THE Consumer Crew are here to solve your problems.
Mel Hunter will take on readers’ consumer issues, Jane Hamilton will give you the best advice for buying your dream home, and Judge Rinder will tackle your legal woes.
Jane Hamilton, property expert
RAISE A GLASS TO DUTY FREE
AN expected extension to the Stamp Duty holiday in next week’s Budget will unleash a new torrent of buyers and sellers into the property market.
Property portal Rightmove had its busiest day ever last week, with 8.5million visits in a single day.
The site’s Tim Bannister said: “There are clear signs from buyers and sellers that they want to move home in the UK this year.”
If you are considering selling soon, here’s how to get market-ready before lockdown lifts.
1. Do your research: What have local homes sold for during lockdown? Does yours have anything extra to offer, such as off-street parking or a bigger garden? Price yours appropriately.
2. Choose your agent: Are you selling with a traditional agency or online only? Do you research, compare what you get for your cash then shortlist agents to value your home. Selling is stressful so pick an agent you trust and get on with.
3. Get your admin under way: Choose a solicitor and dig out all the paperwork you will need, such as guarantees for the boiler or any new windows, planning permission for any building work and your lease if you own a flat.
4. Stage your home appropriately: Consider which season you will sell in. Dress your home to match so it is picture perfect in photos and tempts buyers in person. Selling in spring/summer? Make the most of the garden and outside space.
5. Small things make a big difference: Presenting your home doesn’t need to be expensive. Wash windows inside and out, mow the lawn and tidy the garden. Wash your front door and add a coat of fresh paint to tired walls. Clear away clutter.
6. Consider showing “off market”: Your agent might have someone in mind to view your home before it officially goes on sale. Off market buyers often give the asking price to secure a home and ensure it isn’t shown to others.
BUY OF THE WEEK
OH we do like to be beside the seaside. New research from Zoopla reveals Hastings is the UK’s hottest rental market. If buying, you can snap up this stunning new build two-bed semi in the coastal town for £250,000 at zoopla.co.uk/new-homes/details/57100263.
BANK OF GRAN AND GRANDAD
OLDER home-owners are gifting younger family members an average house deposit of £42,500 – the equivalent of nearly two- thirds of a standard first-time buyer deposit.
A new report from equity release provider Key shows the Bank Of Gran And Grandad is even more generous in London, handing out average deposits of more than £102,000.
Will Hale, CEO at Key, said: “For many people, these gifts will have been the enabler to them buying their first home.”
DEAL OF THE WEEK
COLOUR-UP your kitchen. Lidl is selling casserole dishes and stoneware similar to Le Creuset. This dish comes in a choice for four colours for just £4.99.
Judge Rinder, legal expert
‘I pay my wife cash while we live apart in a trial separation – should I get this looked at now by a divorce lawyer?’
Q) I HAVE been married for 28 years, but made the decision to move out five months ago. I now live in a rented flat, which I pay for, while my wife and two grown-up sons – one working and one at university – stay in the family home.
I agreed to pay for half of all utilities at the family home and provide a set amount to pay towards our sons’ clothing, food and expenses, which I pay by direct debit.
We have no mortgage on the house. I intend to stay away for at least a year, with the possibility of divorcing at the end of it.
Would you suggest I see a solicitor now about what I have put in place in case my wife expects me to continue paying this after we divorce? She also works and earns a similar amount to me.
A) This is a really good question. If you end up getting divorced, a court in your case would begin with the assumption that everything should be divided equally between you and your wife. You would therefore be required (depending on your wife’s employment and other circumstances) to pay for the upkeep of the house and possibly significantly more towards your children’s maintenance than you are paying now.
Following on from this, it seems to me that you have already come to a sensible arrangement that is agreeable to both of you. To avoid conflict moving forward I would strongly advise you to formalise this agreement with the help of a solicitor.
If you decide to divorce, it will help you both come to a speedy and amicable financial settlement without needing to spend further (and unnecessary) money on lawyers.
