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.
HOUSING Minister Robert Jenrick’s proposals to relax planning rules may help millions of Brits to upgrade their homes.
But did you know there are already a number of improvements you can make without the need for planning permission?
Here we’ve teamed up with personal finance pros themoneypig.com to reveal the top fuss-free changes – but the rules only apply to houses, not flats, so check with your local authority and landlord, if you have one, before you begin work.
Porches: The only addition you can make beyond a property’s front wall under permitted development. Ensure it’s no higher than three metres, covers no more than three square metres, and no part of it is less than two metres from any highway.
Walls, gates and fences: As long as you don’t increase the height of the original structure, you can remove a gate, fence or wall, make alterations or repairs, or do improvement and maintenance work.
Conservatory: This won’t need planning permission unless it is to be built on the front of the house that faces the road, or if you want to cover more than 50 per cent of the land around the house.
Garden rooms: External buildings detached from the main house are allowed under permitted development, but they must be in a rear or side garden, single storey only, and cannot cover more than 50 per cent of the land surrounding the home.
Loft conversion: You don’t usually need consent for an attic conversion if the new structure does not exceed 40 cubic metres. Permitted development even lets you add dormer windows as long as they meet certain conditions.
Parking space: You can add a space within your boundary but restrictions apply – ask your council.
Buy of the week
DESIRE for a garden is growing fast and Edinburgh tops the table of searches for homes with outdoor space, according to property website OnTheMarket.
Snap up this immaculate two-bedroom terrace in the city, with private garden, for £205,000.
Nosey so and so
TOP rescue dog Buddy has been hired to sniff out the invasive Japanese knotweed which can make properties very difficult to sell.
The cocker spaniel has been trained by knotweed-removal service Environet UK to detect the weed’s roots.
The firm’s Nic Seal said: “Buddy is proving to have an exceptional nose.”
Deal of the week
THIS metallic planter and stand is less than the price of a takeaway coffee and cake – just £3 from the new Pep & Co Homeware range at Poundland.
SAVE: £10 on similar items elsewhere.
Judge Rinder, legal expert
Q) I HAVE a friend who MUST sell his house.
He is worried because his mortgage holiday is just about to end.
He thinks he will be unable to keep up the payments and his house will be repossessed and auctioned for an amount much less than market value.
I would be happy to pay his mortgage direct to his building society for a year or when it is sold.
He would then repay me when he sells his house.
I’ve seen from your TV programme this sort of loan is a minefield. Is there a way I could do it safely? Anonymous
A) I am glad that you’re sensible enough to have watched my courtroom.
You will therefore appreciate just how careful you must be before helping friends out financially as it can end up in irreparable toxic disaster.
In this case, you could have a contract drafted on your behalf stipulating that you will be repaid for the contribution that you made towards your friend’s mortgage from the proceeds of the sale of his house.
You could also get a legal charge placed on your friend’s property to protect your financial interest.
But, what happens if your friend’s house sells for less than the value of his mortgage or if he owes money to the taxman?
You need to know all of this before you even think about lending your friend this money.
I would advise you, in the strongest possible terms, not to do this without getting an agreement in writing and, given what you have in mind here, getting a qualified lawyer to draft it on your behalf.
Suite’s so sour
Q) I BOUGHT a suite of furniture from a company which has since gone into administration.
I have also discovered the furniture is faulty.
I have emailed to complain but I am getting nothing back.
Is there any way I can get my money refunded? Steve, Teesside
A) I don’t have great news I’m afraid.
As a matter of law, you are entitled to a full refund or a replacement, especially as it appears that you purchased your sofa within the last six months.
The problem is that, as the business is in administration, the company owners (from who you bought the sofa) are no longer in financial control of the company.
It is now in the hands of administrators whose primary obligation is not to you (the consumer) but to this furniture company’s suppliers and other creditors instead.
You go to the back of the queue as regards refunds, whereas the banks and other lenders go to the front.
I would, nevertheless, advise you to write to the administrators asking for a refund or a replacement, as they do have discretion in instances like this.
If you bought the sofa on a credit card, they may be able to help you.
Q) I recently discovered that my brother has bought my mother’s house without consulting me and my sister.
In the event of her death that house would have been sold and the inheritance split equally, and now I assume that won’t happen.
It feels as if he has stolen my inheritance.
Has he acted unlawfully? Stephen, Dorset
A) If your brother has purchased your mother’s house for significantly less than its market value, he (or your mother) could be at the wrong end of a number of serious tax liabilities and could also (depending on the terms of the sale), have ended up on the wrong side of the law.
On the other hand, assuming that your mother is not suffering from dementia or any other mental impairment, she was entitled in principle to dispose of her property in any way she wanted.
Don’t forget that it is possible that your mother has kept the money your brother paid her for the house to be distributed equally between all her children in the event of her death.
The best thing to do here is to try to broach the topic sensitively between everybody involved.
The last thing you want is to end up in a dispute as only the lawyers will win.
I would urge you to find a way of setting up a meeting between all the family to establish precisely what has happened here before taking this any further.
Mel Hunter, Reader’s champion
Q) MY mum is on the brink of a breakdown after our dream holiday to the Disney resort in Florida was cancelled due to Covid-19.
She’d saved for years for this once-in-a- lifetime holiday for nine of us, costing £48,500, and partly funded it by selling our family home after the death of our father.
She received an email from Virgin Holidays on March 26 asking her to call for a refund, but we were never able to get through.
After I posted on social media my mum received an email in May with a basic form to fill out to ask for a refund but she has heard nothing further
She is beside herself with worry that her money is gone.
We have received no information and are now at the point of panic.
This issue dominates her every thought and I’m so worried about her. Victoria Lee, Didcot, Oxon
A) Your poor mum.
Although you’d all been due to jet off on April 3 and had been sent a voucher by Virgin, the refund claim only started going through on May 29.
That meant she’d already had two months being worried sick.
I was confident that she would get her money as Virgin Holidays was legally obliged to refund it, but I wanted to be sure that her weighty claim did not get lost in all the other thousands of cases that the company was dealing with.
I kept on the case and am delighted that she got her £48,500 back earlier this month.
Virgin has told me that refund requests logged up to July are still taking up to 120 days, but that it expects requests made this month to go through in less than 80 days, falling to 60 days if refunds are asked for next month, and 30 days in October.
A spokesman told me: “Customers can amend their booking online via Manage My Booking, and our phone advisors will call them back to discuss their options. The customer centre team is also available via the SMS messaging system, or they can contact on WhatsApp via the website.
“We are committed to paying every refund in full and sincerely apologise to Mrs Lee and her family.”
Q) I ORDERED a sofa in mid-March from Sofology with an expected delivery date of March 26.
Understandably, due to Covid-19 the delivery was postponed.
In April I received an email saying I’d be a priority customer when operations resumed.
Since deliveries restarted I have rung four times for an update, only to be told it is not in the correct depot.
I was told I’d be called when it was in the right place, but I am still waiting. Lauren Hall Coleshill, Birmingham
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SPRUCE UP YOUR GARDEN
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A) It’s hard now to recall exactly how long delivery restrictions and full lockdown went on for, but it’s fair to say you should have been sitting pretty on your new sofa long before you felt the need to contact me.
I got in touch with Sofology and it held its hands up admitting that the triple whammy of coronavirus, logistical problems and poor communication had contributed to your frustrating situation.
But it acted quickly and the new sofa arrived within the week, with a cosy 40 per cent refund to cushion the blow.
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