Abta is calling on the Government to implement its promised plans to close a loophole that allows claims firms to cash in on holiday sickness claims ahead of the peak 2018 season.

New data pulled from a YouGov survey suggests that nearly one in five people have been contacted about making a compensation claim for holiday sickness. Abta has calculated that this could mean as many as 9.5 million Brits having been asked about making a claim.

According to the survey, the most common method of approaching people was over the phone (14%), followed by text (7%) and email (7%). Some people reported being contacted on social media (3%) and other were approached in person (2%) including at airports or while on holiday.

According to Abta, industry and customer evidence points to claims management companies contacting people out of the blue, encouraging them to make false claims and often misleadingly saying there is a “pot of money” waiting to be claimed – without telling them of the risks involved.

Abta, which has been campaigning on the issue alongside Travel Weekly since June last year, says the number of claims for holiday sickness compensation has gone up 500% since 2013 but that reports of illness in resort have not changed and the claims are only coming from UK guests.

The government promised to tackle the issue back in July, a month after Travel Weekly’ Fight Fake Claims and Abta’s Stop Sickness Scams campaigns launched.

Making a false compensation claim for holiday sickness is an act of fraud and if prosecuted could result in a large fine, criminal record or jail term of up to three years. In October, a couple from Merseyside received prison sentences after being found guilty of making a fraudulent sickness claim. Deborah Briton was sentenced to nine months and her partner Paul Roberts was jailed for 15 months.

But Abta’s new research found that 70% of people do not know making a false claim for holiday sickness could result in a jail term in the UK or abroad. Just 38% think people could receive a fine.

An Abta spokesperson said: “Abta is calling for the urgent closure of a loophole in the law, which enables claims management companies and legal firms to make more money in fees from sickness claims abroad, than they’re able to from personal injuries in the UK.

“Abta wants the government to make sure the new measures are in place in time for the main 2018 holiday period.”

There are only two opportunities a year to make the planned changes – April and October – if the measures aren’t in place by April it will be too late for the summer season.

The issue is thought to be costing the UK travel industry tens of millions of pounds, forcing firms to raise prices for honest customers.

Abta CEO Mark Tanzer said: “Unscrupulous claims management companies are encouraging people to make a false sickness claim which could land them with a large fine or even a prison sentence.

“False claims don’t just make UK holidaymakers vulnerable to serious penalties – they’re also costing travel companies and hotel owners tens of millions of pounds and tarnishing the reputation of the British abroad.

“Closing the loophole in the law in time for the 2018 holiday season will make a big difference in tackling fraudulent sickness claims.”

Abta also wants the Financial Guidance and Claims Bill – which will come to the House of Commons early in 2018 – to include a ban on cold calling for personal injury claims by claims management companies.

The association also advises that anyone who is cold-called and encouraged to make a fake or exaggerated claim should report the company to the Claims Management Regulator.

Jet2holidays added its voice to the pressure on the government to move on its promises. The operator said that welcome steps had been made in the fight against fake sickness claims but that it is still seeing “convincing evidence of fraud”.

Chief executive Steve Heapy said: “No-one cares more about our customers than us, which is why we welcome the government’s commitment to crackdown on fake sickness claims. However, the government needs to ensure that new rules are enacted without delay so that British holidaymakers can continue enjoying their well-deserved holidays without the risk of being duped by unscrupulous claims management companies and law firms.

“Only once this happens can we consider the scourge of fake sickness claims well and truly stamped out.”