Episode 2 Rip Off Britain


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Episode 2

The Rip Off Britain team investigate the jaw-dropping tale of how a company sent one family to a succession of villas it turned out they had no right to stay in.


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We asked you who's left you feeling ripped off when it comes to your

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holidays, and you came back with a catalogue of travel disasters.

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When we got to the hotel, it wasn't to the standard...

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We felt totally ripped off, and we paid to move somewhere else.

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It happens all the time,

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that somebody else has paid less for the holiday that I paid more for.

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So, whether it's a deliberate rip-off,

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a simple mistake or a catch in the small print,

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we'll find out why YOU'RE out of pocket,

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and what you can do about it.

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Your stories, your money.

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This is Rip-Off Britain.

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Hello, and welcome to Rip-Off Britain,

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where this time we're bringing a taste of summer into your homes.

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For this series, we've come to the island of Tenerife in the Canaries.

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We're here to investigate some of the stories you've sent us

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about holidays that you've told us have gone horribly wrong.

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Disastrously so, in some cases.

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And the people that we're going to be hearing from would all say that when things DID start to go wrong,

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they were very much left to themselves to sort it out.

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Which, when you're thousands of miles from home, let's face it,

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is by no means an easy thing.

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Not a good position to be in.

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And what makes these particular stories worse

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is that none of the situations

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we'll be hearing about should ever have happened in the first place.

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As you'll see, it really is staggering how some of them are actually handled.

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And it's left several of the people involved

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not just seriously annoyed, but seriously out of pocket as well.

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Coming up - of all the jaw-dropping stories you've sent us

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about holiday villas, this tops the lot.

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Just wait till you hear what happened

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to these sisters and their husbands.

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Sheila was in tears. I was only just holding myself together.

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And five years after investing their savings

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in holiday homes in the sun,

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why are these viewers' dream properties still not built?

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We haven't been able to retire,

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because we've lost our only capital.

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I would love to take my grandchild,

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but we can't do anything.

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Now, you often tell us about your disastrous experiences

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of booking a villa abroad.

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But it's rare to hear of such a catalogue of disasters

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that befell two sisters who actually contacted us

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while they were still away.

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Through no fault of their own,

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they and their husbands found themselves booked into villas

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they should never have been sent to.

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It was almost like, this is just my worst nightmare.

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We just couldn't get in, and our hearts just sunk.

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It was a world away from the relaxing break

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that sisters Sheila Thorpe and Mo Hutson had been hoping for.

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Two years previously, they'd had

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such a great trip to Orlando, Florida with their husbands

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that when they started planning a holiday for August 2016,

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they went straight back to the company they'd used

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the previous time - a UK-based company called 3501 Travel Ltd.

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And they asked to book into the exact same villa

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in Haines City, Florida.

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When the agent told us that the villa was available,

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-we were chuffed to bits, weren't we?

-Oh, ecstatic.

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We were really excited, because, you know,

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we had happy memories associated with the villa.

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Sheila and Mo paid almost £3,200 for a three-week stay in the villa,

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including car hire.

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They paid by bank transfer,

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and were told by 3501 Travel Ltd

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that a confirmation of their booking would be sent to them

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four weeks before their departure.

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In fact, it didn't arrive until a week before they were due to travel.

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That was a bit unsettling,

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but all concerns were forgotten once their flight landed

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and they were on their way to the villa

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they'd been so looking forward to revisiting.

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When we were arriving at the property,

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I mean, we know the area very, very well

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and driving in, we knew exactly the way to go,

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and we're going, "Oh, there it is..."

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From the outside, the villa looked just as they remembered.

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But, when Sheila tried to get INSIDE the property, using the access code

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that 3501 Travel Ltd had sent them,

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she found the number wouldn't work.

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I don't think anyone believed me at first.

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-No.

-I was trying the lock box, and I thought, "Have I got it right,

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"have I got the number right? Yes, I've got it right."

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Tried it again, tried it again,

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and then everyone came and tried it.

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And we just couldn't get in, and our hearts just sunk.

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Instead of the welcoming holiday home they were expecting,

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the whole place was deserted,

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with no hint that any visitors were expected.

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The pool was covered.

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The gate was locked.

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The chairs were all over the place.

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-Yeah.

-You know, there was no preparation.

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Thinking there might have been a mix-up in their travel dates,

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Mo called the caretaker of the property,

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whose number was still in her phone from their previous visit.

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He gave the couples some shocking news.

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I explained the situation, and he said,

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"You won't get in the villa,

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"because it's been foreclosed."

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Sheila was in tears.

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I was only just holding myself together.

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When they eventually got internet access,

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they discovered an e-mail from 3501 Travel Ltd,

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confirming that the villa they'd booked and paid for

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had been repossessed by the bank.

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But, because one of the company's directors had been unwell,

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that message had only been passed on to Sheila and Mo

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after they'd already left the UK.

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3501 Travel Ltd WAS able to offer the sisters an alternative villa

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nearby, although it wasn't clear for how long.

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-We felt helpless, and that we had no control over the situation.

-Mm.

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And you're in a different country, different laws...

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When the couples arrived at the replacement villa,

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this time they WERE able to get in,

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but because they didn't know how long they'd be staying there,

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it was far from the relaxing start to the holiday they were expecting.

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We lived out of suitcases for the next several days,

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because we were expecting to move at any minute,

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so we never really settled and made ourselves at home,

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because we felt that at any time, we were going to move.

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Sheila tried calling 3501 Travel Ltd,

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to establish how long they were going to be staying

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in the new villa,

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or whether they should be prepared to move again.

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But she was told they could only communicate by e-mail,

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and in the end,

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it wasn't from the company they'd booked with

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that Sheila and Mo eventually got the answer.

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It was via a shocking phone call

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that came through on the property's line.

