The Tuesday Slot: FCA, BPF and Azure Recap

Following on from yesterday’s article, Inside Timeshare has already received many comments from other members who identify with our story on how they were sold the Azure “timeshare investment weeks”. Their stories are identical to those we have heard from Silverpoint clients, after all, Azure is part of the same group of companies and was the sister company to Silverpoint. What Silverpoint sold in Tenerife was soon put into practice in Malta. This also included the brokering of huge loan agreements through Barclays Partner Finance, again without the “due diligence” of the finance company over the affordability of the loans and repayments.

This is a point which the Financial Conduct Authority who is supposedly charged with “policing” the finance industry and ensuring that consumers are protected are failing miserably. All they see are the loan agreements, they have no clue as to how these agreements are sold and brokered by the very people lying about the product they are selling. The FCA fails to recognise that the sales staff will do and say anything in order to finalise the sale and that includes lying about the loans.

The regulation of credit agreements and consumer protection was originally carried out by the Office of Fair Trading, they relinquished control to the FCA as of 1 April 2014.

The OFT was not a ministerial department and was responsible for the regulation of consumer credit since 1973. When it was closed down it passed the responsibility of its various functions to other organisations and departments with consumer credit going to the FCA.

Unfortunately, the FCA does not appear to be geared up to deal with the complexities of this area of consumer protection. In a recent article published by The Mail on Sunday, This is Money page by Jeff Prestridge, he highlights the many failings of the FCA.

In two telling paragraphs, Jeff states:

“a lack of training for staff whose job is to supervise the firms under the regulator’s watch. Lax processes in place for acting upon complaints brought to its attention by the public or those working in financial services. And staff employed to monitor companies’ marketing material without formal training in how to spot anything suspicious.”

And

“Most damning, it quotes an official working for the regulator’s supervision division who admits:” ‘I don’t believe to the best of my knowledge that there is much training around how to identify financial crime.’

Link to the This is Money article.

https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/comment/article-9070435/JEFF-PRESTRIDGE-FCA-let-investors.html?fbclid=IwAR3M0bPZrnghdan3Ae5zxaGP17CHfiwYQ5llR0V0ELMTzic-j9XZD_3-72E

So how are they supposed to protect consumers when their own staff have no idea what they are doing?

Is it just a rubber stamp job?

Now according to the FCA, Azure Services Ltd had been “overlooked” as an “authorised” company for the brokering of loans when they took over on 1 April 2014. If so then the Office of Fair Trading must have had them as “Authorised”, or were they?

How did they find out Azure was not authorised, did they find out themselves or was it that BPF informed them in order to have the loan agreements validated and thereby enforceable in law?

This is obviously something that needs to be investigated, along with how the FCA operates and also a full investigation into Barclays Partner Finance for allowing timeshare sales staff to broker loan agreements for timeshare sales which without the agreements would never be sold.

For all those who have purchased a timeshare with loan agreements know all too well, if it wasn’t for the swift granting of these loans by the sales staff selling the timeshare, they would never have been able to afford it. In most cases, the consumers even explained they couldn’t afford the loan, yet the sales staff lied to them about the repayments and how long the loan was for, many being told it would be for 2 years as the resale would clear the loan!

The one thing which differs from loan agreements for purchases of cars or other items is very simple, you are not required to make a decision at that moment, we all know that timeshare sales are “today and today” only. You are kept “hostage” for many hours until you succumb and sign the agreements.

Even without the usual checks!

Once the FCA recognises the fact that timeshare sales are conducted in a totally different manner to other types of sales, the sooner the practice of timeshare sales staff brokering the loans comes to an end.

It is now down to those who have been “sold” these loan agreements to start a campaign to have these agreements, the FCA and BPF investigated, putting an end to the misery that timeshare sales, BPF and now the FCA have perpetuated.

Having spoken with the moderator of the Azure Malta Action And Support Group, which was originally set up to bring Azure clients with BPF loans together, they have decided to allow any timeshare owner with a BPF loan to join the group. Hopefully bringing more people together and getting something done.

There are certain conditions to joining the group which is a closed group, if you are genuinely interested in joining then contact them via Facebook on this link:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/1152657598482168

Inside Timeshare is also calling for any members who purchased from Azure with a BPF loan agreement between January 2018 and the end of 2019. This follows some information published in the Financial Times which may put the validity of those loan agreements in doubt.

