The European Commission has released new information for passengers in relation to claims agencies that purport to handle claims for disrupted flights. The concept of a claims agency in this context also includes law firms and lawyers acting within this remit. This guidance follows a series of allegations of claims agency malpractice being brought to the Commission’s attention.

The Commission has called for passengers to always claim for compensation and/or expenses under EC Regulation 261/2004 from carriers directly in the first instance, before utilising alternative dispute resolution schemes which carriers may have signed up for. It draws attention to the role of member states national enforcement bodies and the fact that they have the power under Article 16 of EC Reg 261/2004 to enforce overall compliance with the Regulation (as an aside, the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority is currently pursuing enforcement action against five major airlines for denying passengers compensation in instances where a delay to the first leg of a flight results in the passenger missing a connecting flight).

The Commission has highlighted the key legal obligations of claims agencies as guidance for passengers that prefer to instruct a claims agency, the requirements of which are:

  • having a clear pricing structure for claims agency services – i.e. no hidden extras
  • being able to produce a clear power of attorney when the claims agency is acting on behalf of the passenger as their agent
  • not engaging in persistent and unsolicited telemarketing in accordance with the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive

The Commission has also pointed out, from a data protection angle, that no operator, ticket vendor or travel agent (including online travel agent) is allowed to pass a passenger’s details to a claims agency, unless the passenger has given their permission for them to do so.

This is a positive step towards putting a stop to malpractice, which the aviation industry is only too familiar with. It is hoped that this guidance will have the effect of preventing the premature issuing of bulk claims before carriers have responded to the complaints put before them at the pre-litigation stage. It is also hoped that similar guidance may work its way across to the travel sector, more specifically in the sickness claims environment.

Further information from the European Commission on claims agencies can be found online.