A successful school trip starts with effective, risk-assessed organisation. The Package Travel Regulations 1992 will apply to some school trips, and there are potential pitfalls schools should be aware of.
If your school regularly organises travel/tours for student groups, it could be caught by these Regulations. If so, the school will be legally responsible to students and parents for negligent failures by its own suppliers.
The Regulations protect purchasers of packaged travel arrangements. They are ostensibly aimed at commercial suppliers of packaged travel arrangements, not schools. But they can apply to any “person who, otherwise than occasionally, organises packages and sells or offers them for sale …”. As “occasionally” is not defined, it makes sense to assume your school is caught by the Regulations if it regularly puts together packaged arrangements and charges for them.
What is a package?
A package means the pre-arranged combination of two or more provisions:
- Transport (this is not limited to international transport or transport to the tour destination)
- Any other significant tourist services (if they account for a significant proportion of the package)
- When sold or offered for sale at an inclusive price and when the service covers a period of more than twenty-four hours or includes overnight accommodation.
This will catch trips that provide overnight accommodation, or involve very lengthy coach journeys.
Organisation of a package tour – going it alone?
If your school is organising a trip, within the definition of a “package,” without the assistance of a tour operator, it is likely to be treated as “organiser” and subject to the provisions of the Regulations. What happens where the trip goes wrong or part of it does not live up to expectations?
As organiser, you are obliged to provide financial protection against the insolvency of a supplier. This would include the cost of repatriating students, where transport to/from the destination was provided as part of the package.
Obtaining financial protection can be costly. You should note that the school’s routine travel insurance policy is unlikely to cover the extra risks from being organiser of a package tour. Schools should carefully review their insurance and be ready to seek extension of their cover to extra risks that might fall upon it as tour operator.
Organisation of a package tour through a supplier
Your school’s preferred approach may be to negotiate a package trip through a tour operator, who would then be primarily liable for any failures on the part of third party suppliers. This does not remove the risk entirely as independently of these Regulations the school still owes a duty to pupils and parents to select a reputable supplier.
When things go wrong
Where there has been a problem with part of a trip, can a school argue it was caused as a result of a supplier failing to perform its contract? As organiser, the school may avoid primary liability under any of the defences:
- That such failures were attributable to the consumer (i.e. the school)
- That such failures were attributable to a third party unconnected with the provision of the services, and are unforeseeable and unavoidable
- That such failures were due to unusual and unforeseen circumstances, beyond the control of the supplier and the consumer, that could not have been avoided even if all due care had been exercised.
The Regulations only apply to bookings made in the UK. In the EU, member states are required to have a similar legal regime. This may not be much comfort, as bringing or enforcing a claim against an organiser or supplier based outside the UK may not be straightforward, which is likely to increase the risk of a claim being brought against the school.
A clear appreciation of your school’s role in relation to school trips, complete knowledge of the package that you are offering to pupils and parents and a thorough understanding of any supplier you instruct are keys to managing any potential risk and avoiding liability.
Iain Campbell is Education Partner at Hill Dickinson LLP