COMMONS

Assistance for individuals who encounter difficulties abroad

The forum is now closed. Thank you to all those who have posted comments and contributed to the Committee’s inquiry into FCO consular services. The Committee will draw upon the information submitted via the web forum as it continues its work. Over the next few months, the Committee will hold further evidence sessions and will conclude by producing a report with conclusions and recommendations for the FCO. Information about the inquiry will be posted regularly on the Committee’s inquiry page.

The Committee would like to hear about the FCO’s consular support for UK nationals and their families who have found themselves in situations of particular difficulty or distress abroad.

This could include people who have become ill or involved in an accident abroad, people whose belongings and travel documents have been lost or stolen, families of UK nationals who die abroad, UK nationals in foreign criminal systems (as victims, suspects, or prisoners) and their families, and UK nationals involved in international hostage taking and child abduction.

  • Based on your experience, how easy was it to get in touch with UK consular services when you encountered a problem?
  • Did you make contact via a call centre, online, or at an Embassy or consulate?
  • Did FCO staff provide accurate advice and guidance?
  • If required, did the FCO provide a consular officer to visit you?
  • Do you feel that the FCO handled your case quickly and sensitively?
  • Were you satisfied with the consular service that was provided?
  • Do you have any suggestions to improve the service or examples of good practice from elsewhere?

82 Responses to Individuals who encounter difficulties abroad

Bren McLaughlin says:
February 17, 2014 at 11:26 PM
My brother was murdered in Australia in 1999. I had no contact with FCO since they and West Yorkshire Police refused to inform us of his death until he had been identified by dental records due to the fact the accused had buried my brother in a pine plantation. This led to my FLO in Australia ringing to inform me at 6.30am whilst I was alone.
Whilst I have had no contact with the FCO regarding my own case, I am aware of the lack of support that families often feel they receive when they have loved ones murdered abroad. I receive many calls to the SAMM Abroad helpline saying how difficult they find it to obtain information and support from the FCO.
The following includes some of the concerns members have and suggestions of how they could be rectified.
a) When members are recently bereaved many suffer from post-traumatic stress. They may call and ask a question but unless they write the question and answer down they may not remember what has been said when they put the phone down. They will also not know which questions they need to ask and many say the FCO will only give information related to questions asked.
It would therefore be helpful if desk clerks could record questions asked and offer to e mail the questions and answers back to the caller so both have a record of what has been said. If they say they will find out information and call back it is vital for the victims well- being the desk clerks do so at the time stated even if they have not managed to obtain the information needed. It would also be beneficial to have a dedicated team who deal with the homicide cases who would provide victims with all the information that the FCO know victims will need.
b) People are still not always being informed that they must repatriate their loved one back to Britain in order to be entitled to an inquest here.
This needs to be said sensitively but families must be made aware that unless they repatriate they will not have an inquest here.
c) Families are told they have to get a lawyer and are given a list. Should the perpetrator be British they are given the same list. Families have been told when contacting lawyers that they are already defending the perpetrator.
Whenever possible lists of tried and tested well established lawyers should be provided and the accused should be provided with alternative lawyers.
d) Not all families are aware of their rights and entitlements including access to a Victim Support Homicide case worker, possibilities of having a Family Liaison Officer, Senior Investigating Officer, some financial support regarding flights, translation etc. and Peer Support.
The FCO are aware of what each agency including their own signed up to in the Memorandum Of Understanding, in order to support victims of homicide abroad. As the victims first point of contact the FCO should make sure that the victim is given all the details they need to obtain the maximum support available.

Harry Lindsay says:
February 17, 2014 at 11:26 AM
Case of Christopher Lindsay 23/02/1977.
Christopher died on the 7th October 2011.
On the 26th October 2011 Christopher's Doctors's Medical report was called out in court. Christopher was deceased at this time from the extensive injuries that he received. At this point why were his family not informed by the British Consulate that this had been called to court by the Spanish Authorities?
Why were we not informed at any point by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office of our Rights, or of the proper procedures that we were to follow in order to allow us to attend the courts in Christopher's absence.

1.) When a British citizen is in a foreign country what duty of care does the British consulate have in regards to injured or incapacitated British Citizens, has this duty of care been breached by the FCO / relevant British ambassador in Christopher's case.