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He said, "I'm the owner of the property at Rebecca Drive,"

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and Mo said, "Thank you so much

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"for allowing us to stay in your property."

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And he said, "Well, I'm afraid I didn't know

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"that you were even in my property."

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The owner said he'd only discovered

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there were people staying in his property through neighbours.

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He went on to say the villa had been up for rent on 3501 Travel Ltd

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entirely without his knowledge or permission,

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and Mo and Sheila weren't the first people

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that the company had sent there.

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For the sisters, it was a stunning blow.

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They could just about understand how the issue

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with the first villa had come about,

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but to find that they shouldn't have been in this second one either

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was almost too much to take in.

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If the floor could have opened up

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I would have been quite happy at that point,

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because I just did not know what to say to the man.

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To their intense relief, the owner of the villa told Sheila and Mo

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they could stay there until the end of the month,

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at which point it was let to someone else.

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But that still left them short of somewhere to stay

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for the final week of their trip.

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The man was so kind, and said, "Look, don't worry,"

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but we just didn't feel comfortable any more.

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We just felt that we were trespassing.

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Embarrassed and angry at the situation they found themselves in,

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Sheila and Mo once again contacted 3501 Travel Ltd.

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We saw the time creeping and creeping up,

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so I e-mailed the agent and said,

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"Look, we need a resolution of this."

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And then suddenly, we had the offer of a villa.

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Just six days before they were due to leave the temporary villa,

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3501 Travel Ltd contacted Sheila to say it HAD finally found

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somewhere for them to stay for their last week.

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Hugely relieved, Mo and Sheila agreed to go and check it out.

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But their hopes were soon dashed.

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The villa was in no way prepared for rental.

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The pool was green, the lanai was broken.

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The house was dirty, it was ill-prepared.

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Mm. the blinds were all hanging down in the windows...

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I mean, it was awful.

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By now, understandably fed up with 3501 Travel Ltd,

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the women decided to take matters into their own hands.

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I wrote to the agent and said, "We will find somewhere ourselves."

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And then we received an e-mail, didn't we,

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saying...

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-"Got a villa for you to look at."

-"Got a villa for you to look at."

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Despite promises of photos and information about this next villa,

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the details were scant.

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-He actually sent us the details from TripAdvisor.

-Yeah.

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Now, unfortunately, they had the owner's phone number on there.

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So, I phoned him.

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And, they had not heard from anybody about

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the possibility of the villa rental.

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They had booked...

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The period of time we were talking about

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had been booked actually since the previous September.

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With their trust in 3501 Travel Ltd completely shattered,

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Sheila and Mo decided

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they'd have to find and pay for another villa themselves.

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Well, it was just over £2,000 in all, wasn't it?

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It was, yeah. It's a considerable amount of money.

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-That we work hard for.

-Mm.

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Now back in the UK,

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Mo and Sheila have taken 3501 Travel Ltd and its owner

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to the small claims court

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to get back what they'd paid

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for a villa they never got to stay in,

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and to be compensated

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for the time and money they'd spent on sorting everything out.

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But in the meantime, they've been shocked to discover

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that the original villa - the one that was foreclosed -

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was still being advertised for let

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on a website called The Villa Rental Company,

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a related company of 3501 Travel Ltd.

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Oh, there it is!

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Just look what it says, Mo.

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"This grand villa is located on Kokomo Loop, on Southern Dunes,

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"and is a marvellous example

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"of how important the choice of where you stay

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"can make or break your vacation."

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Why is it still here? That's outrageous.

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Well, we contacted 3501 Travel Ltd

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to ask them how this succession of disastrous bookings

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could possibly have come about.

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But, just like the sisters, we've heard nothing back.

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However, there ARE ways to protect yourself

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when choosing a villa abroad.

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Booking your villa as part of a package,

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through a well-known, reputable British company,

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and paying by credit card,

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can offer security if things go wrong,

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as aviation expert Julian Bray explains.

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The key thing is, they must be registered in the UK

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in order to take advantage of the ATOL regulations,

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and I should say, that's the air tour operators' licences.

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Basically they're selling you a package,

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which means there has to be something like

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a villa and a flight involved.

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Now, if that happens, and something goes wrong,

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at least the Civil Aviation Authority is mandated

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to bring you back to the UK.

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And also, of course,

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you can then use the Consumer Credit Act to try and get back

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some of your money through the credit card company.

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But Sheila and Mo, who DIDN'T book that way,

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have been left counting the cost of a holiday

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that turned into a disaster.

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The whole process has left me feeling...

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..pretty exhausted and very angry.

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And what strikes us, I think, to this very day,

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is that we've never had an apology.

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We've never had this agent saying, "I'm really sorry for this."

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Now, for some people, the annual fortnight away simply isn't enough,

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and the prospect of year-round sunshine

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and perhaps even a whole lifestyle abroad

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can make investing in property overseas

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a very attractive proposition.

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But whilst homes in Spain and France have tempted Brits for decades,

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more recently it's been locations much, much further afield

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that some of you have signed up to.

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And although being hundreds of miles away from home

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can all seem part of the appeal,

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if the promises you've invested tens of thousands of pounds in

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DON'T materialise,

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then getting things resolved so far away from home,

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or indeed getting your money back, can prove almost impossible.

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Crystal clear waters, glorious sandy beaches, year-round sun.

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All the reasons why, until its recent sharp downturn,

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the Egyptian Red Sea coast was a firm favourite with holiday-makers

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seeking a luxurious but affordable destination.

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And busy pub managers Stephen and Jane Burr

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were set on buying their own slice of Egyptian paradise.

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The culture, the history is amazing,

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the Red Sea, it's absolutely beautiful.

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The people are so friendly.

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They can't do enough for you.

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The couple went online to search for properties in Egypt,

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and came across a new, glossy complex on Egypt's Red Sea coast,

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called Oasis Marina.

