Have you been discriminated against by Pontins? - investigators call for evidence

14 September 2022

The equalities watchdog has urged Gypsies and Travellers who believe they have been victims of discrimination to come forward as part of an investigation into Pontins holiday parks.

Pontins is being investigated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission due to "continued concerns about discrimination against Gypsies and Travellers".

The contact details for the investigation are the Equalities and Human Rights Commission email at: 20PI@equalityhumanrights.com and the deadline for evidence is before October 14th.

The popular holiday camp giant was caught red-handed last year operating a policy which deliberately refused service to Irish Travellers after a whistle-blower complained to the Equalities and Human Right Commission.

The whistle-blower, who worked for Pontins in its booking department, told the i newspaper: “I was asked if I remembered this particular booking. Each call handler would be taking maybe a hundred calls every day at the busiest times so I did not immediately know which booking was being referred to. The staff member asked me to bring up the booking and said ‘that was one of our Traveller friends’. I was told that they had had to cancel the booking.” 

The whistle-blower said that he was told to ensure such bookings were not taken again and a pejorative term was used to refer to Gypsies and Travellers. He said: “I just froze at that, I didn’t know what to say when someone has used language like that. I felt that to say something would condone it, so I just said nothing. The colleague looked at me as if to say ‘message received’.” 

An internal Pontins ‘undesirable guest list’ containing common Irish Traveller surnames also came to light. The document was to be used by staff to help spot Gypsy and Traveller families trying to make bookings – so that they could refuse or cancel them.

'Undesirable guests' Is your name on that list and have you ever been refused a booking at Pontinsw or had one cancelled? The equalities watchdog want you to get in touch

Following the revelations, the equalities watchdog entered into a 12-month legal agreement with Pontins, warning it that it must do better or face a full investigation.

The discriminatory practices Pontins were accused of included:

  • monitoring calls within its contact centre and refusing or cancelling bookings that were made by people with an Irish accent or surname;
  • a requirement that its staff block any potential customers with names on a list published on its intranet page, titled ‘undesirable guests’, from booking accommodation; and
  • using its commercial vehicles policy to exclude Gypsies and Travellers from its holiday parks.

The equalities watchdog also stated at the time that it had signed a legally binding agreement with Pontins’ owners, Britannia Jinky Jersey Limited, which requires Pontins to:

  • conduct an investigation into the ‘undesirable guest’ list to ensure appropriate action is taken within the organisation and that lessons are learned;
  • commission a review of its current intelligence system, booking policies and commercial vehicle policy to ensure they are not operating in a discriminatory way, and consider any recommendations;
  • provide enhanced training on equality law for staff in its human resources team and members of senior management;
  • provide training on equality and diversity for all customer facing staff on an annual basis;
  • appoint equality, diversity and inclusion champions across the organisation.

The EHRC added that it would monitor Pontins’ actions to make sure it complies with the agreement and made the point of saying that it has the power to launch a full investigation under section 20 of the Equality Act 2006 if Pontins fails to do so.

Gypsies and Travellers are recognised as a distinct racial group, meaning it is unlawful to decline to provide services to them.

The agreement was ended in February this year with the equalities watchdog still not satisfied Pontins was taking required steps to prevent discrimination, with a formal investigation launched earlier this year.

Marcial Boo, CEO of the EHRC, said: "We are concerned that Pontins may have illegally denied Gypsy and Traveller families the simple pleasure of a holiday.

"Any business that refuses to provide services to guests due to their race or ethnic group is likely to be breaking equality law.

“We signed a legally-binding agreement with Pontins last year. We expected that to address our concerns about discriminatory behaviour.

"The company’s failure to comply has left us with no choice but to use stronger enforcement powers to investigate further.

“The EHRC will continue to use all legal powers at its disposal to ensure that no-one experiences racism, whether at a holiday park or elsewhere, simply because of their name, ethnicity or the community they belong to.”

The investigation will assess whether Pontins has committed race discrimination against Gypsy and Traveller guests, prospective guests or their associates in how it provides its services; whether Pontins’ booking policies directly or indirectly discriminate on the basis of race, including a requirement that guests, or prospective guests, are on the electoral register; and whether Pontins’ intelligence, information and record-keeping systems are operating in a way that discriminates directly or indirectly on the basis of race.

Pontins is not the only holiday camp giant to be dogged by claims of discrimination towards Gypsies and Irish Travellers. In 2016 Butlins was also reported to the Equality and Human Rights Commission over claims of also operating a ‘Traveller name blacklist.’

Two years later in 2018, Butlins settled some Traveller discrimination claims out of court.

The settlements were made after discrimination claims were lodged with the courts by lawyers working with Traveller claimants. The Travellers claimed that Butlin’s had broken equalities laws when they refused them service. The terms of the settlement between Butlin’s and the Traveller claimants are confidential and covered by a court order. However, that the settlement was reached was not covered by the gagging order.

Mike Doherty/TT News

Read also: Rock band boycotts Pontins gig over ‘Traveller blacklist’ | Travellers Times