No re­lief for dodgy time­share

In­quiry awash with hor­ror sto­ries

Saturday Star - - FRONT PAGE - GE­ORGINA CROUTH and SHAUN SMIL­LIE

ALICE* was told she won a hol­i­day.

But when she at­tended the pre­sen­ta­tion, to col­lect her prize, she was in­stead preyed on by sales peo­ple who talked her into sign­ing a con­tract for time­share.

The sales­per­son told Alice to sign up, al­though she al­legedly told them she de­pended on a so­cial grant, and that her hus­band worked odd jobs.

Later, when she tried to can­cel the con­tract, the club re­ferred her to a re-sale agent, who wanted her to pay an ad­di­tional R60 000.

Her hus­band would even cash in a pol­icy to ser­vice the monthly deb­its that amounted to R19 016.

Never once did Alice book ac­com­mo­da­tion or use the points she bought.

Des­per­ate, Alice re­ceived a let­ter from the Depart­ment of Labour con­firm­ing she was un­em­ployed and sub­mit­ted it to the club. Still, they didn’t re­lease her from her con­tract.

Sto­ries like Alice’s came up time and time again dur­ing the Na­tional Con­sumer Com­mis­sion’s (NCC) in­quiry into the time­share in­dus­try.

The NCC re­leased its long-awaited re­port this week, and while there are pro­pos­als for re­dress for those who in­vested in va­ca­tion own­er­ship and want out, there are no im­me­di­ate solutions.

Na­tional con­sumer com­mis­sioner Ebrahim Mo­hamed said the NCC wanted to find a way of ad­dress­ing the “plethora of is­sues raised by con­sumers”.

He said the sit­u­a­tion was ex­ac­er­bated by the na­ture of the time­share prod­uct of­fer­ing, “with all its le­gal and struc­tural com­plex­i­ties”, and a need to im­prove con­sumer pro­tec­tion.

Goods and Ser­vices Om­bud’s (CGSO) Ma­gauta Mphahlele said more than 400 com­plaints were re­ceived, of which 68% were on time­share can­cel­la­tions.

The re­port rec­om­mended changes to the man­age­ment of time­share clubs, the com­pet­i­tive­ness of time­share prod­ucts, mar­ket­ing – in­clud­ing hood­wink­ing con­sumers – credit is­sues, fair­ness of con­tracts, the points sys­tem, qual­ity of ac­com­mo­da­tion, and leg­isla­tive re­form.

Mo­hamed told of the dis­tress­ing tales re­layed dur­ing pub­lic hear­ings held by the com­mis­sion, and of owners’ frus­tra­tion, anger and even de­spair.

“The great­est dis­com­fort I ex­pe­ri­enced though, was when a Free State­based con­sumer told how she planned to take her own life to es­cape her debt­stricken cir­cum­stances, which were oc­ca­sioned by ‘a mis­take’ she made when she signed up for a life­long ‘time­share trap’,” Mo­hamed said.

The com­mis­sion said it an­tic­i­pated its rec­om­men­da­tions could be im­ple­mented, de­pend­ing on the will­ing­ness of the in­dus­try to en­gage in good faith with it and other stake­hold­ers.

The NCC re­ferred time­share com­plaints to the om­bud in re­cent times, which has fa­cil­i­tated can­cel­la­tions for con­sumers.

Mo­hamed said the big­gest is­sues for con­sumers re­lated to the points sys­tem, and these should be fixed-term con­tracts so peo­ple were not locked “in per­pe­tu­ity”, and pro­vi­sion to sell or ex­change points.

The NCC held dis­cus­sions with Trade and In­dus­try Minister Rob Davies about rec­om­men­da­tions and that he con­sider re­vis­ing leg­is­la­tion to en­hance con­sumer pro­tec­tion, par­tic­u­larly in time­share. How­ever, changes will take time. The re­port puts the onus on the NCC to en­force the Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion Act.

Alex Bosch, the chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer at the Va­ca­tion Own­er­ship As­so­ci­a­tion of South­ern Africa (Voasa) – which made sub­mis­sions to the com­mis­sion – said he wel­comed the re­lease of the re­port.

“Voasa ap­pre­ci­ates that a spot­light has been placed on the time­share in­dus­try and re­mains com­mit­ted to en­sur­ing owners and hol­i­day club mem­bers are sat­is­fied with prod­ucts and lev­els of ser­vice re­ceived,” Bosch said.

He said Voasa would con­tinue to work with the com­mis­sion to achieve change.

*Not her real name.

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