Deciding to purchase a timeshare is a big decision, so you'll be glad to hear that timeshare owners benefit from a more robust consumer protection legislation than buyers of products and services in any other retail sector.

Since 2011, the EU Timeshare Directive has imposed stringent regulations on the way timeshare is sold and operated.

For example, the Directive absolutely forbids the taking of any money upfront, even stating that no purchase deposit should be paid at the point of contract signing. It also gives the buyer a 14-day cooling-off period after signing the purchase contract. Should you change your mind about going ahead with the timeshare purchase during this time, you are free to cancel the contract and walk away without having to make any payment at all.

Make sure you read through all your documentation - your home resort constitution will give details of your rights and responsibilities in relation to ownership, use and occupancy rights.

Usually you will be responsible for an annual maintenance payment which covers the cost of regular refurbishment work to maintain the quality of guest accommodation and facilities, cleaning, property upkeep, pool cleaning, gardening and security. These can start from £250 for a single week of ownership, and will increase depending on set criteria, such as the size of your timeshare, seasonality, quality and onsite facilities.

While your contract is usually with a timeshare developer, the day-to-day running of the resort can be left to professsional resort management companies - or managed by the timeshare owners themselves, who will appoint an Owners' Committee to oversee the resort's maintenance. So you can be sure your home resort, as well as those you exchange into, will be well maintained and cared for.

Once you've signed your contract, you also have the opportunity to expand your holiday horizons with a timeshare exchange provider, such as RCI. You can learn about all the benefits of exchange membership on RCI.com, but feeling at home in spacious accommodation, wherever you travel, is a compelling reason to join a community of 3.8 million RCI members. Your rights in relation to buying into a holiday exchange service provider membership are also regulated and protected under the EU Timeshare Directive.

And if you would like impartial advice, the industry-consumer organisation, Resort Development Organisation (RDO), in the UK, is there to offer advice, support and guidance to timeshare owners, and to those looking to take their first step into timeshare ownership. If you have any queries, visit rdo.org

RDO is the trade association of the timeshare industry. It regulates and protects the industry to drive consistent product and service level quality throughout the timeshare and shared-holiday ownership industry. RCI is a member of RDO, as are many of its affiliated resort companies.