As summer is upon us, it is important for consumers to be aware of their rights while on holiday. ‘DIY’ holidays have become increasingly popular with holidaymakers since the advent of the internet. Many consumers prefer to book their flights and hotels online and make other arrangements themselves, rather than going to a travel agent. However, special provisions have been made for package travel at EU and national level. In this month’s eBulletin, we look at the additional protections available for consumers who book a package holiday. Our consumer query of the month involves a consumer seeking advice on how to cancel a holiday club agreement. Our success story of the month relates to a consumer who was erroneously charged twice for services by a digital television provider.
A package holiday is one
that has been pre-arranged and sold at an inclusive price by a tour operator or travel agent. It must cover a period of at least 24 hours or include an overnight stay, and be composed of at least two of the following elements - (a) transport, (b) accommodation, or (c) tourist arrangements that are not linked to the above but which form a significant part of the cost and package.
Directive 90/314/EEC on package travel sets out that the information contained in the brochure must not be false or misleading and must include details of accommodation, price, destination, and transport. In addition, the organiser must provide the consumer with certain information in writing before the contract is made - this includes passport and visa requirements, health and insurance formalities, and arrangements for repatriation should the consumer need to return home in a hurry. If this information is not provided, the contract will be deemed not to be valid. If the consumer has entered into a contract on the basis of false or misleading information, it is possible to claim damages from the organiser.
Consumers should also note that revisions of price may only be made in certain circumstances (e.g. to accommodate an increase in the cost of fuel) and that no changes to the price may be made within 20 days of the departure date. If an issue arises during the holiday, consumers should contact the organiser or local representative and ask them to resolve the matter. If it is not resolved, it is advisable to gather evidence - such as photographs and receipts - and write to the organiser within 28 days of returning home. More information on package travel is available on our website and consumers are advised to contact us if they are experiencing any difficulties.
Holiday clubs are a variation of timeshare agreements. They have become increasingly common across Europe. Whereas traditional timeshares offer a convenient means for consumers to jointly own and use a certain property each year, holiday clubs can often be organised by unscrupulous traders who pressure consumers into signing up and fail to provide sufficient information on payments and withdrawal. Directive 2008/122/EC on timeshare and long-term holiday products makes it an offence to demand or accept advance payment from consumers before the expiration of the withdrawal period. It also sets out comprehensive withdrawal rights for the consumer, including a 14-day period from the date the contract is concluded or delivered during which (s)he can withdraw from the agreement without having to give any reason. The trader must provide detailed information on such matters as the price, the trader, the nature of the product, and the languages for future communications.
Consumers are advised to beware of aggressive sales techniques. It is not uncommon for companies selling timeshares or membership of holiday clubs to approach people on holiday and invite them to presentations to avail of a prize. These can often turn into lengthy sales pitches during which the consumer is pressured into signing a contract. Consumers should always seek independent legal advice before entering into an agreement and remember that a reputable company will allow time to consider the options. If you have entered into a timeshare or holiday club and would like to withdraw, you should read the terms and conditions of your contract carefully and put your request in writing to the trader immediately.
Consumer Query of the Month
During a recent holiday in Malta, I signed up to a holiday club and paid a deposit. Since returning home, I've changed my mind and decided I want to withdraw from this agreement. The contract states that it is valid for 363 days. The trader is threatening to contact debt collectors. Can I get out of this contract?
The EU recently introduced new legislation, Directive 2008/122/EC, to increase consumer protection in the area of holiday clubs and similar products. Under this Directive consumers have the right to withdraw from a holiday club contract without giving any reason within 14 calendar days. However the Directive only applies to holiday clubs of at least 1 year's duration so it appears that the agreement you entered into will not be covered by the Directive and, unless the contract provides otherwise, you may not be entitled to cancel.
If you feel you were misled as to the provisions of the contract or were subject to aggressive and pressurised sales techniques, you should write to the trader explaining that you wish to cancel on these grounds. If the trader insists on payment and sends you letters via debt collection agency, you may need to consider legal action.
For future reference, we encourage consumers to beware of unsolicited approaches from companies selling timeshare or holiday clubs, and to take time to carefully consider the terms and conditions of a contract before signing. Remember that a reputable company will give you time to reflect and not insist that you sign an agreement on the spot. Consumers are also encouraged to seek independent legal advice before signing a contract.
Success Story of the Month
An Irish consumer contacted a UK-based digital television provider back in March 2010 with the view to having his subscription upgraded to a multi-room subscription. This would have enabled the consumer to operate TV channels on two television sets independently of each other for an additional 15 EUR per month. The equipment necessary to receive the service was subsequently installed. However, at the time of the installation a new account for a full service was opened by the provider in addition to the existing account. Towards the end of 2011 the consumer realised that two full charges were coming out of his account. The consumer contacted the provider immediately but despite numerous phone calls and letters, the matter was not brought to a resolution. The consumer contacted ECC Ireland for assistance in March 2012. ECC Ireland in turn brought the consumer's complaint to the attention of our counterparts in the UK, who contacted the company on the consumer's behalf and managed to secure a refund of more than 1670 EUR.
The annual Air Passenger Rights Day is taking place on July 4th this year. As part of ECC Ireland's preparation, we have put together a survey seeking to gauge people's awareness of air passenger rights for persons with reduced mobility. To participate in this survey and be in with a chance to win a €100 one4all voucher, please visit the survey page on our website.