Frustrated holidaymakers, fed up with being tied to timeshare holiday contracts, have approached the National Consumer Commission in a bid to influence policy that regulates the vacation ownership industry.
Scores of timeshare contract holders complained in countrywide hearings by a consumer commission panel that they had paid large sums to be members of the holiday clubs, but had then been misled by the clubs which promised them holiday specials that never materialised.
Others said when they had tried to cancel the contracts they had been threatened with legal action. At the hearings in Cape Town six consumers said they had discovered their contracts bound them and their heirs in perpetuity.
The hearings were due to be completed this month, but have been extended to November to accommodate all those who wanted to make submissions. So far more than 160 submissions have been heard.
Last week in Bloemfontein, the panel heard from Makubatso Angelina Marumo, 54, of Welkom, who took on Flexi Holiday Club. Disgruntled by the way the club had dealt with her, she stopped paying her monthly payments from July to December 2012, and had been issued with an "urgent notice".
Marumo engaged the services of consumer advocate Isaac Hlalele, who confronted the company. It referred him to their lawyer Louis Hansmeyer, who demanded that Marumo pay a full settlement of R53 843.93.
Hlalele said Marumo would not pay because he deemed her holiday club contract to be illegal and a product of bait marketing.
In court in Pinetown, Hlalele said the company had used a Welkom court sheriff to illegally issue the "urgent notice". The company had been forced to withdraw its court action against Marumo but had not refunded her money, she told the hearing.
In hearings held in Cape Town a few weeks ago, Faghrie Meer told the panel he had received a call to say he had won a free holiday, but when he went to claim his prize he was subjected to a sales pitch and ended up paying a R56 000 once-off amount for 20 points of holiday club membership, with an annual fee of R7 000.
At the time Weekend Argus reported that the salesman had not told Meer he was stuck with the contract for life.
Meer told the panel he and his wife had been on only three holidays before 2009, after which time there was an over-subscription problem which meant they were unable to get bookings at places where they wanted to holiday.
The couple had been trying to cancel the contract for years, the panel heard.
Most of the complaints received by consumer bodies related to contracts and cancellations, unfair terms, failure to disclose contract terms and breach of contract.
Other complaints related to quality of service, bait marketing, misleading advertising, overselling and unreasonable service delays.
Commission spokesperson Trevor Hattingh said an additional hearing had had to be scheduled for Gauteng, as the first hearing held in Pretoria in July could not accommodate all the consumers who wanted to make submissions.
He said the panel, led by chairperson Diane Terblanche and fellow panelists Zandile Mpungose and Aubrey Ngcobo, was hearing submissions in Nelspruit this week and had been to Pretoria, Cape Town, Durban, Mafikeng, Polokwane, Port Elizabeth, Kimberley, and Bloemfontein.
They will hear submissions in Johannesburg on October 9 and 10 and in Pretoria on November 8 and 9."The panel will also meet regulatory stakeholders including the Department of Tourism, Sars, the National Credit Regulator, the Competition Commission, the Community Schemes Ombudsman, as well as the Consumer Goods and Services Ombudsman," Hattingh said.
Once the hearings and presentations were completed, the panel would compile a report to be presented to NCC commissioner Ebrahim Mohamed, who will consider the findings and recommendations before handing the report to the Department of Trade and Industry to decide on a way forward.
Donald Lamont, senior financial manager of Club Leisure Group, to which Flexi Club belongs, said it would not issue a statement until the hearings had been completed. At that point the company would address all the media queries which had arisen from the hearings.
The Vacation Ownership Association of Southern Africa said it, too, would issue a press release once it had made its presentation to the panel.
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