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Come on pilgrim

On 25 September officers from Waltham Forest Council’s Trading Standards service visited a number of travel agents within the borough offering Umrah and Hajj packages and found that half were not complying with regulations and were supplying incorrect documentation.


“Many pilgrims will use their life savings to carry out this once in a lifetime pilgrimage,” said Councillor Clyde Loakes, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Environment. “It’s important that any resident who is planning a Hajj or Umrah pilgrimage book using a reputable travel agent. The last thing we want is for our residents to be left high and dry by travel agents who are cutting corners.”


Waltham Forest Trading Standards Officers, accompanied by an officer from Birmingham Trading Standards, visited six travel agents selling Hajj or the smaller Umrah packages to ensure they were able to guarantee their customers’ money would be protected if things went wrong.


Three were not complying with the Package Travel, Package Holidays and Package Tours Regulation 1992. They were found to be supplying incorrect documentation and one was found to be offering Umrah packages without being part of any scheme that provided financial protection for its customers.


Unfortunately, every year Hajj pilgrims across the country fall prey to unregulated tour operators, and so National Trading Standards have created a task force to assist local authorities to tackle illegal Hajj operators.


Hajj is a pilgrimage to Mecca and Medinah in Saudi Arabia which every Muslim is expected to perform at least once in their lifetime, if they are physically and financially able to do so and this year it takes place in October.


All travel agents providing packages for Hajj or Umrah need to be accredited with the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia and registered with the Ministry of Hajj, which is responsible for visitors once they have arrived in the kingdom. Pilgrims are being warned that they should check this accreditation and also that their tour operator holds an ATOL licence meaning they are a bonded operator which guarantees that their money is protected if the operator ceases trading.  


Pilgrims should agree a tour itinerary in writing, including names and addresses of company representatives at the destination, before the departure date and before payment. Documents should be kept in a safe place in case things go wrong.


If things do go wrong, Pilgrims should contact Citizens Advice Consumer Services on 08454 04 05 06 for advice and assistance on compensation. If residents are suspicious of a tour operator, or just want peace of mind, then they should contact Trading Standards on 020 8496 3000 or by emailing tradingstandards@walthamforest.gov.uk


Trading Standards are particularly interested in being contacted with details of any agents who are operating from home so that they can visit them to ensure they have all the legal protections in place.


Trading Standards will be visiting more tour operators in the coming weeks to advise them of their duty in complying with the regulations and to remind them of their responsibility to provide a fair and transparent service.



If you would like more information about any of these press releases or have a different media enquiry please contact us at media@walthamforest.gov.uk or on 020 8496 4521 / 4802.

For out of hours please email media@walthamforest.gov.uk or call 07966 915 157.