2.) In court has Christopher's basic Human Rights been breached? Was he entitled to a fair hearing which we clearly did not receive. This should be covered in the various European human Rights Acts, that in the event of a person being called to court for a so called "assault" and they cant attend due to the so called assault resulting in the death of the assaulted party, at what point does their Next of Kin get informed that they should attend in the absence of the person called.

3.) At what stage of the current procedure does the deceased's next of kin get contacted by the relevant authority to attend the hearing as representation of the deceased person. ie Christopher in this case.
Once the Foreign office has been informed that a British citizen has been killed in what can only be described by me as a Murder, when do they advise as to what the correct procedure is to follow for the next of kin.

Many thanks for your assistance in this matter.

Harry Lindsay
Craig Anderton says:
February 16, 2014 at 07:36 AM
Despite being given my passport number, my special visa to Aceh number, and being told by my parents that I was trapped on Pulau Weh, 10 miles north of Banda Aceh, during the 2004 tsunami, the FCO did not inform the Canadian embassy that I ought to be placed on their list of evacuees for a flight they had organised to take foreigners off the island. By chance I met a Canadian tourist who expressed surprise that we hadn't been told and called her own embassy, who then put us on the flight. The FCO endangered our lives; the Canadians did the FCO's job for them.
Janice Thomason says:
February 15, 2014 at 08:09 AM
During November 2013, I visited Australia. My handbag was stolen from my sons vehicle, sadly it contained my passport!!!!! I can only commend the British Consulate in Melbourne , they were efficient, helpful and worked with me to obtain an emergency document . I would rate then 10/10
Thank you
Michael A. Nann says:
February 14, 2014 at 06:04 PM
What does the FCO website actually achieve? I personally found it so difficult to find any information that was relevant to my case. Indeed,I had to email the FCO in Malaga "five" times before I got any communication and even then it was a case of "pass the buck". Very very disappointing.
karen walchester says:
February 14, 2014 at 12:50 PM
I have already posted once, but feel so strongly that I need to vent again. When my son was found dead in Tenerife,we had no contact with the British Police, no contact was allowed with the Spanish Police, no Liason Officer, there was no framework, no one to take responsibility for care of a broken hearted family trying to muddle through a chaotic system whilst in terrible grief and confusion. The FCO say in their statements that they are helping the family when someone dies abroad, but most of what they do can be found on internet information websites. I recently attended a meeting at the House of Commons with amongst others, a representative of the FCO, it was an embarrassment for the FCO. To this day we don't know for sure what happened to our son as it was not investigated properly, and many other people are in the situation. Jordan has been totally let down by the lack of interest and support in this case and the family will never have any peace for th rest of our lives.
Bernard and Elaine Callinan says:
February 14, 2014 at 07:31 AM
We unfortunately lost our passports whilst on holiday cycling in New South Wales.
We were both extremely concerned and worried about the implications for our return journey.
Thankfully we made contact with the consulate quite easily and through [*name removed by moderator*] who explained the situation clearly and concisely and offered great assistance to us throughout the process. We now have our temporary travel permits and can travel home as planned without any added stress
Debbie Nelson says:
February 14, 2014 at 06:39 AM
Whilst travelling recently, my son fell ill unexpectedly and was admitted to hospital in Melbourne, Australia with serious pneumonia. Such situations are difficult at the best of times, but literally being half a world away is distressing. I have a relative who works for the Foreign office in KL and he kindly put me in touch with the Melbourne British Consulate. They began by liaising between the hospital and myself to keep track of my sons progress and helped secure his already postponed flight in voucher form, so that we didn't lose any further money rescheduling, as his recuperation time was as yet unknown. It soon became clear that a physical presence would be required, as he would need help with care and recuperation once discharged from hospital. I took the decision last minute, to fly out to Australia to be on the ground to help my son upon discharge and the Consulate kept in regular contact with me by telephone and email. My son made excellent progress and it became clear that we could make arrangements to return home. The necessary paperwork involved in obtaining 'fit to fly' status and the general organisation of the return flights (one of which was held on a Qantas voucher and the other an Emirates return ticket already scheduled ) proved extremely trying! Thankfully our contact at the Consulate in Melbourne, [*name removed by moderator*] was on hand to check out prices of flights and necessary paperwork for us, giving us a heads start. Having been given a tight deadline by the airlines to sort all necessary paperwork and new tickets, I made my way independantly to the consulate, where I was given the use of a telephone and email to coordinate everything (aswell as life saving water and a biscuit!) Having just booked my son's return ticket at the Consulate, using the voucher, I was informed upon my arrival at the Emirates office that it was not acceptable !!! As I was having to purchase yet another ticket for my son to accompany me on the same flight home, [*name removed by moderator*] got straight on to Qantas on our behalf to try to salvage money..which she did, against all the odds and even though it was technically the end of business for the day. It was definitely a stressful experience, made that bit easier by knowing that I had an ally in the form of [*name removed by moderator*] at the Consulate to whom I could turn for advice and/or help. Had it not been for my relative in the Foreign Office who originally instigated contact, I might never have thought to make use of the British Consulate abroad. I now realise how in times of need, these kinds of resources can be vital in helping you through difficult or awkward situations, when you are alone or vulnerable in a foreign place. Perhaps it should be made more known that the Consulates abroad are there to help should you need them..? Grateful thanks to all who helped my son & I recently on our 'adventure' down under..we have certainly learned some valuable lessons from our experience.
Lucy Mellersh says:
February 13, 2014 at 12:03 PM
When my nephew and niece were murdered by their mother in Turkey in December of 2011, the British consular staff, particularly "Willi" went out of their way to be helpful. The whole family is very grateful for the kindness, understanding and practical, unbureaucratic help my brother received from them. We have a direct comparison with the German consular staff (the kids were bi-national) who not only did nothing, but even withheld information.
Joanne Froud says:
February 12, 2014 at 05:10 PM
This is the second half of my submission, only around half shown on first entry

