A Birmingham-based Hajj travel company has today (8 April 2015) been ordered to pay £70,235 at Birmingham Crown Court.
Umrah & Hajj Specialist Ltd, based on Coventry Road, Small Heath, pleaded guilty to five offences under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (2008) and one under the Package Travel, Package Holidays and Package Tours Regulations (1992).
The travel firm has been ordered to pay £38,740 in compensation to seven victims, plus £25,995 costs and a £5,500 fine.
In November 2012, Birmingham Trading Standards started receiving complaints from numerous consumers who had been on the Hajj pilgrimage during October 2012.
The offences relate to the description of and standard of the hotel in Madinah, transport, meals and guides provided, failing to give information about insurance needed, and aggressive practice by company representatives trying to stop dissatisfied customers from complaining.
The brochures claimed the hotel had a 3A* rating and that ‘dedicated air conditioned coaches’, religious guides and educational programmes would be provided as part of these ‘deluxe’ packages.
However the victims described their accommodation as overcrowded with filthy bathrooms and dirty conditions in the bedrooms. Meals were to be provided as part of these packages, however on occasions they had to buy their own food.
Hardly any religious guides or educational programmes were provided. For some parts of the trip coaches failed to arrive or were old, cramped and unsafe.
However when the travellers complained to the tour representatives they were met with contempt, derision and at times aggression.
Pilgrims had paid between £3,295 and £4,195 each for the deluxe or super deluxe Hajj packages booked with the Umrah and Hajj Specialists Ltd.
Some of the travellers booked on these trips were elderly and, for most people, making the pilgrimage for Hajj is a once in a lifetime experience.
Jacqui Kennedy, Birmingham City Council’s Director of Regulation and Enforcement, said: “Birmingham Trading Standards is leading the way nationally on cracking down on unscrupulous Hajj tour operators.
“Package tour operators have a captive audience because visas for Hajj have to be booked through these companies – people can’t do it themselves. This then leaves pilgrims exposed to criminals who wish to exploit them.
“I hope today’s case and the compensation the company has been ordered to pay, reinforces the message that we will continue to investigate and prosecute travel operators who flout the law, take advantage of consumers and fail to deliver what they promise to travellers when booking.”
Media contact: Emma Brady, Press & PR Officer, on 0121 303 6969 or email email@example.com
Notes to editors:
Anyone who has concerns about Hajj travel packages or thinks they may have been a victim of Hajj fraud can email firstname.lastname@example.org (regardless of where they are in the country) or contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or visit www.actionfraud.police.uk
How to protect yourself and your loved ones from Hajj fraudsters
If you are booking a flight-based package make sure your travel company is ATOL (Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing) protected by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
A legitimate ATOL logo will have a four or five digit number and can be checked online at: www.caa.co.uk/checkanatol
ATOL protection is the Government backed financial protection scheme and means if your travel company collapses while you are in Saudi Arabia, you will be repatriated at no further cost.
The CAA will also do everything possible to ensure you can finish and enjoy your holiday without disruption.