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So, curious to find out more, they flew out to take a look,

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and the agent showed them around.

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They took us to Oasis Marina, which was a brand-new development.

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They only had, I think, 12 apartments built so far.

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It was going to be a hotel complex

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with restaurants, bars, spa facilities, things like that.

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So it all looked so enticing and...

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-A dream.

-Yeah.

-Living a dream.

-A dream home, basically, yeah.

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The couple were shown plans selling that dream,

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and the idea of a two-bed apartment in such a fantastic complex,

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with unbeatable views to boot, proved irresistible.

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You walked in through the back door, and there was a kitchen diner,

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a long living room, beautiful glass doors,

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and the Red Sea was there in front of you.

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So the couple took the plunge, and bought an off-plan two-bed apartment

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for £68,000.

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It's like... Can't believe this, our dream home.

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Something we can all share as a family,

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any friends that want to come over, it'd be great.

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Any time, it's there, it's ours.

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Back home in Bristol, they had to remortgage their home to pay for the

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Egyptian apartment. And it was quite an outlay, but it felt all worth it.

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Until a year later,

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when it became clear that the dream home hadn't materialised,

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and indeed was still only partially built.

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We went back to visit the apartments,

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and they were still in the same condition as when we first saw them.

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We thought, "'Ey up, what's going on?

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"Nothing's moving, there's something wrong."

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Well, that was in 2011.

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And since then, Stephen and Jane

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have been given a whole string of excuses

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from the company behind the resort,

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the Iraida Estate Agency.

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Most recently, they even blamed the delay

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on the country's political unrest.

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They blamed the revolution for the first year after it was supposed to be done,

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and then they said because of the celebrations of the revolution the year later,

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supplies was not coming down because people was partying

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and celebrating what had happened in Egypt.

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I need a gammon, darling, and a mixed grill.

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There are plenty of other people who sunk huge chunks of money

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into the Oasis Marina development

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without getting what they expected in return.

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-Pleased to meet you.

-Pleased to meet you...

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Well, they'd rather have met each other as neighbours

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enjoying the Egyptian sunshine, but instead,

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they're meeting for the first time at Stephen and Jane's Bristol pub.

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These property developers really want bringing to book.

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-Well, someone should...

-Someone's got to do something.

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We are just ignored.

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At the end of the day, all we want is our money back now, isn't it?

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Yeah, we want our money back.

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We have been so disappointed

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with years and years of pushing this on and on and on.

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They don't care about us.

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-All they care is what they can get from us.

-Exactly.

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Barbara Woodhead and her husband Barry

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had been after a place they could use themselves,

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but also rent out to gain extra income in their retirement.

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We were told that

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the up-and-coming place to buy a property was in the Red Sea.

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And then we saw the advert in a Sunday paper,

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so we contacted the agent.

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After a visit to the site, they used all their capital,

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including money from two pensions and the remainder of an inheritance,

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to pay for the apartment in full, totalling over £32,000.

0:17:520:17:56

But seven years on, the apartment remains unbuilt,

0:17:560:18:00

leaving the couple in a perilous financial position.

0:18:000:18:03

We haven't been able to retire.

0:18:030:18:05

Barry's still working part-time,

0:18:050:18:09

and I do a summer job because we've lost our only capital.

0:18:090:18:14

And it's affected our whole retirement,

0:18:140:18:18

and consequently our whole lives.

0:18:180:18:21

Susanne Lewis and her husband David are in a similar situation,

0:18:220:18:26

after paying just over £40,000

0:18:260:18:29

for what they thought would be a family holiday home.

0:18:290:18:33

It's a problem

0:18:330:18:35

that doesn't go away.

0:18:350:18:36

It's a problem you live with every day, every night,

0:18:360:18:40

trying to think of what we can do next.

0:18:400:18:43

And you also have rows amongst yourselves about it,

0:18:430:18:47

and it puts a strain on the marriage.

0:18:470:18:50

I would love to take my grandchild.

0:18:510:18:54

-Mmm.

-But we can't do anything.

0:18:570:19:01

Yeah.

0:19:010:19:02

Jim Quigley DOES actually have the keys to his apartment.

0:19:040:19:07

But as far as he's concerned,

0:19:070:19:09

the £58,000 in cash he shelled out for it wasn't worth it.

0:19:090:19:14

There's wires hanging down off the wall,

0:19:140:19:16

that should have been in behind the plaster and the tiling -

0:19:160:19:19

they were just dangling.

0:19:190:19:20

It was just...

0:19:200:19:22

..a shambles. That's the best way to say it,

0:19:220:19:25

it was just a shambles.

0:19:250:19:26

We paid for this luxury apartment -

0:19:260:19:30

it was not luxury at all.

0:19:300:19:32

Although they were introduced to the complex by different agents,

0:19:320:19:36

all these investors put the blame for the state of their properties

0:19:360:19:39

squarely on the company responsible

0:19:390:19:42

for developing and selling the apartments,

0:19:420:19:44

a business called Iraida Estate Agency.

0:19:440:19:47

And when we looked, we found that its website and other ones linked to it

0:19:470:19:51

were still advertising property for sale.

0:19:510:19:54

Now, the man behind the agency is Ehab Shahwan.

0:19:540:19:58

He describes himself as "Honorary Tourism Ambassador for Egypt".

0:19:580:20:02

But according to the investors WE spoke to, that title -

0:20:020:20:05

indeed if it's correct - is hardly well deserved.

0:20:050:20:07

And what rubs salt into the investors' wounds even further

0:20:070:20:11

is that here he is in New York,

0:20:110:20:13

apparently receiving an award for quality in construction.

0:20:130:20:16

We did deliver hundreds of apartments

0:20:160:20:19

during the last five years with very good quality.

