Holidays and travelling: Knowing your rights

There are laws that protect the rights of people with dementia in the UK, and it can be helpful to know these when taking a holiday.

Holidays and travelling
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Under the Equality Act in England and Wales, and the Disability Discrimination Act in Northern Ireland, UK businesses have to make 'reasonable adjustments' to make their services accessible to disabled people. Dementia is classed as a disability for the purposes of these laws, even though many people with dementia would not see themselves as 'disabled'.

These laws require service providers in the UK (for example, travel agents, train companies and hotels) to remove any barriers that prevent disabled people from accessing their services. This might refer to physical barriers - for example, it might mean removing steps from entrances. The Equality Act and Disability Discrimination Act do not just cover physical access, however. Making sure that a person can access a service may range from providing wheelchair ramps to helping someone get off a train at the correct station and waiting with them until their family or friends arrive.

The law also states that service providers are not allowed to treat a disabled person less favourably than someone without a disability. If you ask for a room with an accessible shower, for example, they can't charge you more for it.

It is important to be aware of these laws, and if you feel you are having problems accessing services or are being treated unfavourably, you should speak to the company directly. If through speaking to them you cannot get the problem resolved, consider putting in a complaint about the treatment that you have received. These laws only cover the UK , so only services within these countries are affected. This means that air transport is not covered. However, a European directive (a piece of EU law) requires various service providers - such as airport managers, airlines, tour operators and travel agents - to be trained in disability awareness and disability equality. This directive is called Access to air travel for disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility. However, vessels such as cruise ships are not covered by this law if they travel more than 12 miles from UK coastlines.

On the whole, most travel companies are aware of the needs of their passengers with disabilities. Whatever kind of break you are taking (whether or not it is within the UK and covered by the Equality Act or Disability Discrimination Act), you should contact all the companies involved beforehand. It helps to make a list of your specific requirements and ask how they can help you with each of them.

Preparing and packing

The earlier you start preparing for your holiday, the less stressful it will be. You should allow plenty of time to organise things like passports, insurance, medicines and visas (if necessary).

When packing, it can be helpful to write a list of everything you are taking with you. This should say how many pieces of luggage there are and what is in each of them. Each person should carry one copy of the list with them, and another copy can also be left with someone at home.

Make sure all luggage is clearly labelled with your name and address. Also, put a sheet of paper with your name and address on it inside each separate bag or suitcase, in case luggage labels are removed or lost.

There are various different pieces of assistive technology or aids that might help if someone becomes disorientated in an unfamiliar environment. You should talk to an occupational therapist if you think any of these could be useful. There is also information in our guide to Assistive technology.

Passport and other identification documents

Anyone travelling outside the UK needs a valid passport. Even for flights within the UK, most airlines require a passport, or another identity document that includes a photograph.

It is a good idea to make two photocopies of the personal details page of your passport. Leave one copy at home with a relative or a friend and carry the other copy with you (in somewhere different to the passport itself, such as your suitcase). Also make copies of your other important documents, such as plane tickets and insurance documents. Write down the phone numbers of places to call if documents or bank cards get lost or stolen.

A MedicAlert bracelet (which contains information about your medical condition and needs) or similar identification may be useful for a person with dementia in case they become separated from the person they are travelling with, become confused or experience communication problems. For more information call MedicAlert on 01908 951045.


Medication must be kept with you at all times. If you are likely to be separated from your luggage during your journey, keep medication in your hand luggage or carry-on bag, together with a list of the medicines and dosage routines. Take a letter from your doctor to show to airline staff. If any medication needs to be kept refrigerated, tell the airline in advance and make sure you will have access to a fridge where you are staying.

Travel insurance

Before you travel, you should make sure you are insured against any problems that may arise, such as sickness or lost items. Your travel insurance policy will need to cover all passengers for any medical conditions that they have. You might also consider making sure you are covered for travel delay.

Some policies do not cover people for claims that come about because of a 'pre-existing medical condition or defect'. This could mean that any illness or accident linked to a person's dementia may not be covered. Policies without this clause can be more expensive, so it is a good idea to shop around. There are a number of specialist insurers that cater for people with certain needs, such as dementia. You might want to look into these insurers.

The European Health Insurance Card

It is important that you have the right medical documents so that you are entitled to health care abroad. Inside the European Economic Area (EEA), UK residents with a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) are entitled to free or reduced-cost emergency treatment. The EEA consists of the 27 member states of the European Union, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. Switzerland is also covered, with some exceptions. The EHIC replaces the previous E111 form. The card is free and is valid for up to five years. You can apply for it directly from the NHS.

For more information call the EHIC line on 0300 330 1350.

There are a number of circumstances in which the EHIC does not cover medical treatment, so check through the terms and conditions carefully before travelling. Remember also that the card is not an alternative to travel insurance - you should always have both, because you will still need travel insurance to cover things like repatriation (being returned to the UK).

Treatment in countries outside the EEA

Even if you are travelling to a country outside the EEA, where you are not covered by the EHIC, you may still be entitled to some health care. The UK has agreements with some other countries that mean they will provide urgent medical treatment at reduced cost or, in some cases, for free. You will usually not be able to get all the treatments and services that are available on the NHS , however, and if charges are involved, the British government will not refund you. You need to have insurance that can cover these costs.

To get treatment, you will normally have to show your passport or some other proof that you are a UK resident, such as a driving licence or medical card. Every country will have different requirements. See the NHS website for more details.

Financial assistance

If you have dementia or, are caring for someone with dementia, and you are having difficulty finding the money for a much-needed holiday, a charity may be able to help.

Tourism for All publishes a guide to what help is available to meet the cost of a holiday or respite care. It gives details of the different charities that may be able to help. There is a charge for these guides if you are not a member of Tourism for All (see 'Other resources').

If you would like to enquire about funding for respite care, contact your local authority social services department.