Holiday Lets: Is the Contract With Owner or Agent?
If you are thinking of making a complaint about holiday accommodation, it can be difficult to know who you legally have the complaint against. You might have booked a holiday cottage/villa or self catering accommodation through an agent, but it's owned by an individual who you have had absolutely no contact with so far. So how do you know who to complain to, and who is legally responsible for the upkeep of, and any problems with, holiday accommodation?
Contract Law - Agents.Under contract law, you usually have a contract whoever it is that you pay your money to. So if you were to find a hotel online, book a room and pay for it directly, it's easy to see that you have a contract with the owners of the hotel. They are bound by the Sale and Supply of Goods Act and the related Supply of Goods and Services Act to provide you with a holiday that fits the description made of it in the brochure, to supply all services with reasonable skill and care, and provide a holiday that is of 'satisfactory quality'.
The waters become muddier when you book a holiday cottage or other holiday accommodation through an agent. You might see a holiday let advertised, and have to book it through a third party. In this case, the third party is acting as the property owner's agent, and although you are paying them the money, the contract for the holiday let is formed between you and the property owner. If you check the booking conditions of any of the big holiday cottage booking agencies, you will usually find right at the start of their booking conditions, an explanation of this along the lines of:
"We, Acme Holiday Company Limited , act as agent in booking your holiday accommodation and any other related services. Your contract will be with your accommodation owner or other service provider."
What if the Holiday Accommodation is Not as Described?This is a tricky situation in that morally you could say that both parties are liable. For example, if you spot holiday accommodation in a brochure that clearly states there is a cot available for a baby - but on arrival the cot is sadly absent, you have every right to complain as you booked the accommodation on the basis of information provided by the agent. You should notify the agent of the error, and they will have to prove that any such information was passed onto them in good faith. Legally, although the contract is still with the property owner, if the owner can prove that they passed on the correct information about their holiday accommodation to the agent, but the agent misinformed you, they can take action themselves against the agency. The correct way to deal with this sort of issue is to notify the booking agent but address any complaints to the owner. The agent should give you the owner's details when you make your booking.
It will always be the owner of the accommodation that is liable for any compensation - in this scenario for example, perhaps you would have had to buy a travel cot because you needed somewhere for your child to sleep. If the mistake was made as a result of an error by the booking agent, the owner then has the option of recovering the cost from the booking agent, as the owner will have his or her own contract with the agent.