Author Mark Richards
In the Money thanks to Spanish Tummy?
Since 2013 the number of claims for holiday sickness has rocketed by 500%. Sadly, a large number of these claims are fraudulent, meaning that the cost of all our holidays will increase. What is the Government doing about it? And what are the consequences of making a fraudulent claim?
“Nice tan,” you would say to someone a few years ago. “Did you have a good holiday?”
“Not bad at all,” would come the reply. “Touch of Spanish tummy in the first week but not bad at all.”
Or, depending on where they had been, it might have been Delhi belly, Montezuma’s Revenge or – if it were your maiden aunt – a gentle murmur of “TD.”
Either way, neither of you would think any more about it. You went on holiday, different food, change of water… An upset stomach for a couple of days was only to be expected.
Times have changed
Sadly, the back-from-holiday conversation is now rather different.
Hello there. This is Phil from Holiday Claims Compo. How are you today?
Have you been on holiday this year?
Er, we went to Spain…
Any of you have an upset tummy? Sickness, vomiting, a touch of the runs?
Now you mention it…
That’s fantastic, Mr Smith. Did you realise you might be entitled to compensation?
Accidents happen on holidays. No-one is denying that. If the hotel has not fixed the carpet properly and you trip and fall through a glass door you are entitled to compensation. If the kitchens are dirty and you genuinely get food poisoning then you are similarly entitled. But over the last few years there has been an explosion in the number of bogus sickness claims for holiday illnesses – and in the long run, it is going to cost all of us money.
The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) has said that there were about 35,000 claims for holiday sickness in 2016, a 500% rise since 2013. This comes despite the hotels in question saying there has been no increase in the number of cases reported to them, and the rise in claims being confined to holidaymakers from the UK.
Hmmm… With the claims management companies seeing business from PPI mis-selling declining it is easy to believe that they have turned their attention to holiday sickness, with a recent poll for ABTA suggesting that 19% of holidaymakers have been contacted by a claims management company on their return home. And with successful claimants receiving an average £2,000 each it is easy to see that many people – looking at their credit card statement and realising that two weeks in the sun has to be paid for – fall victim to temptation.
It’s not really a crime though, is it?
It could be easy to convince yourself of that. The holiday companies will be covered by insurance – and you were sick for a couple of days. And who can prove whether it was the hotel cooking or the extra jug of sangria – especially when that nice young man on the phone says the claims company will do all the work…
Actually, it is a crime: and the holiday companies pass the cost – not just the £2,000 compensation but another £3,800 to defend the claim – on to the rest of us in the form of more expensive holidays.
…And as one couple from Merseyside found out, making a fraudulent claim for holiday sickness can have very serious consequences. Deborah Britton and Paul Roberts were jailed at Liverpool Crown Court after admitting fraud. They claimed that the whole family had fallen ill on an all-inclusive trip to Globales America in Majorca in 2015.
Now if it was me and I had been to a resort that had poisoned my entire family I would not go back twice the following year. But that is what Ms Britton and Mr Roberts did and lo and behold, the whole family was ill again. What a shame about those cheerful Facebook posts boasting about a holiday filled with “sun, laughter and fun” – and no mention of Spanish tummy…
Jailing the couple the judge said that the claim must have required “planning and pre-meditation.” Thomas Cook – who would have faced a bill for £20,000 compensation and a further £28,000 in legal costs – commented that they would always “take a stand to protect our customers from the minority who seek to cheat the system.”
So yes, it is very much a crime. Claiming for an illness you did not have is an exact parallel with motor insurance fraud. Your holiday is more expensive because of fraudulent claims, in the same way, that your car insurance is more expensive because of false claims for injury. Britain is now apparently the ‘whiplash capital of the world.’
What is the government doing about it?
With the total cost of holiday claims reaching £240m in 2016 and forecast to go higher, the Government has decided to take action. Last July it announced a crackdown on false claims and plans to fix the legal costs of firms defending themselves against claims. There is also likely to be a cap placed on the amount holidaymakers can claim for sickness.
“We are determined to tackle the holiday sickness culture which is damaging the honest majority,” said a Ministry of Justice spokesman.
The pain in Spain mainly takes the blame
Our friends Ms Britton and Mr Roberts would have had plenty of company in sickbay – or on Facebook. According to a story in the Daily Mail, 32% of people from the UK said they had been unwell while staying in Spain and Portugal – compared to just 6% in Italy and 3% in Thailand. The poll was conducted for a company which makes a sickness preventative and found that 50% of holidaymakers had suffered from TD (I will not spell it out: you might be eating your breakfast) at one time or another, making what the Mail terms ‘Costa cramps’ a bigger threat to our holiday fun than sunburn.
Interestingly the majority of cases cited in the survey lasted for two days – which brings us right back to our original conversation. Different food, change of water and an upset tummy for a couple of days was par for the course.
But now it is not: for far too many people, it is the chance to make a fraudulent claim which – in the long run – means that the price of all our holidays will increase, thanks to the claims management companies and the culture of compensation. Not something for the nation to be proud of…