In previous years, some Hajj pilgrims have been ripped off by a variety of scams, including paying for a five star hotel but getting substandard accommodation, or in extreme cases, some agents have disappeared and taken pilgrims’ money with them.
Consumer Affairs Minister Kevin Brennan said:
“British pilgrims should not suffer in silence if they feel that they have been ripped off.
We are urging pilgrims to take simple steps to protect themselves, such as retaining travel documents, taking photos of any substandard accommodation, and most importantly, reporting any unsatisfactory experiences to trading standards.
The Government believes that many cases of pilgrims losing out go unreported – preventing them from getting the help, refunds or compensation they are entitled to. It is important to recognise that Hajj pilgrims have the same rights under the Package Travel Regulations as anyone else booking a package trip”
Pilgrims should be aware of the following:
- when choosing a travel organiser or a particular trip, don’t rely on word of mouth recommendations and don’t automatically choose the cheapest offer you see advertised
- check that your package operator holds a current Air Travel Organiser’s Licence (ATOL). During an economic downturn it is even more important that you check that your Hajj tour operator is ATOL-registered. This means any pre-payments are protected and that, if the firm were to go bust – you will be flown back home
- agree your tour itinerary in writing before parting with any money
- keep documents such as contracts, invoices and letters in a safe place, as this helps with redress if things go wrong.
Rashid Mogradia, Council of British Hajjis said
“Pilgrims should know that they have rights when booking a pilgrimage tour, and we encourage them to book through the Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Hajj approved list of tour operators and furthermore book with ATOL registered operators and to avoid those individuals and rogue tour providers who only supply mobile telephones and are not genuine registered businesses.”
Pilgrims who are unhappy with their trip should, as soon as possible, bring this to the attention of a representative of the travel company. If you can’t resolve the problem complain to your nearest Local Council Trading Standards Departments. They can investigate if a firm fails to honour its responsibilities and can advise on how to seek compensation if the service pilgrims received was not what was promised.
Many pilgrims will recall the case last year which involved East London Hajj travel operator Qibla Hajj Kalefa Services. This company defrauded around 300 Hajj pilgrims disappearing with over half a million pounds of their money. Following an intensive investigation, Tower Hamlets Metropolitan Police, along with help from Tower Hamlets Trading Standards, managed to secure a 6 year jail sentence for fraud for company director Mohammed Faruk Ahmed.
Any Hajj travel operator who organises nothing or disappears with pilgrims’ money should be reported to the Police as soon as possible. This is straight forward fraud.
Notes to Editors
- Any firm arranging flights as part of a package must have an ATOL licence, which ensures that payments are protected if the company goes bust. After the collapse of Luton-based tour operator Go4 Hajj in 2007, pilgrims were refunded £270,000 thanks to the firm’s ATOL protection.
- Pilgrims can check whether their operator has an ATOL on the Civil Aviation Authority’s website at www.atol.org.uk using the ‘Check an ATOL’ facility or by calling 020 7453 6424.
- Mohammed Faruk Ahmed, operating under the name of Quibla Hajj Kafela Services, was sentenced to 6 years at Snaresbrook Crown Court in July 2009 for defrauding hundreds of Hajj pilgrims out of half a million pounds. Ahmed had accepted large amounts of money and passports from hundreds of unsuspecting pilgrims before disappearing.
- Anyone experiencing problems can get advice from their local Trading Standards Department. Contact details for local offices are available from Consumer Direct on 08454 04056, at www.consumerdirect.gov.uk or from local town halls.
- The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) at www.fco.gov.uk/hajj offers practical advice to Hajj pilgrims travelling to Saudi Arabia, including the latest travel information and health requirements. Before travelling Hajj pilgrims should check the FCO travel advice and the information on the website of the Saudi Arabian Embassy in London.
- The Council of British Hajis (the CBH) is a voluntary organisation working at grass‐roots for the welfare of British Pilgrims. The CBH runs annual pre-Hajj advice seminars and this year ran the country’s first Hajj vaccination clinic, in partnership with the NHS, to offer mandatory vaccinations required by Saudi Arabia for Hajj 2009 tel: 0845 833 4145 email: www.the‐cbh.org.uk.
- The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) recently facilitated a Hajj Industry Travel Working Group which has met with BIS, the CAA and Trading Standards to take forward developing standard clauses for contracts and in time to develop and establish core industry standards.
More information for pilgrims on consumer rights can be found at www.berr.gov.uk/consumers/fact-sheets/page38205.html
Please contact the Department for Business press office on 0207 215 3496 for more information.
Department for Business, Innovation & Skills
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) is building a dynamic and competitive UK economy by: creating the conditions for business success; promoting innovation, enterprise and science; and giving everyone the skills and opportunities to succeed. To achieve this it will foster world-class universities and promote an open global economy. BIS – Investing in our future.
Phone: For enquiries please contact the above department