0:20:190:20:22

And more worryingly still,

0:20:220:20:24

when we spoke to a lawyer based in Egypt representing some of those

0:20:240:20:27

fighting for their money back,

0:20:270:20:29

he told us that this was one of a whole string

0:20:290:20:31

of similar cases in Hurghada,

0:20:310:20:33

each involving hundreds of investors from all over the world.

0:20:330:20:36

And whilst those cases are unconnected with Shahwan

0:20:360:20:39

or indeed the Iraida Group of Companies,

0:20:390:20:42

they have created a backlog in the courts.

0:20:420:20:44

He told us that this, and the fact that the wheels of justice in Egypt

0:20:460:20:50

turn VERY slowly,

0:20:500:20:52

means that it could be years before these cases come to court.

0:20:520:20:56

So, we've called in overseas property lawyer Stefano Lucatello,

0:20:580:21:02

who's meeting the group to advise them on what to do next.

0:21:020:21:05

Thanks for coming, Stefano.

0:21:050:21:07

Stephen and the others had all assumed

0:21:070:21:08

that because they'd used an agent

0:21:080:21:10

to broker their property deals,

0:21:100:21:12

that they would be protected if something went wrong.

0:21:120:21:15

I thought I was clever because I went through an agent.

0:21:150:21:18

So I presumed they would have done all the homework for me.

0:21:180:21:21

But Stefano says that simply is not enough

0:21:230:21:25

to keep your money safe.

0:21:250:21:27

The first thing you need to do when you go to an agent

0:21:270:21:29

is to check up whether that agent is registered

0:21:290:21:31

with something called the Association of International Property Professionals.

0:21:310:21:35

The AIPP gives you the first step of credibility to an agent.

0:21:350:21:40

They have to go through a series of hoops to convince the panel

0:21:400:21:45

that they have indemnity insurance, that they've got a clean

0:21:450:21:48

track record, and that's what you want to be checking up -

0:21:480:21:50

check your regulatory body first of all.

0:21:500:21:52

But with that advice just too late for these investors,

0:21:540:21:57

they have a far more pressing question

0:21:570:21:59

they'd like Stefano to answer.

0:21:590:22:01

So do you think there's any chance of any of us getting our money back?

0:22:010:22:04

You won't get everything back that you've invested,

0:22:040:22:06

but in grouping together

0:22:060:22:08

it gives you power, and it gives you security.

0:22:080:22:11

I just want my money back!

0:22:110:22:12

Yeah.

0:22:120:22:14

But while Stefano thinks the investors may have power in numbers,

0:22:140:22:17

he's very cautious about their chances,

0:22:170:22:19

as he suspects not enough checks were made at the start.

0:22:190:22:22

In this particular case, I think what happened was

0:22:230:22:25

that the proper due diligence

0:22:250:22:27

that was necessary for Egypt wasn't followed.

0:22:270:22:30

They were led too much by the estate agent,

0:22:300:22:32

they were led too much by the developer.

0:22:320:22:34

And that's something that Stefano has seen far too often.

0:22:340:22:37

I've been doing this job 30 years, and I hear new ones every day.

0:22:390:22:42

New stories, people being bamboozled.

0:22:420:22:45

The common denominator is that most people lose their money.

0:22:450:22:49

Well, we tried contacting

0:22:510:22:52

the companies behind the Oasis Marina development,

0:22:520:22:55

the Iraida Estate Agency and Iraida Construction,

0:22:550:22:59

to discover just what had happened to the money

0:22:590:23:01

our investors had sunk into the project.

0:23:010:23:03

But I'm afraid we just didn't get a response.

0:23:030:23:06

For those affected, however,

0:23:070:23:09

the gathering together at Stephen's pub

0:23:090:23:11

has strengthened their resolve to find a collective solution.

0:23:110:23:15

I think it's lifted the morale...

0:23:150:23:18

-Yes.

-And Stefano here with his ideas and suggestions

0:23:190:23:25

has boosted the morale even higher.

0:23:250:23:28

We're going to keep on fighting until we get something.

0:23:280:23:31

You know. And don't forget I've got many years left inside me,

0:23:310:23:35

so, 20, 30 years, I'll still fight for my place.

0:23:350:23:37

Still to come on Rip-Off Britain...

0:23:470:23:48

A missing wheelchair, finally returned broken.

0:23:480:23:53

So what happens when vital equipment doesn't make it safely across the skies?

0:23:530:23:57

I'm just gutted. Totally gutted,

0:23:570:24:00

that my memories are of the disaster

0:24:000:24:02

and not the pleasures of the holiday.

0:24:020:24:04

Our travel expert Simon Calder

0:24:080:24:11

has all the secrets to save you money on your holidays.

0:24:110:24:13

He's full of tips on everything from how to avoid the crowds

0:24:130:24:17

to the best way to steer clear of those tourist traps.

0:24:170:24:20

This time, he's sharing tips on destinations that are exotic,

0:24:220:24:26

but affordable too.

0:24:260:24:28

Affordable, exotic locations?

0:24:280:24:30

You might be thinking that's a contradiction in terms.

0:24:300:24:33

Let me see if I can convince you otherwise.

0:24:330:24:36

Top of Simon's list is Bangkok.

0:24:360:24:38

Not least because he says fares there can be ridiculously cheap -

0:24:400:24:43

at least if you're happy to change planes along the way.

0:24:430:24:47

You can sometimes pay as little as £400 return,

0:24:470:24:50

which is just one reason why Simon is a big fan.

0:24:500:24:53

But it's also because the Thai capital

0:24:550:24:58

is full of enriching experiences,

0:24:580:25:00

from some of the best street food on the planet

0:25:000:25:03

to a massage in a temple,

0:25:030:25:05

all in the company of charming and welcoming people.

0:25:050:25:09

Daily life for travellers to Thailand can be blissfully inexpensive -

0:25:100:25:15

as is getting around the country.

0:25:150:25:16

But where next on Simon's list of hidden gems?