Please use our contact page for any comments or questions on this or any other article published and Inside Timeshare will get back to you.

Start the Week: A Story of Smoke and Mirrors

Welcome to the start of another week with Inside Timeshare. Today we tell the story of one couple’s Nightmare on Timeshare Street. Their names have been changed as due to the circumstances they wish to remain anonymous, but the facts are accurate and supported by documentation. This story just shows how vulnerable people are when on holiday. These are professional people both on the verge of retirement and looking forward to those holidays they were unable to have in their younger days. Their dealings with Azure Resorts and Barclays Partner Finance have caused nothing but heartache and enormous stress. Unfortunately, this saga is not over but they want their story told. This has been prepared and written by James’ sister, Margaret, who is acting as executor of his estate.

Story of Smoke and Mirrors

“the obscuring or embellishing of the truth of a situation with misleading or irrelevant information”

A true story, fictionalised to protect the privacy of the victims.

  1. Setting the scene

James and his partner, Natalie, are on holiday in Malta in May 2016, using an exchange against her Fuerteventura timeshare.

It’s a grey, wet morning and their timeshare exchange property is extremely shabby and disappointing. They are approached by a tout inviting them to visit the Golden Sands Resort on the other side of the island. Then they meet a much more charming gentleman giving them a FREE scratch card. They win a bottle of wine and a week in Tenerife. They will help him out on his daughter’s birthday because he will get paid if they go with him to Golden Sands to collect their prizes and take a look at the resort. Why not? Nothing better to do. They are kind people.

Natalie writes in her diary:

“Let’s say the next five and a half hours were full of questions, chat, banter, humour, decisions, free lunch, (sandwiches), refreshments, a tour of a studio apartment that sleeps 2, a one bed
apartment sleeping 4, more chat, more decisions, reading, signing and finally we were members of RCI and Azure with a sea view one-bedroom apartment on the 5th floor in the middle tower of the Radisson Blu Golden Sands Resort, Malta.” 

Golden Sands Radisson Blu Resort & Spa

But they weren’t, actually. Not until 1st January 2017.

  1. Smoke and mirrors

The smoke and mirrors begin once the couple were starting to fancy themselves enjoying this lovely resort every year and are thinking that an October week would be nice.  But what is the cost of this option? They ask.  Well, as we now know, there is no set price for these weeks as they are essentially worthless. What you are buying is a membership to a holiday club which may (or may not) enable you to use an apartment for a set week, plus an obligation to pay variable maintenance (known as the Annual Membership Renewal Fee) for almost the rest of your life.

All of a sudden you hear that this never-mentioned, notional price is going to be discounted by £8,000 especially for you with some suggestion that this offer is only valid for the day.

You are left with a “discounted” cost of £19,800 for membership – oh and they will include the Exchange Company membership (of which you are already a member because of the other timeshare) and the first year’s Membership Renewal Fee for you of around £500.00. You are also assured that you can sell on your membership after a two year period and are subtly led to believe that you will probably make a profit on this ultra-popular week.

It is May 2016 but your membership will not commence until January 2017 – seven months later, but you don’t realise that.  Oh, and by the way, your apartment is already booked out for October 2017.  What they can do is get you to sign a document relinquishing the room for 2017, pay you £1,100 for it and then issue you with a voucher for a room for which you will have to pay £700.00. By which time you are completely confused.  This causes you to think that the week must be a popular one and will be easy to rent out in the future if you are unable to use it during the first year of your membership.

However, you remind them that you already have a timeshare and state that you couldn’t possibly afford the £19,800, jokingly saying that you would have to sell your house in order to do so.

Not to worry, you are told. We can arrange the relinquishment of your Canary Island timeshare for you. This is not legally possible – but you don’t know that yet. 

Also, we can arrange finance for you with Barclays AND, to help you out until you sell your house, we will GIVE you £2,000 to cover the repayment and interest for the time being.  You think that’s generous, you know Barclays – indeed you have an account and a loan with them already.  But you fail to compute that unless you pay the loan off from the capital, it will last for 180 months (which is 15 years) @ 9.51% and will cost you £36,522. The fact the term is quoted in months is harder to understand and you aren’t able to think about the fact that you will be 80 by that time.

