A claims management firm that targets airline passengers is facing criminal prosecution– just as this year’s holidaymakers are being warned of a surge in compensation scams during the coronavirus pandemic.

Flight Delay Claims Team (FDCT) and its officers, Martin, Naomi and Joseph Ryan, are to stand trial in January charged with fraudulent trading following a three-year investigation by Northamptonshire trading standards.

The company, run by the Ryan family from a house in Northampton, is one of many claims firms to cash in on an EU directive that entitles passengers to compensation of up to €600 if their flight is delayed or cancelled.

FDCT promises a “no-win, no-fee” service and invites passengers to fill out a web form to check if they are eligible for a payout. Those who submit their details report being pursued for bills of up to four figures, despite not receiving the promised payout.

Fraudsters have been quick to take advantage of the fact that so many people have had to cancel their holidays

Travellers are now being warned of a proliferation of companies offering to obtain refunds and/or compensation for cancelled trips this year.

“Fraudsters have been quick to take advantage of the fact that so many people have had to cancel or postpone their holidays as a result of the pandemic,” said Nick Downing, chief intelligence officer for the fraud prevention service Cifas.

He added: “Over the last couple of months we’ve seen a sharp rise in holidaymakers being contacted by criminals purporting to be from travel companies, tour operators and insurers offering to refund or rebook cancelled holidays, as well as setting up fake websites offering refunds and compensation to holidaymakers.”

While some companies are out to directly defraud consumers of their refunds, others are charging a fee for a service consumers can get themselves for free. While this is not illegal, the terms and conditions on these websites are often opaque.

Airlines are not liable to pay additional compensation for cancellations caused by an extraordinary circumstance such as Covid-19, but claims-management firms who once took a large cut for handling PPI cases are now offering to secure fare refunds for fees of up to 30% of the claim. Terms and conditions are often invisible or concealed on the websites.

The struggle to get flight refunds was highlighted last week when consumer group Which? announced that it had compiled a dossier of 14,000 refund complaints, collectively worth more than £5.6m, which it had passed on to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). The CAA is reviewing how airlines have handled cancellations and refunds in recent months.

Last year the consumer rights campaigner Martin Lewis said he wished the “form-filling farms” that made millions chasing PPI claims in the last decade would “crawl back under a rock” now that the deadline for compensation had passed. Instead, many simply evolved into claims businesses targeting other markets, such as airlines.

Last year claims management firms were brought under the regulation of the Financial Conduct Authority – but firms that manage flight claims were exempted.

Postal worker James Mayfield (not his real name), lost money to a flight claims company. He was visited by bailiffs seeking £1,750 after using the company’s web checker to see if his cancelled flight was eligible for compensation. He decided not to engage the firm, but weeks after his enquiry, the company began sending escalating bills, followed by a county court summons. Mayfield assumed it was a scam and a default judgment was made against him in his absence.

“The last year has been an absolute nightmare because of the relentless phone calls and bullying,” he said. “Enforcement officers visited my home several times, questioning neighbours and taking photos. I had to leave my job as I was struggling to cope and my credit rating was severely affected.”

Mayfield applied for the judgment to be set aside and the case was thrown out at a second hearing.

Northamptonshire’s trading standards department is currently investigating another company run by Martin Ryan, Compensation Claims GB (CCGB), which offers the same “free” eligibility check and “no-win, no-fee” service as FDCT. Neither company responded to a request for a comment.

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