There is an obvious difference between timeshare release and obtaining a timeshare refund. There is yet another difference between timeshare refunds and timeshare compensation. So before we go into detail, let’s talk briefly about those differences.
In the first instance, timeshare release or timeshare exit means that you are absolved of your timeshare contract, it is rendered null and void, and you no longer have any responsibility towards it. You can no longer use the timeshare, and are free instead to book holidays of your choice without any obligation to any organisation whatsoever.
A timeshare refund involves both the nullification of the timeshare contract and a full or partial refund of any payments made to the timeshare company. It may be that you dispute only some of the money that was taken, perhaps a deposit taken during the cooling-off period, or excessive maintenance fees. If you still wish to continue the contract after claiming money back, this may be a possibility, but it is very rare that we come across this kind of eventuality. For the most part, people simply want rid of their timeshare and wish for a refund of any erroneously taken sums.
When a timeshare refund becomes timeshare compensation is when you are awarded not just the amount that you paid, but an additional amount in recompense for the timeshare company or resort’s wrongdoing. This may be limited to the payment of your legal fees, or be over and above this figure.
There have been high profile cases recently of timeshare holders being awarded large sums in timeshare compensation after serious wrongdoing on the part of their timeshare company has been proven. However, in most cases, the compensation is likely to cover your legal fees, recoup all or some of the money you have lost over the years, and a small amount to spare.
It is important to be realistic as to what you can expect, though a timeshare expert will be able to tell you the particulars of your case, which may amount to a large payout in more serious situations.
How Can I Know If I Am Eligible?
There are a few signs to look out for that may indicate that you could be eligible for a timeshare refund:
Your timeshare was mis-sold to you.
If you felt pressured into signing the contract by overbearing sales people, including if you were told that the offer was only valid for a limited time and that you had to sign that day to get the ‘discounted’ price, this counts as mis-selling. Pressure tactics are frowned upon and in more severe cases can be considered criminal. Misrepresenting discounts is commonplace, and amounts to fraud.
If you were told, during the sales process, that the timeshare was an ‘investment’ that would accrue value or, indeed, that it was not a timeshare at all, this is also fraudulent misrepresentation. Timeshare is not legally permitted to be marketed as an investment, principally because timeshare only ever loses value and never accumulates. If it looks like a timeshare, feels like a timeshare, smells like a timeshare… it’s a timeshare. To say that it is not is a lie (i.e. fraud).
Other misrepresentations include making promises verbally that did not materialise in the contract or in your experience of the timeshare product itself, or if the contract or brochure makes different claims to what you experience. If any information was omitted, such as failing to tell you the resort was next to a noisy road or near sewage works, this also counts.
Some timeshare sales people even still try to tell people that they can cancel their contract at any time they like. Others say that you will only have to pay your annual maintenance fees if you use the timeshare, implying that if you don’t take your holiday one year then you won’t have to pay. Both of these claims are usually far from the case, and is also a form of misrepresentation.
One of the most common sources of timeshare refunds and compensation awards come from ‘in perpetuity’ contracts. These are contracts that exceed the legal maximum term of fifty years. Any contract over that is termed ‘in perpetuity’, including contracts where no end date is specified. A Spanish Supreme Court ruling rendered all contracts of this kind signed after January 1999 resolutely illegal.
Contracts are also obliged to be clear, complete and unambiguous. In short, they should contain all the information in full, and should be easy to read for anybody without a legal background. Equally, any clauses in the contract that appear ambiguous can be contested.
It can be difficult, even with clearly worded timeshare contracts, to work out whether there is anything amiss. A timeshare expert will be able to look over your contract and spot anything untoward.
Deposits & Cooling-Off Periods
By law, when you sign any contract you have 14 days in which to change your mind. Within this period, no money can be taken from you in any form. If you made any payment whatsoever in the first 14 days, this is illegal, and you will be eligible for a refund and probably compensation because the resort acted illegally in taking that money.
When deposits are taken prematurely in this way, it is usually ruled that the timeshare company or resort must pay back double the sum taken. In some situations, the cooling-off period may be extended to three months. You will need to check with a timeshare expert to ascertain the particulars of your case.
If, when you signed up, you were not made aware of the cooling-off period, or if the company made it difficult to cancel within the set timeframe, they have also acted wrongly and compensation may well be due.