The phrase “We cannot interfere with the judicial system of another country” has been used many times but I have never asked the FCO to interfere but just to represent Matthew and uphold his human rights and my rights as a victim. I have met with the minister for Europe twice arranged by my MP and at both meetings he was well briefed on Matthews case, sensitive to our needs and I believe he tried to help but was constrained by the organisational confines and ethos of the FCO. We did though agree to regular enquiry visits to the courthouse from consular officials and the British ambassador to Greece was asked and I believe has raised Matthews case with the Greek judiciary and the Greek justice ministry. However these actions do not seem to be ongoing or I have not been told of any further representation and visits to the courthouse are much reduced, this I find unacceptable as an organisation the FCO should be strongly representing British interests, I do not ask for any changes or amendments to be made to Greek law they have a constitution and robust judicial system in place already its just that it has not been employed in a timely manner in Matthews case, many similar cases have progressed to trial more quickly and given this and the strong witness and forensic evidence in the case then I believe this is not acceptable and the FCO should making representations at the highest level. I have also asked for some written details of the ambassadors input (as my Greek lawyer feels will be of much help to case) but this has not been forthcoming nor has any reason for this been given to us.

Overall I am very dissatisfied with the level of support given by the FCO and have several suggestions I believe would help to improve the support given-
• Dedicated desk officers for homicide/serious crime cases, that don’t move on routinely, this would provide better consistency, enable training such as advanced communication skills (I have suggested this before but told that its not possible as staff move round routinely to ensure good carer progression)
• Regular updates from FCO in open cases, on a timescale agreed by both parties but lead by the client, this could be made a standard i.e. families/victims of serious crime contacted every month then this could be audited to monitor compliance)
• More openness and transparency- if FCO have documents, communications relating to case then share them unless there is specific reason
• When contacted with questions or issues ensure all calls are returned and at least try to answer questions posed if don’t know signpost to who might
• No charge for death certificate in homicide and accident cases
• Loan for repatriation if not travel insurance
• Better integrated working with organisations such as police, coroners and charitable organisation offer support, ensure have internal referral processes and methods of communication
• Enable open cases before 2010 to receive same level of support as those after
• If the country where death occurred do not provide support then FCO (could be in conjunction with other agencies) should ensure support is at least equal to the support that UK victims of homicide, foreign nationals killed in the UK and those accused of crime both UK and UK Nationals abroad are able to access. This would include legal representation, translation, help with trial costs (victims and witnesses)

Whilst my suggestions will have cost implication, perhaps these could be covered by reorganisation of the FCO budget, I note £450,000 has been spent on media training in the past few years and I cant even begin to imagine what the hospitality bill must look like, think it is about getting priorities right, it is of great dissatisfaction to me that my country offers me little support after my son was attacked and killed for no reason, its in humane and needs to change.

Oral evidence

The Foreign Affairs Committee is conducting an inquiry into consular services provided to British citizens overseas. You can read transcripts of the evidence sessions on our inquiry page.