ABTA has been forced to defend changes to its code of conduct that prompted its withdrawal from the Office of Fair Trading’s Consumer Code Approval Scheme.

Changes that came in on September 1 mean ABTA no longer provides blanket consumer protection and can no longer be approved by the OFT.

Former Agents Council member and Travel Counsellors chairman David Speakman criticised the ‘spin’ ABTA used to conceal from the public the fact it has taken away the consumer safety net.

But ABTA insists its decision to stop paying out to customers who use agents who take holidaymakers’ money but do not make a booking, means it still protects the holidays of customers whose booking has been made.

A spokesman said: “It’s unusual for us to refund customers. We enable them to continue with their booking by paying ABTA suppliers. These changes mean the authorities will be forced to investigate people who commit fraud and sell holidays that do not exist.”

But Speakman said under dynamic packaging a growing number of customers, who have booked through an ABTA agent believing they are safe, will be unable to get any redress from a supplier.

“What people book is so complex now. ABTA is effectively saying: ‘If you have booked with an honest agent and your money has been passed on to the supplier, you have legal redress, but that redress might be abroad where there is no jurisdiction.’”

Freedom Travel Agents Consortium general manager Trevor Davis said: “The most important thing is to continue to get the message out there that ABTA agents offer protection.”

ABTA was in talks with the OFT about withdrawal for a month before its new code came into effect. Agents who applied for a licence to show the code logo will receive a letter telling them not to use it.