ULTIQA timeshare lender Future Holiday Finance pays ASIC penalty

ULTIQA timeshare lender Future Holiday Finance pays ASIC penalty
ULTIQA timeshare lender Future Holiday Finance pays ASIC penalty

ASIC has accepted a court enforceable undertaking and fined timeshare lender Future Holiday Finance Pty Ltd (FHF) for responsible lending failures. FHF has paid a penalty of $135,000 in response to three infringement notices and will pay up to $3 million in compensation to consumers.

FHF provides finance for the purchase of memberships in ULTIQA Lifestyle, a points-based timeshare scheme.

ASIC found that FHF signed consumers up to loans when they attended ULTIQA Lifestyle timeshare sales seminars, without first assessing if customers could afford the loans or if the loans were right for them.

As a result, ASIC has issued three infringement notices to FHF for alleged breaches of its responsible lending obligations.

As well as failures with the timing of FHF’s loan assessments, ASIC had concerns about their quality. The court enforceable undertaking addresses FHF’s poor loan assessment practices which did not meet the standards required by law.

In addition, ASIC examined FHF’s loan document and identified a potentially unfair contract term. ASIC was concerned that the ‘entire agreement clause’ prevented verbal statements made by FHF from forming part of the contract. This clause is no longer included in the loan contract and FHF has agreed not to enforce this clause in any existing contract.

FHF will offer to review the loans of all customers who entered into contracts between 1 July 2012 and 30 August 2018. Refunds will be provided to customers where contracts were not suitable. This compensation program will be overseen by an independent expert who will also assess FHF's compliance with its responsible lending obligations and whether the company’s credit contract contains any unfair terms.

ASIC Deputy Chair Peter Kell said: "Timeshare finance operators must ensure that they comply with their responsible lending obligations.

"Consumers should always take the time to consider upfront and ongoing costs of timeshare, including finance, given they are a long-term commitment and can be difficult to sell."

ASIC encourages customers who took out a loan to purchase their ULTIQA Lifestyle timeshare membership to ask for their loan to be reassessed. Customers can contact FHF on (07) 5556 3000. ASIC’s MoneySmart also has information about FHF’s remediation program.

ASIC can issue an infringement notice where it has reasonable grounds to believe a person has contravened certain consumer credit protection laws. The payment of an infringement notice is not an admission of a contravention of the National Consumer Credit Protection Act 2009 (Cth). 

ASIC is updating the regulatory framework for timesharing schemes. It is proposed that additional consumer protections apply, including to reflect the fact that it is common for a financier related to the timeshare operator to fund an acquisition of timeshare interests. ASIC’s website contains further detail of the proposed changes.

ASIC raised concerns with ULTIQA Lifestyle's disclosure and sales practices in 2016 after ASIC finalised a surveillance of ULTIQA Lifestyle Points Limited and ULTIQA Lifestyle Promotions Limited (ULTIQA Group), one of Australia's largest timeshare operators.

ASIC's scrutiny followed complaints received from consumers and other regulatory agencies alleging misleading and deceptive statements and unconscionable conduct by the ULTIQA Group. ASIC reviewed ULTIQA Group's disclosure and sales practices in relation to the sale of interests in ULTIQA Lifestyle, a points-based timeshare scheme with 11,792 members as at 30 June 2016.

ASIC made extensive enquiries of the ULTIQA Group regarding its disclosure and sales practices. In response to ASIC's enquiries, ULTIQA Group has:

  1. amended its PDSs to give additional prominence to cooling-off rights, bonus weeks and split weeks;
  2. amended point-of-sale documents to ensure applicants are aware of their cooling-off rights;
  3. modified its monitoring and supervision of sales agents' compliance with and adherence to ULTIQA Group's sales processes and procedures;
  4. removed and clarified potentially misleading statements from the members' kit given at point of sale, and agreed to monitor sales practices to ensure that certain features of Club membership benefits are not misrepresented; and
  5. revised sales processes and practices by providing new members with temporary access to the 'members only' section of the Club's website during the cooling-off period to enable them to assess the benefit of the interests.
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