WITH the holiday season now behind us there’s a good chance that you’re starting to think about where you might jet off to next summer - just don’t be tempted to cut corners in order to pay for it.

Spurred on by some unscrupulous claims management companies, growing numbers of holidaymakers are looking to make enough cash to cover their next holiday by claiming they fell ill on their last one.

It is becoming a major problem, with the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) noting a 500 per cent increase in the number of holiday-sickness compensation claims since 2013, with tens of thousands of claims being made in the past year alone.

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ABTA research found that the cost to a hotel association in Mallorca last year was £42 million, while hotels in Spain and Turkey are considering pulling out of the all-inclusive market altogether because of the impact the surge in claims, the majority of which ABTA said are “exaggerated or fraudulent”, is having.

The problem also appears to be a peculiarly British one. Indeed, Miles Hepworth, a partner at law firm DWF and a member of the Forum of Insurance Lawyers’ working party on holiday-sickness claims, noted that one travel company alone has a backlog of 16,000 claims from British holidaymakers while the total from the rest of the world is just 500.

But why is this the case? The simple answer is that because the claims relate to holidays taken overseas they are not covered by legislation that has seen the UK Government take steps to crackdown on the type of personal injury claims that have sent car insurance premiums rocketing in recent years: whiplash.

Also, because it has historically been easy to make a successful sickness claim, the claims management companies have got in on the action, enticing holidaymakers that would not normally consider making a claim to do just that and making up for their lost whiplash-related revenues in the process.

“The target operating model for the claims management companies driving these claims is to settle earlier and avoid litigation,” Hepworth said.

“Unlike whiplash these claims are difficult to prove and require underlying objective medical evidence. What has made things easier for claimants bringing holiday sickness claims is that many of the main operators have simply passed these claims to the hotels abroad, through various commercial relationships, thereby resulting in payments being made where little or no objective evidence has been provided.”

While the claims generally are made against travel companies rather than on travel insurance policies and so should not directly result in increased travel insurance costs, the Association of British Insurers has warned that the practice could still have the effect of driving up the cost of travel more generally.

This is because if a tour operator or travel agent is hit with a large number of holiday-sickness claims it will affect their own insurance premiums. They will pass this cost on to their customers by way of higher prices for their holidays.

Alastair Ross, head of public policy for Scotland at the Association of British Insurers, said: “Not content with driving up the cost of motor insurance and plaguing UK residents with nuisance calls, there are alarming signs that ambulance-chasing claims firms are now targeting holidaymakers in popular resorts.

“Making fraudulent claims, whether for whiplash or for a stomach bug, always has consequences.

“Anyone tempted to fabricate an illness overseas should be aware this is a crime, and likely to push up holiday prices for everyone in the long-run.”

Indeed, with holiday companies starting to fight back against the deluge of claims they have received, numerous high-profile cases have hit the headlines, with Facebook postings of people enjoying holidays they claimed were blighted by food poisoning being used in the operators’ defence.

Most recently Thomas Cook customer Marissa McLean, who claimed she had fallen ill after eating undercooked chicken while on holiday in Egypt, had her case thrown out at an English court, with the judge ruling she was “fundamentally dishonest” and her claims were “neither plausible nor credible”.

Such public censure should be enough to make people think twice about making similar claims, which are ultimately designed to line the pockets of claims management firms rather than help customers get redress.

In the meantime, the UK Government is taking steps to curb the holiday-sickness epidemic by proposing a series of caps on the cost of settling sickness claims, although Hepworth pointed out that this would only apply in England and Wales and that “for Scotland there is no such cost restriction in the pipeline for litigated claims”.