The Department for Transport and Civil Aviation Authority believe bringing ‘agent for the consumer’ transactions into the Atol regulations will be the key to eradicating “fig-leaf” licences.

Announcing regulatory changes on Thursday, transport minister Theresa Villiers said these “compliment the clause in the Civil Aviation Bill that would allow the Atol scheme to cover holidays . . . organised on an agent for the consumer basis”. The Bill went before Parliament for a first reading last month.

Critics of the Flight-Plus Atol have argued it will not plug the gaps in protection because companies may only partially comply. Travel Republic managing director Kane Pirie coined the term “fig leaf Atol” to describe such companies, which display an Atol logo when much of what they sell is unprotected.

CAA consumer protection group deputy director David Moesli acknowledged this is a potential problem, saying: “We do not want to see ‘fig-leaf Atols’, but maybe people will want to do that.”

He said: “The question is how some businesses intend to act. Some people believe it is practical for agents to sell as agent for the consumer. Others, like Abta, doubt it. We have no firm view, but some agents may go down that road.

“Companies may split their operations and say they do 50% Flight Plus and licence for that, but the other 50% is with low-cost carriers which they sell as agent for the consumer.

“That poses a difficult decision for us. Agent for the consumer is legal, but a website may display an Atol logo when not everything is Atol protected. So there are tricky licensing decisions to make.”

Moesli said: [That is why] the DfT is looking at bringing agent for the consumer into Atol. Theresa Villiers has said the government wants to ‘get rid of the small print culture’ in the travel industry.”

More information is available at the CAA website.