CONSUMERS across Halton are being warned to think twice before handing over their hard-earned cash to a company offering free holidays... for a £30 fee.
Over recent weeks the Weekly News has been flooded with calls from concerned readers who have received a letter from 'UK Consumer Competitions', sponsored by 'Holidays Direct', saying they have won a holiday without having knowingly entered any competitions.
Numerous calls to Halton Borough Council's consumer protection division have prompted an urgent warning for people to make sure they know what they are getting themselves into before paying a non-returnable £29.50 'processing fee'.
They are also urging people to beware of signing legally binding contracts.
This week a different company, Direct Holidays, has stressed it has nothing whatsoever to do with Holidays Direct, saying it too has received calls from worried customers who have been unable to contact the competition company to claim their 'prize'.
A spokeswoman for Direct Holidays said: 'Following enquiries from concerned consumers, some of whom have sent money to Holidays Direct but have yet to receive their holidays and are unable to contact them, some trading standards authorities have issued warnings about dealing with Holidays Direct. We would make it clear we are in no way connected with this organisation.'
A spokesman for Halton Borough Council said: 'The council's consumer protection team has received numerous enquiries from consumers who have received a letter saying they have won a holiday, even though they haven't entered any competitions. Of course, there is a catch in order to claim the holiday they have to pay a £30 processing fee.
'Before being tempted to part with money people should find out if there are any hidden extras. As well as the processing fee there may be charges for insurance transfers from the airport and child places.
'Often the company says they will provide the holiday within 18 months this could mean you have a long wait before you are offered anything.
'The terms and conditions of the offer need to be read carefully because once you enter into the contract you will be bound by those terms. You may be offered a holiday at the last minute, from an airport where you live, or to a destination that you don't want to go to.
'If you do not or cannot accept the holiday you are offered you are likely to lose the money you have paid.
He added: 'It is significant that the companies tend to charge a processing fee rather than a deposit. If the £30 were a deposit or a charge for the holiday then, if the trader didn't provide a holiday, you would be able to hold him in breach of contract and claim your money back.
'By making the £30 a processing fee the company can hold on to your money even if it doesn't supply you with a holiday.'
u Halton Borough Council's consumer protection division has produced an information sheet which is available free of charge by contacting Halton Borough Council Environmental Services Directorate, Grosvenor House, Halton Lea, Runcorn, WA7 2GW. Telephone 0151 471 7515 or e-mail email@example.com