Q) MY dad passed away in December. He had a life insurance policy and the 100 per cent beneficiary and trustee of that was his late partner, who died three years ago. The insurers say the claim forms part of his late partner’s estate. But I am my father’s next of kin, so could I have a valid claim on this policy?
A) Ordinarily, the benefit from the policy would have been passed on to whoever was named in the will of your father’s late partner. There is room to challenge this depending on the terms of the life insurance policy and whether your father’s partner has any named beneficiaries and who they are. You need to act quickly as there are strict time limits. Write urgently to the insurance company asking for the terms of the policy. And I would get in touch with a specialist solicitor.
Q) BEING 74 years old with health issues and on the highly vulnerable list, I have been shielding at home since November.
However, I’ve received a fixed penalty notice for litter found with my name on it several miles from my home.
On speaking with the council environment officer who issued the notice, I was told that I “displayed lack of diligence of disposal of waste”.
I had given the litter in question – an old chair in an Amazon box with my name on it – to a rag-and-bone man. There is no right of appeal, apparently – just pay up or go to court. Is there anything I can do?
John, Hornchurch, East London
A) You did not dump the chair therefore you are not liable for this fine. Full-stop.
I do not understand why you believe that there is no right to appeal in this matter. If the fine was issued by the Environment Agency, you can email them directly asking for them to review the decision.
If that doesn’t help, the local Government Ombudsman should.
I would write to both addresses and whatever email address is set out on the reverse of the fine notification. If your representations are ignored or rebuffed, you may have to explain what happened at a magistrates’ court.
Assuming you have evidence of handing the chair over or, at the very least, are prepared to give evidence on oath that this is what happened, you should be acquitted and able to recover any costs. You are going to need to be tough in this case.
Mel Hunter, reader’s champion
BREAK COSTA LOT OF STRESS
Q) I BOOKED a week on the Costa del Sol with Alpharooms for last May, for me and six ladies in my over-60s club. We are aged 78 to 92. After the holiday was cancelled, I sent many emails to Alpharooms, requesting a refund and not a credit note. I got a credit note for £1,422, to be used against another booking by May 31, 2021.
Due to our ages, we are vulnerable and would now be scared of sitting on a plane for some considerable time. I have even offered to send details of our passports to confirm our ages, but to no avail. It seems Alpharooms has forgotten about us. If you can help, I would be so grateful.
I booked our flights separately, and have been refunded for these by EasyJet.
Linda Parish, Manchester
A) A holiday with you ladies would have been a joy, and I am sorry coronavirus stopped you. You were entitled to a refund from the start, so I pressed this point with Alpharooms and began the process of getting you what you were owed.
At the end of January, you finally received the last instalment of £900 that you paid in April 2020, but were still waiting on the two initial payments you made for the holiday way back in October 2019.
I prompted Alpharooms again and finally got the extra £505 you were owed.
You were delighted, particularly as it meant you could finally pay your friends back. It’s just a pity you couldn’t have taken that holiday together.
Alpharooms didn’t respond to my request for an explanation.
Q) A FEW years ago, I had a mobile phone contract with Tesco.
Once it was up for renewal, I went to the store and cancelled it, along with the phone insurance. I double-checked with the assistant that everything was cancelled and that I didn’t need to do anything else.
In September last year I was going through bank statements and noticed a payment for Tesco phone insurance so I called them immediately and they said it hadn’t been cancelled.
I raised a complaint and requested a refund. I have received a reply, apologising but not acknowledging the refund.
Angela Taylor, Wigan
It can be all too easy to skim over transactions on your bank statement, especially as you already had phone insurance for another device.
After you spotted the error, Tesco Mobile responded to your complaint but ignored your request for a refund of the £264 you had spent on unnecessary insurance.
This wasn’t good enough, so I asked the company to look at your case again.
It turned out that not only had the insurance not been cancelled, neither had the contract – and that had cost you another £429.
I’m delighted that Tesco Mobile agreed to a full refund, putting almost £700 back into your pocket.
It’s a reminder to everyone to check bank statements carefully each month. Better still, sign up to mobile banking and check your account daily.
Tesco Mobile didn’t comment.
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