A welcome change in the law this week gives us more protection against rogue companies who use dubious means to coax us into buying a holiday club or trial membership to a timeshare. But will it make them stop?
This Wednesday, some much-needed protection against holiday scams quietly slipped into EU and British legislation. In principle, this is great news for holidaymakers.
The new law closes loopholes in previous timeshare legislation that have allowed unscrupulous firms to take money from people on the spot after using heavy sales tactics. These could be for trials for timeshare that they don’t really want, or for holiday clubs offering a lifetime of discounted holidays that may not even materialise.
It could happen to you
It’s surprisingly easy to be charmed into signing on the dotted line for a long-term holiday product. On my first day on the Costa del Sol in 2008, a scratchcard tout duped me into attending a timeshare presentation – I went to pick up a prize.
Over a wearying five-hour period, the persuasive sales rep became my ‘friend’, sharing ‘inside knowledge’ with me. He gave me a glowing account of his 34-month timeshare trial, but emphasised that this special deal was only available if I signed a contract there and then.
Luckily, I went along as part of an undercover investigation for Which?, so I didn’t actually hand over any money.
Why a trial for 34 months? Well, until this week, the law stating that companies couldn’t take any upfront payment for timeshare products only applied to timeshares running for at least three years.
The new legal protections
Now the consumer protection applies to timeshare products lasting more than one year, as well as other long-term holiday contracts where the consumer gains access to accommodation benefits or discounts.
We’ve lobbied for these new rights, so we’re really pleased that many of our recommendations have been adopted, including a cooling-off period during which the buyer can withdraw from the contract without any penalty.
It would have been even better if the cooling-off period had been extended from 14 days to a month. If you get targeted on the first day of a 14-day holiday, you’d have to cancel before you got home.
But my main concern is how, and whether, these laws are actually going to be enforced. Won’t rogue companies just continue their slippery, heavy-selling ways if they know they’ll be able to get away with it? Or will they simply find new creative ways to get around the rules with some new product or trial?
We’d like to monitor whether companies will flout these new laws. So let us know if you end up at a presentation where they still insist on taking payment upfront with no cancellation rights or a 14-day cooling-off period.