Package travel reform aims to make rules ‘more proportionate’

Government proposals for package travel reform fall between “tidying up” elements of the regulations and “trumpeting the benefits of Brexit”, according to Abta director of public affairs Luke Petherbridge.

But the Department for Business and Trade (DBT) official leading the review of the regulations (PTRs) suggested the aim is to make the rules “more proportionate” for businesses.

The DBT launched a Call for Evidence on reform of the regulations in September and Craig Belshaw, assistant director for partnerships and consumer policy at the department, told an Abta Travel Regulations Conference in London that it “will look at the overall framework”.

MoreAnalysis: Must Atol remain ‘bolted on’ to the PTRs?

Belshaw invited industry stakeholders to identify where the regulations “require you to do onerous things”, insisting: “We’re no longer bound by the European Package Travel Directive as we’ve left the EU.”

He said the department aims to make the regulations “more proportionate” and insisted: “We have the powers to make amendments or to write entirely new legislation.”

Petherbridge told the conference: “The government is keen to look at the operation between Atol and existing consumer protection legislation. It’s well aware this is a bug bear of the industry. Abta has been banging on about this for many years.”

He noted: “Abta is still consulting members on its response.” But he warned: “If you add something to or remove something from the regulations, you change the regulations and that could dramatically change the financial requirements of providers.”

For example, proposals to allow greater flexibility of financial protection arrangements such as operating a trust account alongside bonding would mean Abta “having to take on the oversight of trust accounts, which would be burdensome and there would be a cost to that”, said Petherbridge.

Belshaw outlined the issues the department is considering and the next steps towards reform, saying: “Once we’ve had feedback, we’ll have workshops in the new year, develop some options for change and consult again before making any changes.

“The evidence you provide to us will be useful whatever government there happens to be.”

He asked: “Is the scope of the PTRs right? We’re asking questions about [removing] domestic packages because that is where domestic consumer law bites most, as well as should there be a minimum price threshold.

“Should we be more open on insurance and insurance providers, which are more or less restricted to bodies approved by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA)?”

Petherbridge noted the proposal for a price threshold “risks taking out of financial protection those who most need it”.

Belshaw listed other questions in the Call for Evidence, asking: “Do Linked Travel Arrangements (LTAs) perform a useful function?

“Should we have the power to change the 14-day requirement to refund if certain conditions apply [as during the pandemic]?

“Is regulation 29, where a travel organiser can seek compensation from a supplier for refunding a customer, sufficiently clarified now?

“Where changes are made to trips, does the obligation on package providers provide suitable flexibility?

“Is the supply of information too complex and prescriptive? We’re trying to look at ways we might help.”

The deadline for responses to the Call for Evidence is December 13.

MoreAnalysis: Must Atol remain ‘bolted on’ to the PTRs?

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