0:25:160:25:19

Researching the best exotic beach was an ordeal!

0:25:200:25:24

But I struggled through, from the Maldives to Malibu.

0:25:240:25:27

And the affordable answer -

0:25:270:25:29

Cabo San Lucas, at the southern tip of Mexico's Baja Peninsula.

0:25:290:25:33

And with ferocious competition

0:25:350:25:37

between airlines across the Atlantic,

0:25:370:25:39

you can pick up a flight for as little as £450 in the month of February.

0:25:390:25:43

And according to Simon, with the Mexican peso flagging,

0:25:430:25:47

rooms, meals out, and local travel transport

0:25:470:25:49

are all gratifyingly cheap as well.

0:25:490:25:52

And, short-haul exotic?

0:25:530:25:55

It exists - and it's easy to find.

0:25:550:25:58

Just fly due south, to Morocco.

0:25:580:26:01

Marrakech is a kaleidoscope of colours and a feast of flavours,

0:26:020:26:06

all under four hours' flying time from the UK.

0:26:060:26:08

For something even more intense,

0:26:090:26:12

aim for the Moroccan city of Fez.

0:26:120:26:14

Fez is the most complete medieval city in North Africa,

0:26:160:26:19

and the birthplace of imperial Morocco.

0:26:190:26:22

It's the perfect place to do something completely different

0:26:220:26:26

for your next holiday, something that Simon enthusiastically recommends.

0:26:260:26:29

As you step into the ancient Medina, you leave the modern world behind.

0:26:310:26:35

Now, I'm sure that most of us will have allowed ourselves

0:26:430:26:46

just a moment of anxiety

0:26:460:26:47

when we hand over our luggage at the airport.

0:26:470:26:51

Will our cases get damaged?

0:26:510:26:53

Might they even go missing?

0:26:530:26:55

After all, we've all heard the horror stories.

0:26:550:26:57

But it's bad enough if it's your CASE that goes missing

0:26:570:27:01

or is damaged and suffers during transport -

0:27:010:27:03

quite another if it is the very thing

0:27:030:27:06

that you rely on to get around. Your wheelchair, for example.

0:27:060:27:10

And that is exactly what happened to the people in our next film.

0:27:100:27:14

And, as you'll see, while there ARE rules in place

0:27:140:27:17

to make sure that airlines sort this sort of problem out,

0:27:170:27:21

I'm afraid that things aren't always as easy to resolve as they should be.

0:27:210:27:26

Sometimes, a holiday is more than just a break in the sun -

0:27:290:27:32

it's a special journey that you've always hoped to make.

0:27:320:27:36

And for Alexis Macleod from Glasgow,

0:27:360:27:38

there was one place that she'd been desperate to visit -

0:27:380:27:41

Elvis Presley's former home, Graceland, in Memphis, Tennessee.

0:27:410:27:46

My '68 Special dress.

0:27:460:27:48

I'm a number one fan,

0:27:480:27:50

and he is and always will be the king of rock and roll.

0:27:500:27:53

From my childhood,

0:27:530:27:54

I've always liked Elvis, and it's been my dream to visit Graceland.

0:27:540:27:58

Well, in January 2015,

0:27:590:28:01

Alexis finally had the chance to make that longed-for pilgrimage.

0:28:010:28:05

It was the first time

0:28:050:28:07

that I knew I could go

0:28:070:28:08

for a long time, do a big trip,

0:28:080:28:10

and it was his 80th birthday,

0:28:100:28:12

which is something that can never be celebrated again.

0:28:120:28:15

The holiday of a lifetime.

0:28:150:28:16

It's not easy for Alexis to fly.

0:28:190:28:21

She has post-polio syndrome - delayed symptoms

0:28:210:28:24

resulting from an attack of polio that she had as a child.

0:28:240:28:28

Because of muscle weakness,

0:28:280:28:30

she has used a wheelchair since she was a teenager,

0:28:300:28:33

but her disability has never put her off travelling.

0:28:330:28:36

I've been to Paris, Belgium, Portugal,

0:28:360:28:39

and it gave me the confidence to do this trip to Graceland for Elvis,

0:28:390:28:44

to celebrate his birthday.

0:28:440:28:46

Alexis paid £3,500 for the two-week trip and, as on previous holidays,

0:28:480:28:54

had made all the necessary arrangements to make sure

0:28:540:28:56

that her airline, British Airways,

0:28:560:28:58

was aware that she was a wheelchair user.

0:28:580:29:01

So, when the departure date arrived, she boarded the flight from Glasgow

0:29:010:29:05

trusting that her chair would be put in the hold

0:29:050:29:07

and seamlessly transferred to her connecting flight to the US.

0:29:070:29:11

Alexis had also arranged assistance at Heathrow,

0:29:110:29:15

so that she'd be met with another chair

0:29:150:29:17

to help her get across the airport.

0:29:170:29:19

She had 90 minutes to reach the departure gate -

0:29:190:29:22

which, with the help,

0:29:220:29:23

should have been enough.

0:29:230:29:25

But, thanks to fog,

0:29:250:29:27

her flight was over an hour late landing at Heathrow.

0:29:270:29:30

I was worried. "Am I going to miss my flight? What about my friends,

0:29:300:29:35

"how do I tell them where I am...?"

0:29:350:29:37

Erm... The anxiety, the frustration, the anger.

0:29:370:29:42

The fact that it was a holiday of a lifetime

0:29:420:29:44

that was going to be ruined if I didn't get to my flight.

0:29:440:29:49

It eventually became clear that with the late flight,

0:29:500:29:53

the person the airport support company had assigned to meet her

0:29:530:29:57

had clocked off for the day.

0:29:570:29:58

But time was tight, so Alexis decided that

0:29:580:30:00

rather than wait for further support to arrive,

0:30:000:30:03

she'd try to get across the airport on her own.

