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Macdonald Resorts praised for timeshare exit policy

Macdonald Resorts, the timeshare arm of the Scottish hotel group, expects to win strong support from its thousands of owners for its industry-leading proposals for timeshare release.

If approved, the Macdonald plan would allow owners at its three Scottish and six English and Spanish resorts to pay four years of maintenance fees up front in exchange for a full release from their contract.

The initiative was welcomed by Tatoc, the timeshare consumer body run by the industry, but it comes amid questions over the legality of in-perpetuity contracts, and doubts about the commitment of the industry to date in offering exit solutions.

Praetorian Legal, an eight-year-old PPI claims firm which began taking on timeshare complaints last October, says it now has more than 100 clients and strong demand from disgruntled owners, but is being rebuffed in most attempts to negotiate with timeshare companies.

Praetorian's stance is based on a legal challenge to the 'in perpetuity' contract.

Director Gary Smith said barristers had advised that timeshare companies could be asked to provide information about the original sales process, which would show whether any legal advice was available to the buyer. "The question is would someone have bought it if they had known that in their senior years they would be paying maintenance fees - which can be £1000 a year now - for the rest of their life."

Mr Smith said timeshare buyers had not tended to take any legal advice when entering their contracts.

Tatoc says MPs raised "the problems surrounding perpetuity as well as escalating maintenance fees" in the Commons earlier this year and the European Commission is set to spotlight them.

It says: "The issue of exit routes is not a simple one ... consideration also has to be given to those owners who pay fees regularly and wish their resort to continue in good financial health."

Harry Taylor, Tatoc's chairman and chief executive, said the group would provide full support to Macdonald Resorts, while Macdonald said it believed the move would have a ripple effect throughout the entire timeshare industry.

Meanwhile, some 430 Scottish timeshare owners have joined the RCI Action Group, a group legal action being run by claims firm Litigation Management.

It aims to seek redress for alleged unfair administration of the RCI exchange scheme which promises owners can swap their weeks for desirable alternatives at other resorts. The alleg-ations,which RCI denies, are that the most attractive weeks at top resorts are never available for exchange because they are being let out commercially.

The ebay auction site currently lists 281 timeshares for sale, such as a week in September at Loch Rannoch Highland Club near Pitlochry, where annual fees are £275, on offer at 99p.

The Aberfoyle Holidays website lists over 100 weeks at Loch Rannoch for sale at prices from £299 to £1950.

The Herald reported last month that industry trade body the Resort Development Organisation had said its members now offered owners a short-term product, or membership of an exit club"which would allow them to hand over their timeshare within two to five years.

Mr Smith said his firm had been asked by a growing number of clients to help them escape from an unwanted timeshare which they owned in perpetuity.

A welter of online portals has sprung up offering timeshare release or exit, purporting to offer experts and call centres, offices in various countries, and promises that owners may join legal actions.

Tatoc, the timeshare association funded by the industry, currently lists on its website 39 companies said to have "cold-called" timeshare owners in May, among them several apparently offering timeshare release.

Tatoc says: "Timeshare owners are being targeted by fraudsters who are offering to sell their weeks for them.

"The victims are being asked to pay upfront fees # for any number of reasons and then hear nothing more from the scammers - no sales, no refunds.

"Others are duped into parting with upfront cash - often hundreds or even ­thousands of pounds - only to find that the supposed buyer has dropped out of the deal. They are then lured to a foreign country to meet a "corporate buyer" ... really a sales person who subjects them to a hard-sell presentation for a bogus holiday pack."

But Mr Smith said: "The majority of the resorts have either ignored our letters or put the matter into the hands of debt collectors.

"We have provided each resort with signed authorities in our favour from the timeshare owners, but have had letters and emails back telling us 'we do not deal with third parties' or ... a wall of silence followed by a debt collector's letter sent direct to our client."

But the firm's threat of reporting debt pursuit to trading standards, the Financial Conduct Authority or the Financial Ombudsman Service has worked, Mr Smith said: "This has worked with most debt collection agencies, they immediately stop their activity."

Praetorian makes clear its paralegal service does not sell or market timeshares or charge fees upfront.

Yet its emergence has still prompted some attempted "trolling" or blacklisting on blogs apparently emanating from the industry.

Mr Smith commented: "We charge nothing up front at all. Our £750 fee is only payable if we succeed in getting the client legally released from their contract."

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