Changing the ATOL Scheme Doesn’t Go Far Enough
Yesterday the transport minister, Theresa Villiers, announced reforms to the way holidays are bonded. Or rather she announced what the government proposed to do subject to consultation. After that, and provided there aren’t suggestions, watered down ideas or whatever, the legislation will come in until the end of the year.
The government is proposing that bonding should occur if you book flight and accommodation separately at the same place at roughly the same time. If your holiday looks like a package holiday but it isn’t currently legally defined that way it will be when the legislation comes in. The second proposal is to deter businesses from selling you something that isn’t bonded but looks like it. They must make it clear to you what the situation is. Finally, there will be simplified single document that you will be handed which explains when protection is in place.
This is the first change in 15 years and, in my opinion, goes nowhere near far enough. For the package holiday industry it gives them a slightly more level playing field with those who don’t provide bonding and it will help to remove the doubts that you are not covered if you buy separate items from the one supplier. But it offers nothing to the holidaymaker who buys an airline ticket from one source and accommodation from another. The accommodation is less of an issue because, in most cases, you can cancel a booking up to 24 hours or even 6pm on the day of arrival. The issue remains with the plane ticket. If an airline goes bust, the only recourse is to have bought the ticket on a credit card and then appeal to the credit card company for a refund. If you use a debit card – which more people are doing to avoid the credit card charges- you have no recourse. In effect the credit card charge is becoming your “insurance” for the journey. And expensive insurance it can be too.
And what if you buy a hotel recommended on an airline website? Or an airline ticket from a hotel website? You still won’t be covered. ABTA, TUI and Thomas Cook have all said the change doesn’t go far enough.
We pay the bond fee of £2.50 per booking which is collected by the travel agent under the present rules. Why can’t airlines (or hotels if they offer flights on their websites) add a similar fee to their bills (they add everything else on) yet pass this to a bonding scheme so we are covered? Until then this system will still be a difficult mess to understand; – as transparent as a brick wall.