0:30:030:30:05

But by the time she got to the gate, the flight had gone.

0:30:050:30:08

The next flight to Memphis wasn't for another 24 hours

0:30:080:30:11

so Alexis had to stay in a nearby hotel,

0:30:110:30:14

all the time knowing that the delay

0:30:140:30:15

was eating into her precious holiday time.

0:30:150:30:18

And when she did finally get to her destination, worse was to come.

0:30:180:30:23

Her luggage AND her wheelchair were missing.

0:30:230:30:27

This can't be happening. It's a nightmare.

0:30:270:30:30

Wake me up from it, please! This is an absolute nightmare.

0:30:300:30:33

They've already mucked up the start of my holiday -

0:30:330:30:37

how am I going to get about?

0:30:370:30:39

Alexis checked into the Heartbreak Hotel

0:30:410:30:43

feeling as blue as the man himself.

0:30:430:30:45

She had a jam-packed schedule planned

0:30:450:30:48

with, first up, a tour of Elvis's Memphis.

0:30:480:30:51

But without her lightweight wheelchair,

0:30:510:30:53

and struggling with a much heavier one

0:30:530:30:54

that the tour operator had provided as a temporary replacement,

0:30:540:30:57

such excursions were not easy.

0:30:570:31:00

I had to decide for myself

0:31:000:31:02

which parts I could do and which I couldn't

0:31:020:31:04

because I didn't have my wheelchair,

0:31:040:31:06

and there was too much walking involved.

0:31:060:31:08

Three days into her holiday,

0:31:100:31:12

Alexis WAS finally reunited with her wheelchair.

0:31:120:31:15

But even that wasn't the end of her troubles.

0:31:150:31:18

I was over the moon.

0:31:180:31:19

Until I saw it - because it was broken.

0:31:190:31:22

Erm... And my heart

0:31:220:31:24

just dropped to my feet.

0:31:240:31:26

I was like, "This cannot happen.

0:31:260:31:29

"This is just too much.

0:31:290:31:31

"What am I going to do?"

0:31:320:31:34

The bracket that holds the armrest in place was damaged,

0:31:350:31:39

leaving it dragging onto one of the wheels.

0:31:390:31:41

For Alexis, that made the chair all but useless.

0:31:410:31:44

I was in so much pain and so much discomfort,

0:31:440:31:48

and I was so restricted...

0:31:480:31:50

..and I'd missed so much of the holiday,

0:31:500:31:53

I was just...

0:31:530:31:54

..utterly, utterly despondent.

0:31:540:31:57

Though Alexis was determined to make the best of it,

0:31:580:32:02

much of the rest of the holiday was spent

0:32:020:32:03

trying but failing to get her wheelchair fixed.

0:32:030:32:07

Two weeks later, when she arrived back in Glasgow,

0:32:080:32:11

British Airways did arrange a full repair,

0:32:110:32:13

but by then, it was too late.

0:32:130:32:16

I'm just gutted. Totally gutted

0:32:160:32:18

that my memories are of the disaster

0:32:180:32:21

and not the pleasures of the holiday.

0:32:210:32:23

We took Alexis to meet Billy Finney,

0:32:250:32:28

who repairs and services mobility vehicles such as her wheelchair.

0:32:280:32:32

Alexis, really good to see you.

0:32:320:32:34

Billy's heard numerous similar stories of vital mobility equipment

0:32:340:32:37

rendered unusable because of damage sustained on a flight.

0:32:370:32:42

Ken Carle from Glasgow says it happened to him as well.

0:32:420:32:45

I had a mobility scooter,

0:32:450:32:48

coming back from New Zealand,

0:32:480:32:51

and the scooter was basically destroyed on the plane.

0:32:510:32:55

There was a piece of metal on the scooter

0:32:550:32:59

which was probably

0:32:590:33:00

three-eighths by half an inch

0:33:000:33:04

bent at right angles.

0:33:040:33:06

So the scooter was obviously dropped from a great height, or thrown.

0:33:060:33:10

Billy thinks that Alexis' wheelchair

0:33:100:33:13

may have suffered a similar fate.

0:33:130:33:15

It was this bracket here that was broken,

0:33:150:33:19

which allowed the armrest to drop onto the wheel and act like a brake.

0:33:190:33:24

So that was rubbing on the wheel?

0:33:240:33:26

Yes.

0:33:260:33:27

Without other damage, how could that happen?

0:33:270:33:30

There's only one way.

0:33:300:33:32

There's only one word - impact.

0:33:320:33:35

That's impact damage. It really is.

0:33:350:33:37

Though British Airways did cover the cost of just over £180

0:33:370:33:40

for repairing Alexis's chair,

0:33:400:33:44

Ken's costs weren't totally covered by the airline with which he flew.

0:33:440:33:48

It cost me £1,850 for a new one,

0:33:480:33:50

and they gave me £1,100, eventually.

0:33:500:33:53

Ken was left having to fork out £750

0:33:530:33:57

to replace his damaged mobility scooter.

0:33:570:34:00

And that's because, according to the Montreal Convention,

0:34:020:34:05

which sets the rules around international air travel,

0:34:050:34:09

wheelchairs or mobility scooters

0:34:090:34:11

are classed the same as personal belongings,

0:34:110:34:14

and when personal belongings are lost or damaged in transit,

0:34:140:34:17

airlines are only required to pay up to £1,000 in compensation.

0:34:170:34:22

That can leave owners of damaged mobility aids

0:34:220:34:24

seriously out of pocket,

0:34:240:34:27

which Billy thinks is unfair.

0:34:270:34:29

He believes mobility equipment

0:34:290:34:30

should be classed totally separately

0:34:300:34:33

and can't be compared with your typical lost luggage.

