A Hajj travel firm and its director have been ordered to pay £43,000 after being convicted of misleading customers over ATOL protection.
The company, based in Newham, was linked to Holy Makkah Tours, another firm which traded from the same address as well one in Birmingham. Both firms were prosecuted by Birmingham City Council after being investigated by Trading Standards officers.
Islam Freedom Limited’s website stated customers could “book with confidence” as their packages were ATOL protected. ATOL licences are a legal requirement for travel firms selling package holidays.
A Trading Standards officer found the site was still displaying an ATOL logo on February 19, 2014. When they called to enquire about a Hajj tour, they were advised that the company was ATOL bonded. But Islam Freedom Limited’s ATOL licence had actually expired on March 31, 2013.
The company and its director, Shah Shahin Chowdhury, were found guilty of five offences under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 at a hearing in August last year.
At Birmingham Crown Court on August 17 the company was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £5,000 in costs, while a nominal order of £1 was made under the Proceeds of Crime Act against Islam Freedom Limited.
Chowdhury, 44, of West Bromwich, was also fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £5,000 in costs. He was also disqualified from holding any directorship for four years and ordered to pay £13,000 within three months pursuant to a confiscation order made under the Proceeds of Crime Act.
Holy Makkah Tours Limited and its director, Mohammed Suba Ibn Nozir, previously admitted seven offences under the same legislation and were ordered to pay a total of £71,417 at Birmingham Crown Court on July 19.
Councillor Barbara Dring, Chair of Birmingham City Council’s Licensing and Public Protection Committee, said: “This case highlights the need for people booking any holiday to be aware that internet-based travel firms have to adhere to the same codes of practice as those based on the high street.
“It is also a great example of how working closely with our local authority partners has helped us bring a successful prosecution. Trading Standards is here to protect Hajj pilgrims from being ripped off by unscrupulous travel providers. We know it’s important to take action to protect pilgrims and to ensure there is a level playing field for all businesses.”