Time’s up for this timeshare company

This first-ever ASIC action offers a cautionary tale for seniors who own or are thinking of buying into timeshare.

Key Points

  • Timeshare is popular with seniors and families.
  • Timeshare company, Ultiqa, is in court for failing to ensure quality financial advice to consumers.
  • ASIC warns timeshare can be difficult to understand and involves long-term financial commitments.

Timeshare is a popular form of lifestyle ‘investment’ for many seniors who bought into the resort/holiday sharing scheme over the past three decades. 

While many buyers continue to enjoy their timeshare and have few problems with it, others rue the day they gave in to bullying sales pressure and questionable financial advice.

For those who aren’t familiar with timeshare, it is a form of ownership or right to use a property that is divided among multiple users.

There are two types of timeshare schemes: those that are for a specific time-period (where you can access a property for one week a year for example) and those that are points-based (where you buy points to redeem at different resorts or holiday accommodation properties).

Timeshare company sued for “poor financial advice”

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) has commenced civil penalty proceedings against Ultiqa Lifestyle Promotions Ltd (Ultiqa) for failing to ensure that financial advice to consumers to buy timeshare products was in the consumers’ best interests.

ASIC alleges the advice was provided by financial advisers who were authorised representatives of Ultiqa from October 2017 to March 2019. Ultiqa promoted a timeshare scheme called the Ultiqa Lifestyle Scheme.

ASIC’s case is that Ultiqa’s authorised representatives did not act in their clients' best interests and failed to give appropriate advice based on their clients’ circumstances. ASIC claims some consumers had not sought advice regarding a timeshare scheme and some were not aware they were receiving financial advice.

During ASIC’s investigation, consumers reported to ASIC that upfront costs of joining the timeshare scheme were approximately $10,000 to $25,000, with ongoing fees of up to $800 per year. Some complained that they had difficulty booking holidays due to lack of availability.

Consumer harm

ASIC Deputy Chair Karen Chester said timeshare schemes were complex financial products.

“They can be difficult to understand and compare with other products and involve long-term financial commitments.

“Consumer harm can and has resulted when consumers are not aware of the up-front costs, ongoing fees or the nature of their investment – like how easy (or not) it is to exit,” Ms Chester said.

This is the first time ASIC has taken action against a timeshare provider in relation to financial product advice practices.

ASIC says the timeshare industry is on notice to ensure existing compliance and advice practices comply with the obligations on all financial advisers – especially for advice to be in the consumers’ best interests.

ASIC further alleges that Ultiqa did not:

  • Provide relevant training to its authorised representatives
  • Monitor and supervise its authorised representatives appropriately, and
  • Have documented policies and procedures in place to support the advice process.

ASIC also alleges Ultiqa’s conduct amounted to a breach of its obligations as an Australian financial services licensee to act efficiently, honestly, and fairly. ASIC is seeking declarations, pecuniary penalties, and other orders to be made by the Court.

Ultiqa ceased selling interests in the scheme on 28 January 2020 and was placed into members' voluntary liquidation on 30 April 2021. The scheme remains active, as does the balance of the Ultiqa Group entities – and Ultiqa currently holds an AFS licence.

The date for the first case management hearing is yet to be scheduled by the Court.

Source: ASIC