FAKE holiday sickness claims have cost the travel industry a massive £240 million as the government launches an investigation to help find a cure.
Experts are being asked to submit evidence following a 500% rise in claims from 2013 to 2016 – with Spain and all-inclusive breaks at the centre of the “epidemic” of the scandal.
And as the government vows to get tough on the plague of false claims, frequently involving invented gastric illnesses, the first succesful prosecution has seen two scamsters jailed in the UK.
Greedy Paul Roberts and partner Deborah Briton were jailed at Liverpool Crown Court over bogus sickness claims. they had stood to pocket £20,000 from Thomas Cook over trips to Mallorca in 2015 and 2016.
However, the holiday company bit back with a private prosecution and shamed the Wallasey couple who had attempted to win an easy fortune maintaining the trips with two children were ruined by episodes of diarrohea and vomiting – yet on social media Briton gushed about everyone enjoying the time of their lives…with no mention of any malady.
Ironically, the government announced its intention to bite back on the same day Roberts, 43, and Briton, 53, were being sentenced by Judge David aubrey, QC.
The Association of british Travel Agents (Abta) has welcomed the latest move to quash a notorious scam and the touts said to be representing claims management companies who take a cut.
Abta said the average cost of fighting a claim was £3,800, but the average amount of compensation sougth was £2,100; explaining why many tour operators and hotels were choosing to settle out of court.
Using date from its members, Abta estimated the total cost of the fake sicknes racket was £240 million.
An Abta spokesman said it “strongly welcomed” the government move to enmd the “rip-off” and the promise to close a loophole in the law that allowed companies to “unduly profit” from false holiday sickness claims.
“Abta and its members have already presented the government with a body of evidence over the past months showing how these claims have risen by 500% since 2013, whilst reported sickness levels have remained stable,” he said.
“These claims are also tarnishing British holidaymakers’ reputation abroad, particularly in Spain where they are costing hoteliers millions of pounds.”
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said: “These claims make it more expensive for Brits to go abroad. they should not have to shoulder the inevitable rising costs of bogus accusatiions made by a small minority.
“The recent rise in false claims against tour operators, partly fuelled by unscrupulous touts, tarnishes the UK’s reputation overseas. It is also hugely unfair to those who genuinely do become ill, who risk becoming victims of unjustified suspicion.
“This is the first step in fighting the holiday claim epidemic.”
Roberts and Briton and two teenage children went on all-inclusive holidays to Globales America in Cales de Mallorca in June 2015 and again in June 2016. However, their claim, described as a “complete and utter sham”, would have cost Thomas Cook £19,958 compensation and a staggering £28,000 in legal costs if successful.
Liverpool Crown Court heard how on her return in 2015, Briton posted: “Safely home after two weeks of sun, laughter, fun and tears; met up with all our lovely friends who made our holiday fab.” The following year she wrote: “Back home after a fantastic holiday, my favourite so far.”
Jailing the pair, who admitted fraud charges, Judge Aubrey said the claims were totally an dutterly fake. “You thought it would be easy and you thought it would be easy money.
“There has been an explosion in gastric illness claims in relation to those from this country who holiday abroad.
“Those who may be tempted in the future to make a dishonest claim in relation to fake holiday sickness, if they are investigated and brought to justice, whatever the ciorcumstanmces of the individual, he or she must expect to receive an immediate custodial sentence.”
Celebrating victory, Thomas Cook announced through a spokesman: “The sentences handed down demonstrate how serious the issue of fraudulent illness claims has become.
“This is a particularly sobering case, but reflects what is going on in the Uk travel industry, so we had to take a stand to protect our holidays and our customrs from the monority who cheat the system”.