Travel Counsellors has been confirmed as the first accredited body under the new Flight-Plus Atol regime.

The independent agency will license more than 700 agents operating their own retail businesses from home.

The Civil Aviation Authority announced Travel Counsellors’ accreditation this morning and is expected to give details of up to four more accredited bodies ahead of the April 30 start date for Flight-Plus licensing, announced earlier this month. This will extend Atol consumer financial protection to holidays sold by retailers who offer accommodation or car hire to add to flights.

In a statement, the CAA said: “Whilst no organisation can formally achieve Accredited Body status until the new regulations come into force on April 30, Travel Counsellors have satisfied the necessary criteria following extensive joint-working with the CAA.

“We would like to thank them for their co-operation and commitment throughout our discussions, and we believe they have set a great example of how organisations can prepare effectively for when the reforms come in.”

Travel Counsellors already operates a trust arrangement for member businesses which holds payments from customers until they take their holidays. The company will provide Atol cover for members’ Flight-Plus sales, removing the need for them to hold individual licences.

The CAA said: “Members of Accredited Bodies can sell ATOL protected holidays without having their own licence, so membership may be a suitable option for some travel organisers. Further announcements on additional organisations meeting the requirements to become an Accredited Body will be made in due course.”

David Speakman, Travel Counsellors chairman, said: “We are delighted to be the first to be recognised as an accredited body by the CAA.

“We launched our customer Trust in 2004 to ensure our agents could provide a full financial guarantee to customers, which meant we were best placed to meet the requirements for full accreditation when the Flight-Plus scheme was introduced.

“It has always been important that our Travel Counsellors are able to assure their customers that everything they buy is financially protected because of our Trust. This means our agents never have to worry about financial protection; they can simply tell customers that everything they sell is financially protected.”

Speakman described this as “an extremely reassuring statement among the confusion many agents in the industry face with the complexity of the current system of protection”.

He said: “The new Flight-Plus initiative still leaves a vast amount of travel outside of its scope. Our Trust covers these components but the industry should realise that in the new world of technology, booking will become easy, so we have to offer validation, reputation and trust. We have a responsibility to every customer to keep their money safe until they receive what they have paid for.”

Full details of the changes to Atol and the implications for travel companies are available on the CAA website at .