An­other set­back to reg­u­la­tor’s case against hol­i­day clubs

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOODPOSTER - LOR­RAINE KEAR­NEY

Thou­sands of hol­i­day club mem­bers have again been left hang­ing fol­low­ing the de­ci­sion by the Na­tional Con­sumer Com­mis­sion (NCC) on Mon­day to with­draw its case against the Univi­sion hol­i­day club group on tech­ni­cal grounds.

It is un­clear what the knock-on ef­fect will be on the mat­ter in­volv­ing Flexi Club and other hol­i­day clubs in the Club Leisure Group. The NCC was un­able to re­spond to queries be­fore this pub­li­ca­tion went to press.

The with­drawal came shortly be­fore the Na­tional Con­sumer Tri­bunal was due to hear the mat­ter. It was re­port­edly based on the ad­vice of the com­mis­sion’s se­nior coun­sel fol­low­ing a pre-trial meet­ing with the group’s le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tives about a month ago.

That the case was to be heard by the tri­bunal had given some so­lace to con­sumers, be­cause it meant they might get re­lief. A de­ci­sion by the tri­bunal has the same sta­tus as one made by the High Court.

More than 4 000 com­plaints have been lodged with the NCC against hol­i­day clubs, ac­cord­ing to Ad­vo­cate An­ton Al­berts, a Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment for the Free­dom Front Plus. For the past two years, the party has been help­ing con­sumers who own points to lodge com­plaints with the com­mis­sion.

The com­mis­sion brought the Univi­sion case be­fore the tri­bunal fol­low­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into hol­i­day points schemes that lasted about two years. It al­leged that Univi­sion had mis-sold its prod­ucts and there were il­le­gal in-per­pe­tu­ity con­tracts. It also al­leged there was over­sub­scrip­tion for the hol­i­day re­sorts, which did not have enough ac­com­mo­da­tion to meet de­mand.

It was re­ported that the NCC said it had a sub­stan­tively strong case against Univi­sion that could be brought be­fore the High Court.

RED TAPE

Sim­i­larly, the case in­volv­ing Club Leisure Group is en­tan­gled in red tape, with the tri­bunal say­ing the NCC’s pa­pers were not filed in ac­cor­dance with its new rules, which changed in March this year. The NCC has sub­se­quently ap­plied to the tri­bunal for con­do­na­tion (for non-com­pli­ance with the rules).

It was ex­pected that the Club Leisure Group case would be heard at the be­gin­ning of next year, Al­berts said in a state­ment is­sued on Septem­ber 30. But in light of the with­drawal of the Univi­sion case, this may also turn out to be a dis­ap­point­ment to con­sumers.

In the mean­time, Al­berts said, club mem­bers who are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing prob­lems with their mem­ber­ship, be­cause they are not re­ceiv­ing the ser­vices for which they are pay­ing, or be­cause of the per­pet­ual na­ture of their con­tracts, may still ap­ply in­di­vid­u­ally to the NCC to ad­ju­di­cate their case.

Flexi Club re­leased a state­ment re­cently say­ing that it does of­fer its mem­bers a can­cel­la­tion op­tion, as well as al­ter­na­tive con­tract so­lu­tions.

It also an­nounced that it was ex­tend­ing its cool­ing-off pe­riod from five days to 30 days, “dur­ing which the con­sumer is able to can­cel and re­ceive a full re­fund”.

“Mem­bers, out­side of the 30-day cool­ing-off pe­riod, who would like to can­cel their con­tract are re­quired to sub­mit a can­cel­la­tion re­quest in writ­ing to Flexi Club. The terms of the can­cel­la­tion re­quire that any ar­rears are brought up to date and that the fi­nanced amount for the pur­chase of the points be paid in full. In the event that a mem­ber is un­able to bring their ar­rears up to date or set­tle the fi­nanced amount, th­ese con­tracts will then be dealt with on case-by-case ba­sis and a can­cel­la­tion fee may be charged. Once the can­cel­la­tion re­quest has been pro­cessed, the mem­ber has un­til the end of the year to make use of any ac­cu­mu­lated points and hol­i­day sav­ings.”

As an al­ter­na­tive to can­cel­la­tion, Flexi Club says mem­bers can con­vert their ex­ist­ing in-per­pe­tu­ity points into term-based points.

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