12:01, May 12 352 0 theguardian.com

2017-05-12 12:01:03
Fresh warning to holidaymakers about making false food complaints

British holidaymakers in Portugal have been warned they face prosecution if they lodge bogus food poisoning claims against hotels.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has updated its travel advice to urge visitors to only pursue genuine complaints and said fake cases could lead to legal action in the UK or Portugal.

The move follows a similar change to guidance last month for travellers going to Spain and comes as trade organisation Abta revealed there had been a 434% increase in the number of gastric illness claims made by Britons since 2013, despite sickness levels reported in resorts remaining stable.

Hoteliers in Mallorca said £42m in fake claims were made in the first nine months of last year, according to Spanish media reports.

One hotelier on the island, Sebastian Darder, told ITV’s Good Morning Britain that claims from British holidaymakers for gastric illnesses increased from seven in 2015 to 350 in 2016.

Abta blamed unscrupulous claims management touts for encouraging holidaymakers on all-inclusive packages to submit dishonest or exaggerated claims worth thousands of pounds. In addition to Portugal and Spain, destinations affected include Bulgaria, Cyprus, Turkey and the Dominican Republic.

Abta spokeswoman Gillian Edwards said claims management companies were using aggressive tactics to persuade travellers to make fake demands for payouts and were “coaching people on what to say”.

Edwards warned that hotels were considering not working with British tour operators in future because they were not having this problem with other nationalities. “It could have a really serious impact on holidaymakers. It could result in higher prices and us having less choice,” she said.

Touts have been spotted in vehicles parked outside some hotels, but the most common form of attracting claimants is through social media and cold calling, according to Edwards. These companies persuade Britons who have returned from a holiday to make sickness claims on a no-win, no-fee basis.

Last month, the Madrid-based law firm, Rogers & Co, warned that Spanish hoteliers might scrap all-inclusive packages or ban British holidaymakers.

Jet2holidays is hiring private detectives in resorts to stop touts coaxing holidaymakers into making false claims. The detectives will act on customer tip-offs and report activity to the tour operator or police.

Abta is calling on the government to introduce a cap on the legal fees that UK lawyers can charge for overseas personal injury claims for up to £25,000. It said this would give legitimate claimants “access to justice” while making the sector “considerably less attractive” to firms encouraging fake claims.

The FCO travel advice for Portugal states: “You should only consider pursuing a complaint or claim if you have genuinely suffered from injury or illness. If you make a false or fraudulent claim, you may face legal proceedings in the UK or Portugal.”