And, don’t forget, by now you are tired, hungry and dehydrated and the words and figures are swimming on the papers presented to you. The room is full of other sales teams and is noisy and stuffy. You are allowed a little time to look over the two agreements for the Club Membership and the Barclays Partner Finance agreement.  You may or may not have been told that you will have 14 days to change your mind.

The Barclays loan is sorted in minutes. You are not aware of any due diligence being carried out regarding affordability. But you trust the name of Barclays, you like the idea of the holidays and you are completely shell shocked by the lengthy experience.

Somehow they tell you not to worry about the paperwork which you have signed. They will put it all in a pretty box with your certificates of membership etc. and promise to send it to your home – so you can’t take it back to your hotel to read and digest in peace.

Because of this, it also fails to sink in that the Membership Contract is until 2045 when you will be 95 and highly unlikely to be able to fly back and forth to Malta – or even if it does sink in, you have been led to believe you will be able to sell it when you want.

Somehow the Tenerife holiday has morphed into a posh dinner with Bradley, the salesman, the following day.  The thought of food and drink at this point is far more enticing than a holiday in the Canaries for which you will have to pay for the flights. You are worn out and drained by the whole experience. 

You travel home the next day, trying to convince yourself you have done the right thing and get on with life. Although your membership does not start until January 2017, Barclays pay the retailer/broker on 1st June and initiate the loan repayments on 29th July and you start paying £202 a month. Most of this payment is interest.

You didn’t spot that Barclays pre-contract information states

“We will pay the amount to the retailer once we approve the loan and receive the signed agreement or when the supplier has supplied the goods or services to you, if this is later”.

The fancy box of paperwork does not arrive until mid-August. This must be so because it contained a certificate stamped 11th August 2016. Too late to study the details now and change your mind. And anyway you have paid separately to go in 2017.

You decide to look forward to your first week there in 2017 – 15 months after paying for your membership with the loan.

  1. The aftermath

So, smoke and mirror job done, Natalie and James turn up in October 2017 with their £700.00 voucher, only to be given an inferior room compared to the one in their membership. After complaining, they are upgraded but still no sea view. Never mind. The holiday is lovely although the flights cost much more than they anticipated.

In February 2018 James receives a letter from the chairman of BPF about the FCA validation scandal, saying his sale was within the timescale of the dispute but not to worry. This has been resolved by the FCA.

2018 is a success – they enjoy their week very much.

1st January 2019 they suddenly find they have a wedding to go to and will be unable to use their week. James calls Azure and is told flatly that it is too late to be able to rent out their fabulously desirable week in October. They also note that the annual fee has increased to around £600. Disillusion sets in.

March 2019 cancer strikes. June 2020 James is dying but the vultures are circling. Somehow he is cold-called by a Claims Management Company who visit him and manage to persuade him to give the CMC an up-front fee of £5,000 to get them out of the timeshare and the loan and claim compensation from both organisations. It is only now that he truly accepts that his one week in October 2018 will have cost £20,000 including the annual fee and could cost £36,522 if the loan had gone to term and is desperate that Natalie and his sons will not be left with this expensive legacy. He is due to pay a further £3,000 up-front fee but passes away in hospital shortly afterwards. They have taken all the paperwork.

  1. The fightback

Natalie, as well as grief-stricken, realises that she is not able to pay the balance to the claims company, nor will she be able to afford the Azure maintenance payments each year. She is also unlikely to be able to afford to use the membership again. She remains responsible for the Fuerteventura property and will need to continue these payments.

The Barclays loan is in James’ name, so this now falls to his estate to resolve.

James’ sister, Margaret, steps in as Executor and commences a steep learning curve in trying to understand what has happened. A swift letter to the claims company bears fruit and, probably feeling guilty of having harassed a man dying in pain, they return the £5,000 and the paperwork. Thankfully, as the money was required for the funeral being the last cash funds available to the estate.  

Fortunately, after exploring other options and learning a great deal from other doubtful claims companies, she finds Inside Timeshare and is advised how to relinquish the Azure Membership. Margaret, and Natalie, who is still on the Azure contract, are able to do this. They, fortunately, realised that they were not obliged to sign the forms provided for passing on the liability to James’ heirs!  Neither the claims companies nor Azure informed them that the death of one of the “owners” is sufficient reason for relinquishment. Instead Azure tried to entrap the heirs.

