The government’s proposed Atol reforms are“flawed and unworkable” and will introduce greater risks of financial loss and disruption for travellers, Scottish travel agents have declared.
The result of a poll of members of the Scottish Passenger Agents Association suggests that the revamp of the financial protection regime will create even greater confusion over which travellers are protected and which are not.
A so-called Flight-Plus Atol, designed to catch largely online travel agents that were dynamically packaging, is due to come in early next year and the Department for Transport is at the end of a 12-week consultation on its proposals.
SPAA agents highlighted numerous instances of impracticality in the proposed reforms, and most believe the timeline for implementation of the reforms cannot be achieved.
The SPAA will highlight these “impracticalities” in its submission as part of the government’s Atol consultation process and call for a “modest” consumer levy.
SPAA president Brian Potter said: “The government’s plans to increase the proportion of travellers protected by the Atol arrangements – which has fallen consistently during recent years with the advent of online sales and growth of low-cost airlines – are seriously flawed and unworkable.
“It will achieve neither its fair treatment objective, nor its declared aim to bring clarity, transparency and coherence to the financial protection system.”
He added: “Its unwillingness to correct the ongoing anomaly of exempting airlines from the Atol system, in its proposed shorter-term reforms, will potentially place more passengers at risk.
“The days when nationalised airlines were in effect financially failsafe are a thing of the past. A number of no-frills, low-cost carriers have failed in recent years, causing widespread loss and disruption to thousands of passengers.”
Concern about the exemption of airlines was also reflected in a recent poll by UK-wide travel agent body Abta, with 95% of the association’s members in favour of carriers being brought into the Atol system.
Potter called for a “completely new, comprehensive and failsafe system” of consumer financial protection. “But we do need government to heed our concerns regarding the feasibility of its current proposals,” he added.
“The SPAA, in common with colleague bodies, has well-developed proposals in mind – namely a modest customer levy, charged on each and every travel and related services transaction over a minimum value – which would achieve all of the Government’s objectives, on behalf of the consumer and travel providers – not least their need to eliminate the Air Travel Trust Fund deficit and set it on a sound financial footing.
“Our detailed submission in response to the current Department for Transport consultation will present our members’ views assertively and objectively, and lay out our pragmatic vision for a new system of financial protection on which every traveller can rely. We hope the Government will respond accordingly.”
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