Tony Hetherington is Financial Mail on Sunday's ace investigator, fighting readers corners, revealing the truth that lies behind closed doors and winning victories for those who have been left out-of-pocket. Find out how to contact him below.
Mrs S.F. writes: In 1986 my husband and I purchased two timeshare weeks at La Quinta Club in Spain. We were told that if we wished we could hand back our weeks by simply not paying the annual charges, and the contract confirmed this, as did every annual meeting until 2010.
In 2011 we advised the Club that we wished to hand back our weeks, but this was rejected and we were told we must pay until 2064. The Club is now suing us for £4,400. Club chairman Philip Duncan has also told us he has placed the matter in the hands of a debt collection agency owned by Club member Alison Riley.
My husband and I are retired and simply cannot afford the annual fees. As long ago as 1999 we paid the Club to resell our timeshare but have heard nothing.
Timeshare always was a trap waiting to be sprung. It was sold in the 1980s as a glamorous holiday option that would appreciate in value, but as annual fees have rocketed and owners have aged, the glamour has gone and what was marketed as a profitable asset has become a massive millstone around the neck of every owner with a reduced income.
The purchase agreement you signed is not complex. It says plainly that if a buyer fails to pay the purchase price or annual fees, then the agreement is cancelled, with neither side having any further liability to the other. However, the Club and its solicitors argue that the agreement also says buyers are bound by the Club’s constitution, even if they have not seen it.
And the constitution contradicts the purchase agreement. It is the constitution, for example, that forces you to pay fees for the next 50 years, while the purchase agreement makes no mention of this.
I may be wrong, but when I contacted the chairman, Philip Duncan, I sensed something close to desperation. The Club operates for the benefit of its members, he told me, and ‘members who do not pay their annual dues increase the burden of the costs of maintaining the Club on those members who wish to remain as members.’
And this is perfectly true. But I doubt if any buyer in the 1980s foresaw that they could be pensioners on a falling income, yet forced to pay for the upkeep of a resort that those with enough cash could carry on enjoying.
You are being asked to subsidise the holidays of folk with more money than you.
The Club’s badly mishandled attempt to collect its fees just underlines this. Duncan told you he was calling in ‘a UK debt collection agency’. He added: ‘This agency is owned and operated by Alison Riley who is herself an owner at La Quinta Club.’
You then received a letter from Riley on official looking notepaper. She told you she was acting on behalf of the Club and was ‘engaged in the collection of their outstanding and overdue debt’.
Fail to pay up and you would face legal proceedings, she threatened.
But Riley is an impostor. The Office of Fair Trading confirmed she is not a licensed debt collector. Duncan and Riley have now backtracked totally. Duncan admitted there was no UK debt collection agency, while Riley insisted: ‘I am not and never have been involved as a debt collector for La Quinta Club.’
She even told me she ‘merely tried to converse’ with you to offer help. As for the £50 fee that you paid the Club to resell your timeshare, Duncan brushed this aside, telling me: ‘The Club does not have an obligation to actively market these weeks’.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/money/experts/article-2608446/TONY-HETHERINGTON-Debt-collector-exposed-fake-timeshare-row.html#ixzz3043wLD8Z
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