systematically coaching British tourists to lie about holiday sickness to win thousands of pounds in compensation – we're seeing holidaymakers submit claims for severe food poisoning despite evidence that the claims are false. We are also seeing organised crime networks enter this space. 

The dominant mindset of "where there's blame, there's a claim" needs to be tackled to address the opportunity for fraudulent claims. A poll taken by BLM showed a startling trend among the UK public, with nearly half of the 2,000 people surveyed suggesting that they would consider it acceptable to make a sickness claim regardless of whether they believed it to be the fault of the hotel. The travel industry is working hard to ensure it has the adequate protections in place to avoid being taken advantage of and to protect the genuine customer. 

In 2013, the government introduced measures against whiplash claims, including a ban on referral fees made by lawyers, as well as introducing fixed legal costs for these claims. By removing the financial incentive for committing the crime, it was hoped that there would be a reduction in the total number of claims. 

In the travel industry, the key to long-term success is collaboration between the government, insurers and the travel industry to pool their knowledge, experience and resource. A strong approach is required when it comes to punishments, which could range from recovery to criminal prosecution as we look to collectively challenge this growing phenomenon. 

The travel industry is willing to embrace a firmer stance against fraudulent claims and those knowingly submitting them. Many well-known tour operators now investigate suspicious claims and activity and are prepared to bring the relevant enforcement measures against fraudsters and rogue companies. 

The most effective measure for increasing public awareness and highlighting the risk is the sanctions that will apply to fraudsters. Losing one's liberty as a result of bringing a fraudulent sickness claim is the strongest message that can be achieved. A legal crackdown on criminal companies and tourists might just be the saviour of the all-inclusive travel industry in the UK. 

Sarah Hill is head of fraud and partner at the law firm BLM 

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