There have been many cases of people being awarded finance loans to fund their timeshare, even though they would not usually have been approved for this finance by a legitimate bank. These cases have even involved high profile banks, with Barclays Partner Finance being a serious offender. No due diligence is carried out in order to measure the risk of the finance, meaning many of those who took out the loans were unable to afford the repayments.
Many timeshare sales people actively cajole people into taking out these finance agreements, as they’re so desperate to close a sale. Without giving time to think or weigh up their options, they have accepted the finance and only discovered later on that they had been fooled.
We often hear from people who were told that their membership would allow them to exchange their home resort for any destination in the company’s inventory. Only once they were already bound in did these people realise that they would have to spend more money to upgrade to a different resort.
Floating Weeks contracts have come under the legal spotlight for precisely this reason, and have thus started offering ‘upgrades’ to a points-based system that does exactly the same thing.
If you have been offered any kind of upgrade, forced to spend more, or find yourself unable to book the holiday you’d been led to believe you were entitled to, you may be eligible for a timeshare refund.
As mentioned above, floating week timeshares have now been ruled illegal. If you still hold one of these contracts and are still paying out on it, without having been notified or offered a new contract or offer of timeshare release, the company has broken the law.
Timeshare contracts must refer to a specific holiday property and contracts must also specify the exact time schedule during which the property can be enjoyed.
Timeshare points and timeshare exchange systems are slightly different, and most are not illegal. However, it is worth consulting a timeshare expert to find out more if you believe that anything untoward is going on.
Exchanges and Cancellations
There are legitimate exchange programmes, such as RCI, that permit timeshare holders to exchange their home resort holiday for another in a different destination. Provided your home resort is of the same or less value than the one you wish to exchange for, this can work well, and does for many people. However, RCI and others like it are not without problems.
Another one of the problems we hear time and again relates to maintenance fees. When a person purchased their timeshare contract, they paid a lump sum (which can be tens of thousands of pounds), and told that they’ll have to just pay a small sum to maintain the resort every year. This sounds reasonable enough, but they soon discover that those maintenance fees are far from small, and what’s worse, they keep growing every year!
This leads many people into serious financial problems, as most people will be unable to budget an increasing amount to pay their timeshare maintenance fees each year.
There have been cases in which maintenance fees have not been spent appropriately, and the resort conditions fail to be maintained or improve as a result of increased payments by members. You should request a thorough breakdown of where your maintenance fees are being spent in order to work out whether these sums you are paying are being used correctly. Where possible, compare this breakdown to your actual experience at the resort, gathering evidence with photos or video footage to support your case.
A timeshare expert will then be able to help you piece together a thorough understanding of what is going wrong and how to proceed with extricating yourself from the contract and getting a timeshare refund on those maintenance fees.
But My Resort Says I Am Not Entitled To A Timeshare Refund
This should not come as a surprise, but is rarely the truth.
As fewer new members are signed up and more wish to leave or are claiming compensation against timeshare companies, many resorts are seeking ways to keep their existing member base. One of the main ways that resorts and timeshare companies are doing this is through the issuing of new contracts to members, which effectively block them from claiming compensation for illegal clauses in the original contract. Once these new contracts are signed, the member has waived their right to timeshare compensation or a timeshare refund, bound themselves into a longer contract term, or an ‘upgrade’ that costs them more money.
If you are issued with a new contract by your timeshare company, do not sign it without seeking advice from an expert in timeshare. If you already have done, and feel you’ve made a mistake, it is important to act quickly. Again, you will need to enlist the services of a timeshare compensation expert or timeshare lawyer to help you.
To clarify: never trust a timeshare company or resort over and above an expert in timeshare exits and compensation. In many cases, they will mislead you in order to keep hold of you as a member.
It is so important that those who have been wronged, or suspect that they have been wronged, by timeshare companies to come forward. There is a strong possibility that you will be eligible for a timeshare refund, timeshare compensation, or at least a timeshare exit. As well as asserting your own rights, you will also be ensuring that other people do not fall prey to the same malpractice..
Securing a timeshare refund can be complex, and as such we strongly advise against trying to obtain it alone. The laws are changing all the time, as new cases come to light and set legal precedents that open the doors to more compensation claims.
Regardless of your situation, please do get in touch with a timeshare expert to find out your rights and whether you may be entitled to a cash payout against your timeshare.