Golden Sands timeshare loans investigated over mis-selling by UK watchdog

The UK’s financial conduct watchdog is investigating €54 million in loans made to Golden Sands timeshare buyers

The UK financial conduct authority is investigating €54 million of loans made to timeshare buyers at the Golden Sands resort, a Radisson Blu franchise now owned by International Hotels Investments.

The company, Azure Services Limited, markets timeshare at the resorts formerly owned by Island Hotels and Winston Zahra, of which Manchester United footballers Gary Neville became a non-executive directorsin 2009 after a €1.1 million investment. Neville, 43, resigned as a director of Island Hotels in September 2015 when the company was merged with IHI plc.

But Azure was found to have operated without authorisation under British law to act as financial broker between April 2014 and April 2016. 

According to the Financial Conduct Authority of the UK, buyers claimed that “the footballers’ links with the hotel were highlighted by sales staff who brokered 1,444 loans with Barclays bank” - the Times of London reported. 

But the Upper Tribunal of the Tax and Chancery Chamber heard that customers complained that the terms of the loans were not explained to them, that proper credit checks were not carried out and that they were “pressured” into signing deals. 

Borrowers claimed that “false representations” were made about the financial impact of the loans, they were not properly informed of their duration and that vulnerable consumers were inappropriately treated. 

Azure has categorically dened having conducted inappropriate selling. The company has always adhered to applicable regulations and is fully authorized in regards to all its business activities including consumer finance.”

It is understood Barclays had a contract with Azure Resorts Limited, which was authorised by the FCA for credit broking, but later discovered the staff were employed by the unlicensed Azure Services Limited. Azure said it was offering its “full support to Barclays” in its application for a validation order. 

Judge Timothy Herrington said the FCA acted unlawfully in giving a “validation order” - that meant Barclays could enforce the loans because the regulator had not considered the “evidence of potential consumer detriment, albeit unsubstantiated at this stage”.  

Barclays told the tribunal that in 2017 it received only 63 “mis-selling” complaints of timeshare loans, two of which it upheld. It said it was facing a “number of litigation claims” from clients who allege misrepresentation. 

The official Island Hotels document explaining the footballers’ investments said: “The high profile of each of the investors in the sporting field is calculated to enhance the group’s overall public relations and image and profile.” 

One of the timeshare buyers, Charles Rebbeck, 41, from East Sussex, told the Times of London that he received a cold call in the UK offering him a week’s holiday at the Golden Sands resort with his family for £150. “I know there is no such thing as a free lunch but it was such a good offer. I knew I would have to attend a sales meeting but I had absolutely no plans to buy a timeshare.” 

After sitting through a five-hour sales pitch that featured photographs of Neville and Giggs, he agreed to pay £13,300 for a one-week timeshare with a 25-year contract. He said he was assured he would be able to sell the one-bedroom apartment in 2015 when it would be worth £24,000 but has been unable to find a buyer. 

He said: “I can’t believe I fell for it. When I got home I thought, what the hell am I doing?” Rebbeck was left to care for his two children after his wife died in 2016. “I can’t afford the loan and have negotiated with Barclays to reduce the repayments but I still owe £15,000.”