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Why are timeshare owners locked into unfair contracts?

BY Eugene Costello

19th Sep 2023 Money

4 min read

Why are timeshare owners locked into unfair contracts?
More than half a million reluctant timeshare owners are locked into harsh and unfair contracts—and it might be their children who carry on paying the price
In 2003, my parents visited friends at their timeshare resort in Madeira. These friends took my parents to a presentation where they ill-advisedly bought a 25-year timeshare for their very hard-earned £20k. Dad had been a teacher and Mum a nurse, so not by any means rich. They dreamed of taking grandchildren there and all the other idylls that these companies ruthlessly trade on. They had to pay up to £650 per year for "maintenance” but had to give 13 months' notice of any intention to use their timeshare.
In the event, my mother became ill, first with rheumatoid arthritis, then with Alzheimer's, and they only ever got three holidays out of this expensive investment.

Trying to get out from the timeshare contract

Madeira, Portugal
Five years ago, my younger brother took over their file to try to negotiate a cancellation from this onerous contract but sadly he passed away after a sudden cardiac arrest. In April, my mother passed away and my dad, now 90, asked if I could help since he was so stressed. He was being chased for four years' worth of maintenance fees, plus he was tied in for another five years.

"My dad, now 90, was chased for four years of maintenance fees, plus he was tied in for five more"
I contacted a timeshare claims and relinquishment company named European Consumer Claims, a British business based near Malaga, Spain, and their well-connected adviser, Steven, got him off the hook with little protest from the timeshare resort group.

European Consumer Claims

ECC is Europe’s largest timeshare claims and relinquishment company. They work with specialist Spanish firm of timeshare lawyers M1 Legal and have more than £100 million worth of timeshare compensation cases under management.
Some 94 per cent of TrustPilot users give ECC five-star reviews, giving confidence in their service.

Aggressively sold timeshare contracts

Older couple talking to someone and buying an ill-advised timeshare
This is not a one-off case. Far from it.
Last year, a parliamentary research group published a paper, finding that “During the 1980s and 1990s, many timeshares were sold aggressively to British tourists who were on holiday and without access to independent legal advice. Some contracts were not written in English and included an obligation to pay expensive annual management and maintenance fees."

Inheritance of timeshare contracts

"Often timeshare agreements are made 'in perpetuity' (ie, as everlasting contracts). In effect, the contracts 'lock' the timeshare owner and—it now transpires—their children in for life. Some owners would ideally like to sell their timeshare, but there may be little demand."
"Often timeshare agreements are made 'in perpetuity'—‘locking’ the timeshare owner and their children in for life"
"Offloading unwanted timeshares and the problems surrounding the inheritance of them are concerns usually compounded by the need to pay yearly maintenance costs on the property. In some cases, this makes a big dent in the dwindling savings of elderly owners and is a worry looming for relatives who stand to inherit the timeshare.”

Widespread problem

A frustrated woman on the phone and looking at her laptop
There are between 500,000 and 600,000 UK timeshare owners, the report states. Almost half of them have timeshares in Spain, 20 per cent in the UK and 25 per cent outside of Europe. It clearly continues to be a widespread problem, and those who took them out 20 years ago or more are being held to ransom with so-called “in perpetuity” contracts that are passed on to next-of-kin or beneficiaries in the event of death, now ruled illegal. But it has not stopped some unscrupulous operators from continuing with the practice.
Says ECC’s Steven John, “In perpetuity contracts (contracts that last forever) have been illegal since 1999 and are just the tip of the iceberg. Timeshare firms in Europe have been running roughshod over consumer rights for decades."

What can I do about it?

In January 1999, the Spanish supreme court decreed that these “in perpetuity” contracts would henceforth be illegal, along with the widespread practice of taking a deposit on the day from gullible holidaymakers, both of which continued even after this court ruling.
"Fight for a relinquishment of the ongoing maintenance fees and for compensation for mis-selling"
So the first group who can claim for relinquishment and compensation for mis-selling are those who entered into a timeshare agreement in Spain after January 1999. You can fight for a relinquishment of the ongoing maintenance fees—often as high as booking a holiday apartment with no further obligation—and you have a good chance of receiving compensation for mis-selling.

Clearing payments

Older man smiling on a call about money
In the case of my father, because his timeshare property was in Portugal, he could only claim for the relinquishment. However, with the outstanding maintenance payments plus another five years on his contract, he was delighted to be clear of almost £6,000, so it is worth speaking to a timeshare claims and relinquishment firm, such as European Consumer Claims for a no-cost chat about what they can do and how much it might cost.
This also applies to those with timeshares in other jurisdictions.

The game is up

Says ECC’s Steven John: “The reality is that, especially in Spain, but elsewhere too, these rogue operators know that the game is up and it is only a matter of time before their businesses are out of action.
"Rogue operators fear that consumers are becoming better informed and are excercising their rights"
“What they fear is consumers becoming better informed and exercising their rights, and they dread publicity now that their business model is rightly viewed as shady and duplicitous.
“So a call from a company such as ourselves or a lawyer working with us, sets off the alarm bells, and brings them to the negotiating table.”
Banner credit: Rafa Jodar

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