Government to target ‘agent for consumer’ retailers

The Civil Aviation Authority has confirmed the government’s determination to crack down on online retailers who seek to bypass consumer protection regulations by acting as agent for the consumer.

CAA consumer protection group deputy director David Moesli said: “Agent for the consumer is an area the government wants to move ahead on. It believes there could be considerable detriment to consumers [from companies acting in this way].”

Moesli said the retailers could find themselves the subject of legislation to reform the Atol regulations through clauses in next year’s planned Transport Bill.

One of the UK’s biggest online travel agents is understood to be ready to switch to booking flights as an agent for consumers while remaining an agent for accommodation suppliers.

Travel association Abta recently issued guidance to members spelling out the difficulties of acting in this way to avoid the extension of CAA licensing through the proposed new Flight-Plus Atol. The guidance prompted a senior industry lawyer, Stephen Mason of TravLaw, to say: “The guidance could be entitled, ‘Agent for consumer: don’t go there’.”

The OTA in question is a leading member of Abta.

Moesli said: “Some businesses are keen to go down the road of agent for the consumer and avoid compliance. The Department for Transport’s position is that if something looks like a holiday, it needs to be protected.”

He told a Waterfront conference on UK aviation in London that the government proposes to use the Transport Bill to tackle the issue.

Asked if legislation to bring those acting as agent for the consumer into the Atol scheme could be at the expense of including scheduled airlines selling holidays, Moesli said: “That will be a decision for the DfT. It will be about how much room there is in the bill. It could be space in the bill is limited.”

The government is currently consulting the sector on Flight-Plus and Moesli said: “The government could be very much influenced by the way the consultation goes.”

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