We are receiving more and more reports of the timeshare giants continuing to harass clients for unpaid maintenance fees, despite the RDO requiring all its members to have an exit policy or strategy in place. These strategies are meant to ensure that cases in which factors such as ill health or age are an issue; the clients should be dealt with sympathetically. Today Mr. and Mrs. C called us, they are both in their 70´s and are desperate to be rid of their Club La Costa Fractional ownership, especially as they have just received yet another demand for maintenance fees in excess of €2400. These customers are pensioners trying to scrape by on their government allowance, for most this sort of outlay would be considered a luxury.
The Consumers Protection Regulations 2008 (CPR´s) may provide some assistance as this prohibits businesses from engaging in unfair commercial practices before, during or after a contract is made with a consumer. Therefore, the CPR´s may be applicable where businesses do the following:
Mislead consumers – if a business gives false or inaccurate information or omits information that the consumer would need to make an informed decision, or the information is provided in a manner which is unclear.
E.g. A timeshare company fails to inform the purchaser of the implications of a perpetuity contract or provides a potential beneficiary with inaccurate information as to the benefits and obligations associated with the timeshare.
Adopt aggressive practices – harassment, coercion or undue influence.
E.g. A timeshare business which are threatening court action for outstanding maintenance fees could be seen to be harassing the owner.
It is important to note that although the Consumers Protection Regulations came into force on 26th May 2008 and are not retrospective, they do apply to conduct occurring after that date regardless of when the underlying contract was entered into.
The Competition and Markets Authority identified significant difficulties associated with timeshare exit issues which no doubt 1000´s of unhappy owners can relate to:
Financial harm – struggling to pay escalating annual maintenance fees on a property that they may no longer use;
Frustration and anxiety – trying to sell the timeshare or hand back to the resort or worrying that their children will inherit the problem;
Inability to exercise choice – the timeshare contract does not allow withdrawal or exit is solely at the developers or owners committee discretion.
The CMA expressed concern that some businesses may be continuing to use contractual terms that the CMA would consider potentially unfair to consumers and recommended the following:
- commissioning research and then subject to the finding’s, consideration should be given to introducing some form of legal right to exit a timeshare contract for owners who no longer want to keep the timeshare.
- To introduce prohibiting of estate binding – either as part of the new ´legal right to exit´ or as a new standalone measure.
Let’s hope that legislation will soon be drawn up to assist the 1000´s of UK and European timeshare owners; so that they can be released from their ownerships and hopefully enjoy their retirement, instead of worrying about how they will meet the cost of the ever-increasing charges for fees.