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Systematic discrimination barring Gypsies and Travellers from holiday sites ‘common practice’, community advocates say

Written by on 2 March 2021

Systematic discrimination barring Gypsies and Travellers from holiday sites and similar services is “common practice”, according to groups working with these communities.

It comes as Pontins has agreed to change its practices after it was revealed it used an “undesirable guests” list to reject people with Irish names from its holiday parks.

Calls were allegedly monitored in Pontins’ contact centre to bar Gypsies and Travellers, and that bookings made by people with an Irish accent or surname were refused or cancelled.

Pontins’ commercial vehicle policy was also used as a way to block bookings.

A general view of Pontin's signage at Brean, Somerset. Image: Pontins is owned by Britannia Jinky Jersey

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said it received the information from a whistle-blower and has struck a “binding legal agreement” with the holiday camp business.

The legal agreement requires Pontins’ owner, Britannia Jinky Jersey Limited, to conduct an investigation and review its policies.

Gypsy and Traveller community advocates say that such behaviour is widespread.

“We know from our helpline that they [Pontins] are not the only holiday camp who have these practices,” says Sarah Mann, director of Friends, Families and Travellers.

“It’s just an all too common experience for Gypsy and Traveller families who find their holiday park booking refused, or the campsite or the caravan park that they hope to stay at suddenly full.

“And it’s not just holidays, either, if you want to get home insurance, if you’re in a trailer or on a site, vehicle insurance, dentist registration, wedding reception bookings, all mysteriously are unavailable once the name, the postcode or the vehicle type are known, so this isn’t a one off.”

Sarah Mann, director of Friends, Families and Travellers Image: Sarah Mann, of Friends, Families and Travellers, says Gypsy and Traveller families often find their holiday park bookings refused

Gypsies and Travellers are recognised as ethnic groups under the Equality Act.

In 2017, the EHRC said they were “one of the most deprived groups in Britain” in terms of health and education.

There have been previous legal cases brought against businesses for denying access to these groups.

In 2015, a court awarded £24,000 in damages to a group of delegates attending an Irish Travellers conference who were barred from a north London pub.

Sky News put the allegations that such practices are common in the holiday industry to the British Holiday and Home Parks Association.

It did not comment on the specific allegations but said it “is fully supportive of the Equality Act and the legal protection it provides against discrimination”.

It said that “members of the association welcome customers regardless of their ethnicity, gender, age, disability or any other factors which are embraced within anti-discrimination legislation”.

A Gypsy camp site. Pic: istock Image: A Gypsy camp site. Pic: istock

According to the i newspaper, there were 40 names on Pontins’ “undesirable guests” list, including O’Brien, Ward, Gallagher, O’Donnell, Murphy, and O’Reilly.

Commenting on the revelations, Laura O’Callaghan, chair of the London Irish Business Society, said: “It’s shocking but it’s also archaic.

“It is undeniably hugely offensive to Irish people in the UK but also Irish people all around the world.”

Alastair Pringle, executive director of the EHRC, said: “It is hard not to draw comparisons with an ‘undesirable guests’ list and the signs displayed in hotel windows 50 years ago, explicitly barring Irish people and black people.

“Banning people from services based on their race is discrimination and is unlawful. To say that such policies are outdated is an understatement.”

The legal agreement began on 22 February and will be monitored by the EHRC to see if the agreed actions are completed.

The watchdog added that if Pontins did not follow through, it has “the power to launch a full investigation under section 20 of the Equality Act 2006”.

A Britannia Jinky Jersey spokesperson said: “Britannia Jinky Jersey Limited has agreed to work together with the Equality and Human Rights Commission to further enhance its staff training and procedures in order to further promote equality throughout its business.”

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