Secret filming reveals problems relinquishing timeshares

image captionTimeshares have been marketed over the last few decades as a lifetime of holidays without hassle

A BBC Scotland investigation has uncovered evidence of the problems facing ageing timeshare owners who want to get out of their contracts.

Timeshares are owned by about 600,000 people in the UK but some have had problems trying to relinquish them.

Firms like, owned by Monster, say they can help dispose of them but an undercover investigation found it is more complex than it seems.

Monster said it made customers aware of options they had to give up timeshares.

Timeshares have been marketed over the last few decades as a lifetime of holidays without hassle.

Retired couple Alex and Honore Byrne, from Alva in Clackmannanshire, bought theirs from a company now owned by Macdonald Resorts many years ago when their children were young.

But ill health now means neither is able to find affordable travel insurance, and travelling itself is also difficult. The couple have been trying to relinquish their timeshare contracts for two years.

image captionThe Byrnes have been trying to negotiate with their timeshare provider, but are still locked into paying a maintenance fee of £1,600 every year

Mrs Byrne said: "We got a letter from our timeshare provider saying we could buy ourselves out. We could pay them to take it from us."

Her husband added: "It would cost us over £3,000 for the two timeshare weeks, they wanted to take it off my hands and charge me for it. The thing's absurd."

The Byrnes have been trying to negotiate with Macdonald Resorts, but, at the moment, they are still locked into paying a maintenance fee of £1,600 every year.

A spokesperson for Macdonald Resorts said: "We've been widely praised for pioneering the introduction of a practical exit mechanism for owners. In fact, 90% of resort owners voted in favour of amending their resorts' constitutions to formally adopt these fair and reasonable proposals.

"However, it would clearly be detrimental to the upkeep of the resorts and unfair on the remaining resort owners if people were allowed to walk away from their contractual and legal obligations without some form of reasonable recompense which allows for the quality of facilities at the resorts to be maintained for future generations.

"We are pleased that the Byrne family have enjoyed their ownership at Dona Lola for the past 27 years and we are in contact with them to provide a workable solution for both parties, enabling them to resolve the situation whilst meeting their obligations."

Complicated scheme

Contacting timeshare providers is not the only way that people try to relinquish their timeshare contract - companies like regularly advertise that they can help to dispose of an unwanted timeshare.

However, BBC Scotland's investigation revealed a complicated scheme whereby clients were encouraged to buy other products for a future financial return.

The personal finance journalist Fergus Muirhead, who was BBC Scotland's undercover reporter, made initial phone contact with and was given a valuation of £9,400 for the timeshare he said that his mother owned. The company also invited him to meet face-to-face.

media captionThe advisor gave Fergus Muirhead a series of figures, which included him paying thousands of pounds upfront that day

When he attended the meeting, Fergus said it was clear from the outset that had no intention of paying the £9,400 that they talked about over the phone.

He was told: "We can't sell the timeshare because no one's buying them so we certainly can't get that money back for her."

The advisor then gave Fergus a series of figures, which included him paying thousands of pounds upfront that day.

Fergus was also told that he would receive 'credits' which could be held for more than a year and could be used as partial payment for goods or be sold. It was from the profit of the sale of these credits that the £9,400 initially promised for the timeshare would be taken.

Fergus said: "In 14 months' time we could sell these credits for £17,216, which magically covered the £9,400 they were paying for the timeshare, plus the £6,700 we were paying upfront."

Viewpoint: Fergus Muirhead, personal finance journalist

"The Sellmytimeshare presentation that I attended was a very slick and well-practiced sales operation.

It was clear from the outset that the company had no intention of paying me money, and in fact they made out that it was my misunderstanding of the phone call that led me to believe that any cash would be forthcoming.

I was presented with a number of options but it was clear from the questions I was being asked that I was being driven down a well-worn path towards the payment of a fat fee to them in return for some 'credits' that I could sell back to some other people at a later date. Oh, and my mum's timeshare would be taken off our hands as part of this process.

It was all presented in a very believable way and it's easy to see why people would go ahead and sign up on the day. But I would have to say that even now I'm not really sure what I was being offered.

All I know is that I was being asked to get my credit card or cheque book out on the day when I thought I was going to be given a cheque."

It was still not clear how the timeshare would be disposed of, following this series of transactions.

Specialist lawyer Stephen Boyd has nearly 300 clients and is in the process of launching a legal case against's parent company, Monster.

image captionLawyer Stephen Boyd urged caution over companies who say they can help dispose of timeshares

"My clients were told by this company that they could get rid of their timeshare, but when they went to a meeting they had to buy another product and they were promised a financial return.

"They've also found that the promised financial return never materialised and in many cases they're still liable for the maintenance fees of their timeshare."

'Small fee'

A spokesperson for Monster said: "Customers seeking advice from us about relinquishing their timeshares are informed of the options available through us and are free to choose what they consider best suits them.

"One of those options includes the purchase of a Monster Rewards Bundle, which can be redeemed against an increasingly wide range of goods and services, including travel.

"Despite requests, BBC Scotland has refused to provide us with details of specific customers who have raised issues around the service they received. We will of course fully investigate any concerns customers may raise with us.

"While we are not aware of any legal proceedings having been issued, a letter has been received from a law firm acting on behalf of a group of customers. We are investigating the matters raised in the letter and anticipate responding robustly.

"A small fee is charged for the advice given to potential customers about exiting their timeshare arrangements. This is not an advance payment for a resale.

"Legal costs are not exaggerated. Customers are given a comparison between legal representation via Monster Rewards and independent of us."

You can watch the programme BBC Scotland Investigates: The Timeshare Timebomb on BBC One Scotland at 19.30 on Monday 24 October, and for a week afterwards on the BBC iPlayer.