0:34:330:34:37

We need to differentiate,

0:34:380:34:39

because personal belongings - that could be a suitcase

0:34:390:34:42

with a couple of pairs of pants in it,

0:34:420:34:44

or, the other end of the spectrum,

0:34:440:34:46

that personal belonging could be a tailored, bespoke power chair,

0:34:460:34:50

costing tens of thousands of pounds.

0:34:500:34:53

There is chairs on the market,

0:34:530:34:54

there is chairs that people are using,

0:34:540:34:57

and they're worth £30,000, in excess.

0:34:570:35:01

Now, in America, the rules require airlines flying in or out of the US

0:35:020:35:07

to pay the full cost of repairing or replacing mobility equipment

0:35:070:35:10

that's been damaged in transit.

0:35:100:35:12

And the Civil Aviation Authority told us

0:35:140:35:17

that it's gathering data from airlines and airports

0:35:170:35:19

to see if better protection is required in the UK too.

0:35:190:35:23

It points out that the likelihood of a mobility aid

0:35:230:35:26

being damaged at an airport or on a flight

0:35:260:35:28

is very low,

0:35:280:35:30

with only seven complaints

0:35:300:35:31

coming in to the CAA about this issue in 2015.

0:35:310:35:34

In the meantime, however, we put Alexis' case to British Airways.

0:35:360:35:40

The airline told us

0:35:400:35:41

it's "very sorry that Alexis's wheelchair was damaged",

0:35:410:35:45

and while its ground handling teams

0:35:450:35:47

"worked extremely hard to ensure

0:35:470:35:49

"every customer's bag made their flight",

0:35:490:35:51

"on this occasion, the knock-on disruption caused by the fog

0:35:510:35:55

"meant that didn't happen."

0:35:550:35:57

It reiterated that it did pay to repair the chair,

0:35:570:36:00

reimbursed Alexis's expenses, and offered a gesture of goodwill.

0:36:000:36:04

We also spoke to Omniserv, the company responsible

0:36:050:36:08

for providing assistance between flights.

0:36:080:36:11

It, too, said it was "very sorry" that Alexis felt let down,

0:36:110:36:15

explaining that although a standby team WAS activated to assist her,

0:36:150:36:20

there simply wasn't enough time for her to make her flight.

0:36:200:36:23

It went on to say it did everything in its power to help,

0:36:230:36:27

and is committed to providing "legendary service" -

0:36:270:36:31

adding that it helps

0:36:310:36:32

over a million passengers with reduced mobility every year.

0:36:320:36:36

But Alexis says next time she travels,

0:36:370:36:40

she doesn't want to let her wheelchair out of her sight.

0:36:400:36:43

The next time that I go anywhere,

0:36:430:36:45

I will keep my wheelchair to the door of the aeroplane.

0:36:450:36:48

This has made me more aware of the problems that can occur.

0:36:480:36:53

It won't stop me travelling, but

0:36:530:36:57

I'll have to think about it much more carefully,

0:36:570:37:00

and plan more

0:37:000:37:02

than I've ever had to plan before.

0:37:020:37:04

Rip-Off Britain has been on the road again with our annual Pop-Up Shop.

0:37:110:37:15

It's a chance for you to tell us about your holiday woes,

0:37:150:37:18

and for top experts to try and help.

0:37:180:37:21

I mean, the thing is - who DO you sue?

0:37:210:37:24

And, time and again across the weekend,

0:37:260:37:28

you told us about problems caused by delayed flights.

0:37:280:37:32

As we've said before,

0:37:320:37:33

if your flight is delayed by more than three hours,

0:37:330:37:36

you may be entitled to compensation,

0:37:360:37:38

But Christine and Reg from Manchester

0:37:380:37:40

are among those to discover that, even if you qualify,

0:37:400:37:43

getting the airline to actually pay out isn't always easy.

0:37:430:37:46

We were going home from our holiday in Torremolinos,

0:37:480:37:50

and we got on the coach and we checked in,

0:37:500:37:55

and there was an eight-hour delay.

0:37:550:37:58

And were you given meals, drinks commensurate with the delay?

0:37:580:38:02

We were given a voucher. It sort of bought a sandwich and a drink...

0:38:020:38:06

-Yes.

-That was it.

0:38:060:38:08

Anyway, the day went on and, erm,

0:38:080:38:10

all told, it was about a 7.1 hour delay.

0:38:100:38:12

-That's what we were quoted...

-That's what was quoted on the website

0:38:120:38:14

when we went on and had a look.

0:38:140:38:16

It looks to me that it's a perfectly valid claim under EC261 rules.

0:38:160:38:21

For a journey like that - Malaga to Manchester, over 1,500 kilometres -

0:38:210:38:26

that's going to be 400 euros each.

0:38:260:38:28

There's six of you, so

0:38:280:38:30

that's getting on for nearly £2,000 in compensation.

0:38:300:38:34

And it seems to be a fairly straightforward case,

0:38:340:38:36

so what could possibly go wrong?

0:38:360:38:38

Well, I don't know. We applied, we got nothing from that,

0:38:380:38:42

so we applied a second time,

0:38:420:38:45

and a third time,

0:38:450:38:47

and we're sat here now.

0:38:470:38:48

Sadly, this isn't the first time we've heard that airlines

0:38:480:38:51

may not be keen on following the compensation rules.

0:38:510:38:55

Let me just put it into context from, just for a moment,

0:38:550:38:58

the airline's point of view.

0:38:580:38:59

All the airlines hate these rules.

0:38:590:39:01

They say, "It's ridiculous.

0:39:010:39:03

"You might have paid only £50 for your flight from Malaga to Manchester,

0:39:030:39:07

"and yet we have to give you

0:39:070:39:08

"£250, £300 in compensation. It's completely ridiculous."

0:39:080:39:13

So they hate it.

0:39:130:39:15

They will do everything they possibly can to fight it.

