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Page last updated at 16:06 GMT, Wednesday, 22 October 2008 17:06 UK

EU aims to curb timeshare scams

By Chris Mason
BBC News, Strasbourg

Lloret de Mar beach, Spain
Some tourists are easily conned by pushy timeshare touts

The European Parliament has passed a law to crack down on rogue timeshare and holiday clubs.

About 1.5 million people across Europe have bought timeshares, which provide access to holiday homes for a certain period every year.

But campaigners have long argued that too many customers have been tricked and conned.

The new rules will give consumers a 14-day right of withdrawal and also increase the obligations on traders.

The sellers will have to provide a list of standard information, telling buyers exactly what is on offer - and what isn't.

A failure to offer such a list would extend the get-out clause to three months.

An overwhelming majority of MEPs voted in favour of the directive in Strasbourg on Wednesday. There were 674 votes for it, 11 against and 10 abstentions.

Closing loopholes

"With this new law we are giving consumers additional protections, new rights and we are plugging the gaps, the loopholes the scam-merchants have been operating," British Labour MEP Arlene McCarthy, who chairs the parliament's Consumer Protection Committee, told the BBC.

"Consumers will enjoy the same rights, whether they are buying in Varna on the Black Sea or Valencia on the Costa Blanca. They will now have a 14-day right of withdrawal, which means that if they had too much sun, or sangria or slivovitz, they can simply walk away and say 'I am not interested'."

The Timeshare Consumers Association in the UK, and its sister organisations across Europe, are welcoming the vote, but are frustrated the right of withdrawal is only a fortnight.

"These con merchants can spot the white knees and red faces of tourists a mile off - and for those holidaymakers that leave their brains at home, two weeks' grace might not be much use. If they sign up in the first few days of their holiday it could be too late by the time they're home and have a chance to think about it," said Sandy Grey, the association chairman.

Peter van der Mark, secretary-general of the Organisation for Timeshare in Europe, also welcomed the new legislation.

"We are pleased that the European Parliament has recognised the need for codes of conduct, such as ours," he said.

Mr Van der Mark said he hoped the change would help distance the reputable timeshare providers he represented from those that had done so much to damage the industry's reputation.

National governments now have a maximum of two years to ensure the directive is incorporated into law.

But Mr Grey said he had concerns that Spain - where hundreds of thousands of Europeans have timeshares - may act slowly.

He urged the Spanish government to prove him wrong and give a boost not just to consumers but to reputable timeshare dealers across the continent.

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