CAA and OFT consult on consumer rights guidance for travel sector

Date: 19 November 2012

Holidaymakers booking in the UK should have access to fair, clear and transparent information at the right time according to draft guidance for travel agents, tour operators and price comparison websites published today for consultation by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and the Office of Fair Trading (OFT).

The joint guidance covers both aviation specific and general consumer protection legislation. This new draft guidance is designed to help the travel sector comply with the regulations and raise awareness of their legal responsibilities. Two versions of the draft guidance have been developed: an in-depth guidance document; and a shorter version for quick and easy reference, which sets out key requirements that all businesses operating in the travel industry should be aware of.

The draft guidance sets out the views of the OFT and CAA on what the law means for the travel industry, and provides examples of practices that could breach the law. It specifically covers the requirement to display prices clearly and transparently up front; to make clear which airline the customer is booking with; to make sure optional extras are displayed on an opt-in basis rather than pre-selected; to provide information in a timely and accurate fashion; and that terms and conditions must be fair and clear. The document also details the CAA and OFT’s roles if the law is breached, and the approach they will take where enforcement action is necessary.

Iain Osborne, Group Director of Regulatory Policy at the CAA said: “Travel agents are required to provide prices and other relevant information to their customers in a clear and transparent way, so they can make an informed choice when booking their holiday.

“In many cases travel agents are already doing this, but we are aware of issues where information has not been displayed clearly and this is misleading for customers. This draft guidance will therefore ensure travel agents understand the requirements, and we’ll be monitoring the situation and taking action where necessary so they comply with the requirements fully and consumers can easily access the information they need.”

Cavendish Elithorn, Senior Director of the OFT’s Goods and Consumer Group, said: “Unfair business practices impact on both industry and consumers. The draft guidance has been designed to help those in the travel sector and their advisers understand what they need to do to comply with the law. Following its work on payment surcharges in the airline industry, the OFT is keen to ensure that the wider travel industry is aware of its responsibilities to its customers.”

As part of a 10-week consultation process, the CAA and OFT will be arranging a series of roundtable meetings with industry to take their views on both versions of the guidance. The final version will then be published in early 2013, after which the CAA and the OFT will commence a review of compliance in the sector and look at whether enforcement action is necessary to ensure the requirements are being met.

This draft guidance has been developed separately from the CAA’s guidance to industry on the use of the ATOL certificate but both are consistent with the legal obligations of businesses and the CAA’s view that consumers must have access to clear information about the services they are purchasing, including price, relevant conditions and financial protection.

The CAA and OFT are seeking views on the scope and the extent to which the detail and practical examples provided in both versions of the guidance are useful. The short version of the draft guidance is available here, and the full document can be found here:

For further media information contact the CAA Press Office on: 0207 453 6030; press.office@caa.co.uk or the OFT Press Office on: 0207 211 8708; pritie.billimoria@oft.gsi.gov.uk

Follow the CAA on @UK_CAA
Follow the OFT on @OFTgov

Notes to editors
1. Further advice for UK passengers is now available from the CAA’s online passenger portal – where passengers can access advice before they book, ahead of their travel and even after their return. Visit the CAA’s passenger portal at: www.caa.co.uk/passengers
2. The guidance covers the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations, the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations, the Air Services Regulation, the Carrier Identity Regulation and the E-Commerce Regulation.
3. Both the CAA and OFT have enforcement powers for the regulations set out in the guidance. The CAA and the OFT would have regard to their published prioritisation principles before taking enforcement action
4. The guidance documents and information on how to respond to the consultation can be found on the CAA’s and OFT’s websites
5. The CAA is the UK's specialist aviation regulator. Its activities include: making sure that the aviation industry meets the highest technical and operational safety standards; preventing holidaymakers from being stranded abroad or losing money because of tour operator insolvency; planning and regulating all UK airspace; regulating airports, air traffic services and airlines and providing advice on aviation policy from an economic standpoint.
6. The OFT is the UK's consumer and competition authority. Its mission is to make markets work well for consumers