Law guide: Complaints and disputes

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Consumer bodies for holiday complaints

Consumer bodies for holiday complaints

A number of organisations exist to promote consumer interests. These are either trade associations or government organisations that have a duty to the travelling public.

If things go wrong on holiday and you haven't been able to resolve the matter with the individual travel company, you can approach these consumer bodies to try to resolve the matter. The fact that a travel company is a member of a particular organisation means that the company has met some standard of service that the consumer can rely on.

Flights and package holidays

Air Travel Organisers' Licensing

The Air Travel Organisers' Licence (ATOL) scheme is a financial protection scheme managed by the Civil Aviation Authority. All companies established in the UK and selling holiday air packages and air flights must hold an ATOL. If they are established in the EU or the European Free Trade Association, they'll need to provide similar protection but under their national legislation. Given the difficulty in researching and enforcing foreign rules, we'd suggest you book with operators with an ATOL.

ATOL is the only UK scheme that protects the vast majority of flights and air holidays. If a holiday is booked through an ATOL holder, you're protected from losing your money or from being stranded abroad if a travel firm goes out of business, either before you travel or while you're on holiday.

You should always ask for an ATOL confirmation certificate so that you'll be protected, regardless of whether the ticket has been issued or not. It will also establish whether the tour operator or air travel firm has a licence under the ATOL scheme.

Visit ATOL for more information.

Association of British Travel Agents

The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) is a trade body whose members must follow a strict code of conduct and provide high standards of service.

Members can be fined, required to make promises about future conduct or can have their membership terminated or suspended.

If you buy a flight-based package or seat through an ABTA tour operator, the financial protection will normally be provided by ATOL (see above). ABTA has its own discretionary financial protection scheme for non-air holidays, such as ferry and coach travel. In order to benefit from the protection of ABTA, the consumer should ensure that the tour operator is a member of ABTA.

ABTA provides an independent arbitration service to resolve disputes about the quality of holidays provided by its members. The decision of the arbitrator is final and legally binding. If consumers use this service and they're not happy with the result, they can appeal the decision for a further fee or take the matter to court.

ABTA also has a mediation service for disputes that aren't covered by their arbitration scheme.

Visit ABTA for more information.

Civil Aviation Authority

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) handles consumer complaints about airports and airlines.

It has a complaints procedure that you can use if you've already written a complaint to the airline or airport and you're not happy with the outcome.

Visit CAA for more information.

Association of Independent Tour Operators

Some tour operators are members of the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO). AITO has an independent mediation service that you can use to resolve a complaint with a member firm. If you want to use this service, there is a non-refundable fee.

Visit AITO for more information.

Trains, buses and coaches

Transport Focus

Transport Focus is an independent consumer watchdog dealing with journeys taken by road, rail, bus, coach and tram (but not London Underground).

You should first make any complaints about a rail operator to the relevant rail operating company. If you're not happy with how it's been dealt with, you can refer your complaint to Transport Focus.

Transport Focus doesn't deal with individual complaints about bus or coach travel (see below).

Visit Transport Focus for more information.

London TravelWatch

London TravelWatch (LTW) is an independent, statutory watchdog for transport users in and around London.

It advises passengers on refunds and compensation available from train, tube and bus operators in London and its surrounding area. It also can deal with consumer complaints from passengers unhappy with the response they've received from their transport provider.

Visit LTW for more information.

Bonded Coach Holidays

Bonded Coach Holidays (BCH) is part of the Confederation of Passenger Transport UK (a trade association authorised by the government). BCH runs a scheme to protect customers who have booked a package holiday that includes coach travel.

The scheme requires each BCH member to provide a bond from a bank or major insurance company, which ensures you'll get either your money back or be provided with alternative transport if your coach company goes out of business.

Visit BCH for more information.

Consumer Council for Northern Ireland

If you have a complaint about a rail operator in Northern Ireland, you should complaint to the relevant rail operating company. If you're not happy with how the company deals with your complaint, you should refer the complaint to the Consumer Affairs Officer of the Consumer Council for Northern Ireland.

Visit CCNI for more information.

Other contacts

For individual complaints about bus or coach travel, you can also contact Bus Users UK, an independent consumer watchdog for bus passengers.

Special needs organisations

Tourism For All

Tourism For All (TFA) is a private registered charity that provides holiday and travel information, support and a booking service for older people and people with a disability. It includes a Travel Planner that provides information on accessible holidays in England and Wales for people who have a disability or impairment.

Visit TFA for more information.


More transport information for the disabled can be found on GOV.UK.

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