Press release -
Timeshare refund wars. Are Spanish resorts fighting dirty?
Is the timeshare industry colluding with a "compromised" consumer watchdog to avoid refund claims? Observers believe so.
Consumer laws protecting timeshare buyers in Spain have been widely ignored by timeshare companies since 1999, meaning that contracts signed by hundreds of thousands of members are illegal. Law firms are helping members to claim refunds, and panicked timeshare companies are fighting back.
Landmark court rulings mean that members who signed under no-longer-legal conditions such as paying a deposit on the day (or during the legally mandated "cooling off" period) can demand their money back, and even claim compensation.
As many of the negligent timeshare companies are in Spain, a country notorious for red tape and bureaucracy, an industry has sprung up to handle the process of reclaiming members´ money and to sue the timeshare operators for compensation.
Predictably, among the organisations offering to help members get their money back, there are rogue operators who charge fees but don´t deliver on refunds, either through inefficiency, or criminal intent.
The timeshare companies, exposed to hundreds of millions of pounds in potential refund claims are desperate to convince members that all reclaim companies are either fraudsters, or incompetent. The implication they want members to draw is that reclaiming their money is neither safe nor realistic.
The Resort Developers Organisation (RDO - an organisation of powerful European timeshare companies) are accused of colluding with self described "consumer champions" KwikChex to steer timeshare members away from claiming refunds they are legally entitled to.
A recent story in the Daily Mirror focussed on the unfortunate experiences of Middlesbrough couple Adrian and Ruby Davies, allegedly scammed by Stoke based company Carl James Associates, promising to get them out of their Club La Costa membership, leaving them out of pocket thousands of pounds and with a bad taste in their mouths. Experts consider this story to have been highlighted disingenuously by the timeshare industry in an act of self preservation.
Scam companies and chancers are sadly nothing new with any development surrounding timeshare memberships, however this story may have been presented out of context.
Observers like the Timeshare Consumer Association (TCA) are concerned about the previously respected watchdog group KwikChex presenting themselves as impartial, while receiving funding from the timeshare industry.
Daniel Keating of the TCA points out that the financial support the big timeshare operators give to KwikChex may influence the website to present the situation in a way that benefits the timeshare companies, at the expense of members.
"This Daily Mirror story seems designed to worry members and put them off claiming altogether," says Daniel. "You could infer that this article´s aim is to make dissatisfied customers scared to claim money they are rightfully owed."
In the article, the Mirror quotes KwikChex, referring to them as a "champion consumer website". KwikChex paint a grim picture of reclaim firms, describing them as a £150 million industry, stealing money from the elderly and vulnerable. But are KwikChex really the independent, impartial, uncompromising watchdogs they claim to be?
(Above) From the KwikChex website. Funded by timeshare companies, but independent? Observers are doubtful.
Daniel Keating believes that while KwikChex is funded by the timeshare industry, it's a big ask for consumers to believe they are impartial: "It´s a clear conflict of interests. KwikChex is employed to manage the ´Timeshare Task Force´ on behalf of the RDO. The RDO´s stated aim is to further the interests of the timeshare industry.
"We simply don´t find it credible that an organisation directly funded by the timeshare industry can be regarded as neutral on this subject.
"Timeshare members call us here at TCA every day and share their own experiences with reclaim companies. Legitimate firms perform exactly as advertised. We have testimony from a considerable number of ex timeshare members released from burdensome timeshare contacts, and many who have received compensation of tens of thousands of pounds.
"The reason timeshare companies don´t want people claiming their refunds is because the sheer volume of money involved represents a serious financial blow to even the biggest operators. But the simple fact is they have been knowingly breaking the law for decades, and now they are being called to account."
Daniel adds a note of caution: "It is unfortunately correct that as well as legitimate reclaim law firms, there are criminals exploiting people´s misfortune to steal more money from them, and members do need to be aware of this."
With conflicting information and so many convincing opportunists out there, can timeshare members really claim their refunds or compensation safely?
Daniel advises that members consider carefully who they trust with their refund claim. "You are dealing with complex red tape, usually in a foreign country, against an opponent who will go to extreme lengths to avoid paying the money they owe you," explains Daniel. "You need to be sure that whoever handles the claim is capable of getting the result you want.
"Many of the people describing themselves as claims firms are actually fraudsters, so you need to be vigilant about making the right choice. Paying close attention to the following factors will help you select the right organisation to get your money back, and discern whether you have a realistic chance of further compensation:
- Is the company you are considering registered in the UK, with Companies House and the Information Commissioner´s Office? If not, stay clear. Some untrustworthy organisations are still registered with Companies House, but any organisation that isn't should be avoided.
- How long has the company been in existence for? The longer the better. Companies don´t usually stay in business unless they are successful.
- Does the firm have a physical address with offices? These days an organisation can look real, but actually be a chancer with a phone and website. Office premises mean that they are invested in their business.
- Can they prove that they have qualified lawyers on staff? They should be able to show who their lawyers are, together with their credentials. They should list their lawyers´ legal bar association numbers and other relevant ID.
- Does everything about them seem professional? Are they using a company domain in their emails instead of gmail/hotmail/other free accounts? Do their marketing materials, including company letterheads, logos, and website, look professional?
- Demonstrable past success. Can the company show, reported in independent media, substantial past success? If not, you should treat this as a red flag.
- Ask for a sample contract before committing to anything. A reputable company will have no problem with sending you a contract to check before agreeing to retain them. Take time to examine the contract, making sure that anything discussed verbally is included in the wording. Don't be embarrassed to point out anything you feel is an omission.
- And finally, are they prepared to facilitate a visit to their office, or communicate by video call instead of a standard phone call? This will tell you more about who you are dealing with. They are not hiding their identity and you can judge their professionalism and attitude, even the atmosphere of the office in the background.
"Don´t let this need for vigilance scare you off," concludes Keating. "When you retain the right firm, you can quickly find out if you are eligible for a refund, and leave the process to them. You´ll pay for their help of course, but you´ll be free from your unwanted timeshare and often receive compensation as well."
For any further information about the timeshare reclaims process, or any other aspect of the timeshare business, contact the TCA on the details below for free, impartial advice.
Timeshare Consumer Association. Contact us on: T: +44 2036704588 (ask for Daniel), E: email@example.com (Address to Daniel)
TCA provides a central resource of consumer information on timeshare matters for the media and other organisations – We work towards encouraging responsible, honest, timeshare operators. We also publicly expose negative consumer practices and organisations which operate in a manner detrimental to timeshare buyers and owners.
An important part of our mission is to lobby UK and European Governments and regulatory bodies for improved consumer protection in the timeshare environment and collect information on frauds and mis-selling, for action by enforcement authorities.
We are staffed by former and current timeshare owners, as well as former timeshare industry staff. We know our way around the timeshare business
We are a proud member of the UK Small Charities Coalition