The UK government has now taken steps in the fight against fake food poisoning claims after uproar from Spanish tourism authorities, in part because of the “damage to the British reputation overseas.”
Justice Secretary David Lidington pledged to reduce the cash incentives to bring action against holiday firms.
Currently, a loophole allows claims management firms to levy unlimited legal costs for incidents that take place overseas, so tour operators which fight claims can pay costs that are out of proportion to the damages.
Under the new proposals, operators would pay a prescribed sum depending on the value of the claim, making the cost of defending a claim predictable.
A system to control costs already exists for most personal injury claims in England and Wales, and it will should not affect compensation to those with genuine claims.
“Our message to those who make false holiday sickness claims is clear – your actions are damaging and will not be tolerated,” said Lidington.
“We are addressing this issue, and will continue to explore further steps we can take. This government is absolutely determined to tackle the compensation culture which has penalised the honest majority for too long.”
He added: “These changes will crack down on those who do make bogus claims and help stop the price of package holidays soaring for the honest majority.”
The scams proliferated in resorts such as Benidorm. Photo: AFP
Earlier this summer, Spain's hotel industry announced new measures to protect themselves against fraudulent food poisoning claims that cost the industry more than €60 million last year alone.
The head of the Spanish hotel owners association (CEHAT) announced that fake insurance claims by British holidaymakers on all-inclusive deals will now result in immediate prosecution.
The number of sickness claims rose by 700 per cent in 2016, according to date from CEHAT.
The scam that really hit Spain during the summer of 2016 involves British tourists claiming that they suffered food poisoning while eating at hotels in Spain in a bid to get their money refunded.
Typically the claims come from those who wait until they have returned to the UK – too late to obtain proof of the food poisoning from a local Spanish doctor – and then file cases with small claims courts or complain directly to their tour operators.
The behaviour has been actively encouraged by some unscrupulous no-win, no-fee solicitors who tout for business at popular tourist resorts across Spain's costas.
There have been reports of lawyers even operating mobile “claims clinics” in vans parked outside all-inclusive hotels.
Around 90 percent of all claims received by tour operators are thought to be false, but hotels have had no line of defence, until now.
Among the “stringent measures” to be implemented this year will be a ‘traceability' scheme that will see guests have their consumption of food and drink tightly monitored.
This will allow hotels to prove that details contained in the claims did not meet with the behaviour of the holidaymakers in Spain – effectively they can prove that when the holidaymaker claimed to be lying sick in bed, they were really still consuming meals and drinks on the premises.
Hotels will also start a campaign involving the distribution of leaflets explaining that false insurance claims constitute a ‘criminal offence' in Spain.
False claimants will potentially face jail sentences of six months to three years and steep financial penalties.
Last month saw the first arrests related to the food poisoning scam, with two Brits suspecting of encouraging holidaymakers to make dishonest claims detained in Mallorca.