Unscrupulous claims companies have stirred an epidemic of ‘food poisoning’ insurance scams by British – and it is always British – holidaymakers. The problem is so bad that some European hotels may now ban UK visitors from all-inclusive deals
Unfamiliar food, excessive booze and too many hours spent cooking in the sun means an upset stomach can be a summer holiday inevitability, but a rise in fraudulent travel insurance sickness claims means Brits now risk being banned from all-inclusive breaks altogether.
Travel bosses have been left embarrassed by the “British-only” trend which has seen a 500 per cent increase in the number of compensation claims for holiday sickness since 2013 – a rise attributed to the growth of questionable claims management companies and “easy win” loopholes in legislation.
According to travel agents’ association ABTA, which has launched the Stop Sickness Scams campaign, claims management companies are cold-calling holidaymakers on their return home and even approaching tourists in resorts, encouraging them to make illness claims against their tour operator.
Research by law firm BLM shows that 5 per cent of all-inclusive holidaymakers have been targeted while on holiday, with a further 5 per cent receiving an unsolicited phone call upon their return home.
And while most insurance companies require medical evidence of illness, unscrupulous claims companies have less-exacting standards. “With the claims going into third party claims management agencies who are actively seeking these types of claims, there have been reports of simple packets of medication being supplied as ‘evidence’ of the incident,” says Charlotte Lee-Field, head of claims at TIFGroup.
Sarah Dawson was on holiday with her family in Costa Brava in May when she was approached by a “respectable-looking” man who tried to convince her to make a claim. “He said all we needed was a chemist’s receipt for diarrhoea medicine, and that we wouldn’t even have to go through our own holiday insurance provider. It sounded really straightforward – I’m not surprised people are going for it.”
The trend has been likened to the spate of “easy money” whiplash claims seen in recent years, before the Ministry of Justice put a cap on pay outs. “Whiplash fees are now capped at £180 but prior to that claims compensation companies could charge anything with typical amounts being around £750,” says Phil Carr, director of sales at ROCK Insurance. “With the obvious decrease in fees we’re now seeing a new unregulated route for these organisations and overseas sickness claims do not have the same amount of capping. You only have to search on the web for “sickness claims” and you are greeted by dozens of organisations wanting your no win, no fee business.”
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With sickness payouts ranging between £500 and £2,000, and often more – certainly enough to cover the cost of next year’s holiday – it’s easy to see why holidaymakers are enticed by this seemingly victimless, risk-free crime. But industry heads are working to ensure those making fraudulent claims are caught and held accountable – and when they are, the consequences can be serious.
Holidaymakers found guilty can expect a criminal record and a fine in the UK, as well as severe punishments from the country in question. For example, a Greek hotel is currently pursuing a counter-claim for £170,000 against a British couple where they have evidence to prove the couple made a fraudulent claim, while in Spain, anyone found guilty could face up to three years in jail with no opportunity for a suspended sentence.