Next step is to complete probate and deal with the outstanding BPF loan, which is another story.

Barclays Partner Finance – the story of the Four I’s –   inefficiency, incompetence, insensitivity and inability to provide the executors with the information required to be able to deal with the outstanding loan.

Timeline of events

This is not an isolated story, it has happened to thousands of others, many are too embarrassed to admit they have fallen for the tricks of the timeshare sales reps and just want to forget the whole sorry saga. This is very understandable. Inside Timeshare has in the past heard the same story from others. Two, in particular, come to mind, one was a Police Detective Inspector who served on the fraud squad, another was a district judge and had been a barrister for 25 years. If professional people like this can get “sucked in”, what hope is there for us mere mortals!

If you have a similar story, please use our contact page and Inside Timeshare will get back to you.

Important Announcement

Due to some information which we have received, Inside Timeshare is asking for anyone who purchased with Azure with a Barclays loan agreement between January 2018 and the end of 2019 when sales terminated. If you have purchased with a loan agreement between these dates please use our contact page and let us know.

End the Week: The Friday Review

The end of another week and halfway through the first month of the year, unfortunately, we have not started as we would have hoped with many more restrictions being put into place on travel. This is having a profound effect on the holiday and tourism industry, hotels are closing again and timeshare resorts are also announcing reduced capacity or remaining closed. The question is, how are the timeshare resorts going to deal with the problem of maintenance fees, the members’ loss of last year’s weeks and the potential loss of many weeks this year? This is a story we will be watching as it unfolds over the next month or so.

Although Inside Timeshare began a day late this week, we started on Tuesday with an article about Anfi and Airtours. The Anfi section is actually pertinent to the question posed above.

This story revolves around the Anfi attempt to force or as we prefer to call it “blackmail” members into signing their new contracts. For those members who lost last year’s weeks due to various lockdowns and travel bans, in order to save those weeks and receive an “accommodation voucher”, they have to sign the new contracts first.

This is already a question many members are asking on the various members’ forums and Fb groups.

Could this be an indication of how they will behave this year?

The rest of the article was about a recent case in the Courts of Las Palmas involving Airtours, they lost at the Court of First Instance and unlike our friends at Anfi, immediately accepted the court’s ruling.

They did not lodge an appeal but complied with the court and voluntarily paid out the ordered sums. So there was no need for counter appeals, lodging enforcement action or placing embargoes.

Well done Airtours.

On Wednesday, we published Timeshare Sales, Barclay Partner Finance & The FCA

This story is following one that began in 2017/18 and follows the validation order granted by the Financial Conduct Authority to Barclays Partner Finance to “legalise and make enforceable” loan agreements brokered by Azure Service Ltd. This timeshare sales company was not authorised to broker the agreements.

This is an ongoing story which has had a very severe impact on many many people, after all, the number affected by this decision alone is well over 1,400!

We will keep you updated on events as they unfold.

Happy Clients Get Their Cash

Yesterday’s article once again focused on payouts, these also involved Anfi and Airtours.

In the two Anfi cases, the clients received their payments, but only after lengthy court hearings and appeals. Eventually, due to some very clever detective work from the lawyers, they found out Anfi was due to be paid a “tax rebate” and petitioned the court to embargo the accounts.

This was done and several clients have received their money back quicker than expected.

The last case was against Airtours, and as with the previous case, they voluntarily paid what was ordered. Once again saving the courts time, the clients a lot of stress and most importantly, it has saved Airtours a lot of money in legal fees and sanctions.

Again we have to ask Anfi why are you continuing with these constant appeals, knowing that you are going to lose in every case, the courts are now wise to your tactics!

That is all for this week, on Monday we will be publishing another story in our Nightmare on Timeshare Street series.

It is written by one of our readers, who is acting as executor of her late Brothers estate, this includes the Azure purchased Golden Sands financed by a Barclays Partner Finance loan agreement.

Everything in the article is fact and they have all supporting documents, correspondence and other material to back it up. The only thing that has been changed are their names, this has been done at their request.

For those who have followed the various “Nightmare on Timeshare Street” stories over the past few years and are familiar with the horrendous behaviour of sales reps and timeshare companies, this story ranks as one of the worst we have published. Although there is a moment where some justice and compassion was given.

Join us on Monday and have a great weekend despite all the restrictions we all have to live with.