Newham

Newham trading standards service warns Hajj pilgrims about unscrupulous operators

27 September 2012 in Business and Community safety and Health
HAJJ pilgrims are being warned to be vigilant for unscrupulous travel operators.
Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, is one of the greatest religious observances in Islam. It is the journey every adult Muslim must undertake at least once in their lifetime if they can afford it and are physically able. It takes place next month (October).

The warning comes shortly after Newham Trading Standards officers raided an alleged scam trader operating from his home in East Ham.

Cllr Unmesh Desai Newham Council’s executive member for crime and anti-social behaviour, said: "Operators who seek to take advantage of pilgrims will not be tolerated. We will take the strongest possible action to ensure they are brought to book."

Newham Trading Standards has received reports of travel agents who are taking advantage of pilgrims in previous years. Consumers have complained about low quality hotel rooms, over-crowded rooms, poor arrangements for bus transfers and confusion about what the package includes. Unfortunately, pilgrims who have faced these problems are often reluctant to come forward. Without this vital evidence, it is impossible for Trading Standards to take action, officers say.

They stress choosing the right agent is the most important aspect of planning for Hajj. There are two types of tour guide: authorised licensed agents and sub-agents. Authorised licensed agents are companies or groups who hold their own licences from the Saudi authorities. Sub-agents are those who use the name of the agents to get the visas. These sub-agents simply get their customers together, take their passports and liaise with the agent to get them the necessary paperwork to enter Saudi Arabia. Using a sub-agent in this way reduces the protection you may have in case of any problems.

Pilgrims are advised to choose an authorised licensed agency, recognised by Saudi Arabian authorities. A list of authorised licensed agencies can be obtained from the Saudi Arabian Consulate.
Newham Trading Standards Service is urging consumers to take the following steps to avoid problems:

• Check your trip is ATOL protected – Any tour operator arranging packages with flights must hold a current Air Travel Organisers Licence (ATOL). Those who do not are breaking the law. An ATOL ensures that your pre-payments are protected and ensures that you can get back home if necessary in the event of the operator going out of business. You can check whether an operator holds a licence by visiting www.caa.co.uk

• Consider booking with a company that has been used and recommended by friends or family

• Check whether the company is a member of a reputable trade association such as ABTA or IATA

• Make sure you get the details of your trip in writing before you pay any money. You must be given details of your itinerary, transport connections, times and places and the details of the company’s representative that you can contact while you are away. Keep this information (as well as any brochures you have been given) somewhere safe until after you come home – you will need it if something goes wrong

• Make sure that any special requests are specifically mentioned in your paperwork

• If something does go wrong make your agent aware as soon as possible and where possible collect evidence or take pictures as proof

Contact the Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 03454 040506 to get advice and report the company.