Making the best of a holiday disaster: A prompt and full complaint will give you the best chance of compensation. Ian Hunter reports

HOLIDAY horror stories - and the difficulty of securing compensation - are nothing new. But if you complain promptly you have a greater chance of getting money back. Failing that, courts can award damages for disappointment caused by the failure - in breach of contract - to provide certain forms of entertainment and enjoyment.

In August last year Alison Benjamin, Martin Flack and eight friends booked a villa in Tenerife with Florisun holidays, a Hertfordshire-based company. After a number of flights had been arranged and a deposit paid, the party was informed that the villa had been double- booked. Alternative accommodation in two smaller villas was offered and accepted.

On arrival the villas were found to be filthy. Old food was left in cupboards. There were spider-webs and larvae hanging from walls and ceilings. Many shops were shut for renovation and the pool bar was closed.

The 'two fine swimming pools' featured in the brochure were empty and when a complaint was made to the agents, unsuitable alternative accommodation was offered. Eventually, three privately owned studios were found. There were not enough beds for everyone and one person had to sleep on the balcony. The studios were in a timeshare complex and the manager refused to allow the party to use any facilities other than the pool and the bar.

The party at least had a sympathetic tour operator. A formal complaint was submitted in August and within six weeks compensation of pounds 4,500 was offered and accepted. Mr Flack said: 'That went a long way towards easing the resentment.'

Many holiday-makers do not have that experience. One difficulty faced when making a claim is measuring the loss. The law does not normally provide for the award of damages purely for injury to feelings, annoyance or any social embarrassment caused by a breach of contract. Damages are usually only awarded for identifiable financial loss.

However, the Court of Appeal has allowed an exception to this principle. If a tour operator fails to provide entertainment facilities that have been contractually promised, damages can be awarded.

One such case involved people who had booked a holiday at an apartment complex in Portugal. It was said to have a large pool, a bar and various other facilities. On arrival, the holiday- makers were told that, owing to a dispute, they would not be allowed to use the pool to swim. They had to travel by hired car to local beaches. The court awarded them pounds 1,000 in damages for inconvenience and disappointment.

Huw Davey, a litigation specialist with the Exeter lawyers Anstey Sargent & Probert, advised: 'Travellers with a complaint should voice it at the earliest opportunity. They could complain either to the tour operator's representative in the resort, or to the supplier of the service, such as the airline or the hotel. Failure to do so could reduce the amount of the tour operator's liability as the holiday-maker could be said to have failed to mitigate his loss.

'Disgruntled holiday-makers should keep a careful note of additional expenses incurred. Any receipts should be retained to back a claim.'

Those who book their holidays by credit card may have an additional right to bring a claim against the credit card company. The Consumer Credit Act says they are jointly liable with the supplier for agreed goods or services that cost at least pounds 100.

(Photograph omitted)

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