0:39:150:39:17

If they can, they'll say it was extraordinary circumstances,

0:39:170:39:21

the weather, a strike...

0:39:210:39:22

In your case it seems as though that's not a possible defence,

0:39:220:39:26

and so what they do is they just blank you.

0:39:260:39:28

Christine and Reg's delayed flight was five-and-a-half years ago,

0:39:300:39:33

so they're just within the six-year limit on making a claim.

0:39:330:39:36

And, even though the airline appears to be ignoring them,

0:39:360:39:39

there are a couple of ways that they could tackle that -

0:39:390:39:41

firstly, by going through the small claims court.

0:39:410:39:45

It's going to cost you, for a claim like that, £105, I think.

0:39:450:39:48

They may, annoyingly, say,

0:39:480:39:49

"No, you've got to claim for everybody individually,"

0:39:490:39:52

in which case it will cost twice as much as that - but don't worry,

0:39:520:39:55

you will get that back with the settlement.

0:39:550:39:57

Or, you go to one of the no-win, no-fee solicitors

0:39:570:40:00

who have been set up and been making fortunes

0:40:000:40:03

by doing kind of industrial scale

0:40:030:40:07

processing of these claims.

0:40:070:40:08

And if you hand your problem to them, they'll say,

0:40:080:40:10

"Yep, we know all about this flight,

0:40:100:40:12

"we've already claimed successfully for it."

0:40:120:40:14

They'll write all the legal letters,

0:40:140:40:16

you will get your money,

0:40:160:40:17

but crucially, they'll keep about a third of it.

0:40:170:40:19

Fight on. Don't let them grind you down,

0:40:190:40:22

which is exactly what they're trying to do.

0:40:220:40:24

Thank you very much.

0:40:240:40:26

Well, just as Christine and Reg began looking into

0:40:260:40:29

the small claims procedure,

0:40:290:40:31

out of the blue, the airline DID finally get in touch -

0:40:310:40:34

with, I'm delighted to say,

0:40:340:40:36

a cheque for just over £1,800,

0:40:360:40:38

to cover compensation for all six of them.

0:40:380:40:42

And though that's great news,

0:40:420:40:44

there were plenty of others still waiting for compensation

0:40:440:40:46

calling into our Pop-Up Shop's Gripe Corner.

0:40:460:40:49

What really annoys me

0:40:490:40:51

is that airlines won't pay out when your flight is delayed.

0:40:510:40:55

When I came back from Australia, one flight was cancelled,

0:40:550:40:58

one was delayed. I was 17 hours late, having paid additional money.

0:40:580:41:02

It's money that we're owed, and thousands of other people are owed.

0:41:020:41:05

Four months later from when I first applied for compensation,

0:41:050:41:09

I have not heard anything...

0:41:090:41:10

And they won't pay out, that's what really, really annoys me.

0:41:100:41:13

I'm still waiting. And it really annoys me.

0:41:130:41:16

If you have a story you'd like us to investigate,

0:41:220:41:24

then we now have even more ways to get in touch.

0:41:240:41:27

You can join in the conversation on our Facebook page -

0:41:270:41:30

just look for BBC Rip-Off Britain.

0:41:300:41:32

As well as the most up-to-date news, you'll also find exclusive

0:41:320:41:35

behind-the-scenes clips and pictures from the show.

0:41:350:41:38

Or you can log onto our website,

0:41:400:41:43

bbc.co.uk/ripoffbritain,

0:41:430:41:45

where there's plenty of advice and fact sheets

0:41:450:41:48

full of tips on how you can avoid getting ripped off.

0:41:480:41:52

Or, if you'd like to send us an e-mail, then our address is...

0:41:520:41:55

Or indeed, if you want to send us a letter, then our new address is...

0:41:590:42:02

Well, I'm afraid that's just about all we have time for today,

0:42:150:42:18

but some of the really shocking experiences we've just heard

0:42:180:42:20

simply underline how vital it is

0:42:200:42:23

that the companies we rely on to look after us when we're away

0:42:230:42:26

do step up to the mark

0:42:260:42:27

and put things right when we need their help.

0:42:270:42:29

After all - THEY'RE supposed to be the experts, not us.

0:42:290:42:33

Which, of course, makes it all the more absurd

0:42:330:42:35

to hear of that company that was sending people to villas

0:42:350:42:38

that they had no right to be in.

0:42:380:42:40

But indeed, some of the stories that we hear on this programme

0:42:400:42:43

genuinely do leave me, and all of us, I think, absolutely astonished.

0:42:430:42:46

But there is no doubt that when the company with whom you book

0:42:460:42:50

doesn't quite live up to its promises,

0:42:500:42:52

it really can completely derail the rest of your trip.

0:42:520:42:55

Well, clearly, some of the businesses that do so well

0:42:550:42:58

at winning our custom in the first place

0:42:580:43:00

need to really try that bit harder in their service

0:43:000:43:02

after we've handed over the cash.

0:43:020:43:05

But that's the point, I'm afraid, we have to leave it for today.

0:43:050:43:07

We're going to be back to investigate more of your holiday horror stories very soon.

0:43:070:43:11

So, until then, from all of us in the sunshine, bye-bye.

0:43:110:43:13

-Goodbye.

-Goodbye.

0:43:130:43:14

Gloria Hunniford, Angela Rippon and Julia Somerville investigate the jaw-dropping tale of how a company sent one family to a succession of villas it turned out they had no right to stay in, with the family only discovering the truth when one of the owners asked them what they were doing in his house.

As one woman reveals how a pilgrimage to Graceland ended with a stay in the heartbreak hotel when her wheelchair was damaged by the airline, the team explores what should happen if similarly vital possessions don't finish the journey in one piece.

Simon Calder has the lowdown on destinations that are exotic but affordable, and viewers who invested their life savings in dream properties near the Red Sea try to uncover why - five years on - their homes have yet to be built.