Do Tories REALLY plan to build council houses for £2,600 each!

Comment on Guardian article:

Tory maths:
Manifesto says they will build 500,000 new houses.

According to Conservatives this cost will be covered by £1.3 billion in extra capital spending (read borrowing).

£1.3 billion spent on 500,000 houses means each house will be built for £2600.

Current waiting list for council housing, 1.25 million people.”

New estate in Bristol could be (should be?) demolished

Developers UKS Group were given permission to build 13 three-bed houses and one two-bed house off the A38 in Highridge, Bristol. But locals say they have actually built 13 four-beds and one three-bed.”

Children injured in new- build homes due to dangerous and shoddy workmanship

“Children have been injured in shoddily built new homes, we can reveal.

The youngsters have suffered electric shocks and breathing problems, while one was even crushed by a radiator, after moving in to properties that had not been constructed properly.

The revelations are the latest uncovered by the Daily Mail as part of an investigation into the dire state of many of Britain’s new-build homes.
We have previously reported on leaks, water-logged gardens, missing windows, badly fitted doors, broken toilets and gaps in the guttering.

Many homebuyers have scrimped and saved for years to get on the property ladder.

Today we can reveal that poor workmanship by builders – some of whom are cutting corners in a rush to meet construction targets – is raising safety concerns.

Kate and Kevin Fever, from Tiverton, Devon, saved for years to buy a bigger home for their four children. When they moved to their new £265,000, four-bedroom property in December 2015, there were snagging issues with the downstairs flooring and drainage in the garden. These were fixed within a few weeks.

But, seven months later, a heavy double radiator fell off the wall as their eldest daughter Gemma, then aged ten, walked across the kitchen. Kate, 32, a student midwife, says: ‘When I rushed over and pulled off her sock, I expected just a graze, but it was a bloodbath. I grabbed a tea towel to wrap around her foot and we went straight to A&E.’ Gemma, now 11, needed stitches and a cast on her leg for a ruptured Achilles tendon. Kate and Kevin, 40, reported the incident to their builder Taylor Wimpey.

They claim the firm admitted wrong fixings were used on a number of radiators, which meant they weren’t secured properly to the walls.

The radiators were repaired and the firm contacted other customers they thought could be affected. Gemma also received toys, a £50 Toys R Us gift card and £150.

A spokeswoman for the builder says: ‘Taylor Wimpey has apologised to the Fever family for the distress caused. The health and safety of our customers and their families is our number one priority.’

Paul and Lisa Holland, from Leyland, Lancashire, also bought a four-bedroom property from Taylor Wimpey, which they have lived in since 2010. In November last year, Lisa, 43, and youngest son Kyle, 11, suffered electric shocks after touching a lightswitch.

Paul, 45, an HGV driver, says: ‘It happened when we changed the bulb to an energy saver. The bulb started flashing. My son went to the switch, but he jumped back crying. My wife then tried it and jumped back after also suffering a shock.’ When Paul’s brother tested the plastic switch with a volt meter he found live current leaking. The switch had to be replaced, along with the light. ‘My wife and son are very, very lucky they did not each suffer more serious shocks,’ says Paul.

A Taylor Wimpey spokesman says: ‘The vast majority of our customers tell us they are very satisfied with the quality of their home. ‘However, we recognise that we do sometimes get things wrong, and in those cases we are committed to putting them right as quickly as possible.’

Figures show a staggering 98 per cent of new-build buyers report problems to their builders, according to a new home survey by the National House Building Council and the Home Builders Federation.

After years of saving, Colin and Jessica Nickless bought their first home in September 2015. But since moving into the three-bedroom, terraced new-build in Rainham, near London, the couple and their two children have been plagued by damp and mould. Ellie, five, and Freddie, three, have both been in hospital with breathing difficulties and chest infections.

The couple particularly worry about Ellie as she suffers from cystic fibrosis, which makes her vulnerable to respiratory infections. Colin, 41, a full-time carer for Ellie, says: ‘Our new-build home is making us all ill.
‘We’ve had problems with leaking pipes, damp carpets, water dripping through electrical sockets and light fittings, waste pipes not being connected properly and pouring filthy water into my son’s bedroom.’

A spokeswoman for Circle Housing refused to comment on the case due to an ongoing legal claim.

Philip Waller, a retired construction manager who runs advice website, says: ‘When children are being injured by defective new homes, the Government simply cannot stand on the sidelines.'”

New build housing figures pathetic

“House building under the Tories has fallen to its lowest peacetime levels since the 1920s, Huff Post UK reveals today.

An analysis of house building going back more than a century shows the most recent years of Conservative rule has seen the lowest average house build rate since Stanley Baldwin was in Downing Street in 1923.

According to figures compiled by the House of Commons Library, an average of 127,000 homes a year have been built in England and Wales since the Tories took office in 2010.

This is the lowest level since Baldwin’s first stint as Prime Minister in 1923, when just 86,000 homes were built. …

… Alongside the figures, Labour also released a dossier of broken election pledges from the Tories’ 2015 manifesto. This included the promise to “build 200,000 Starter Homes” by 2020.

The target was dropped from the Government’s flagship Housing white paper published in February.

The manifesto also pledged to build “more affordable housing”, but the number of affordable homes built last year fell to the lowest level in 24 years.” …”

The great army housing scandal

“… Having sold off a few of the prefab houses in St Eval [a former army base in Cornwall], Annington Homes learned that if it flattened the rest of the rotting concrete boxes and rebuilt new houses in their place, the local authority would insist the company supplied 40% affordable housing – considerably reducing its profit margin. So it came up with an ingenious solution.

Once the units on the former base were empty, Annington sent in teams of builders who would carry out the same operation, over and over. First, they would knock down the walls, securing them with temporary steel supports known as acrow props. Next, with the old roof secured in mid-air, the builders remade the walls with bricks. Once they were secure, the builders put the roof back in place, and moved on to the next house.

The process took years to complete, but by preserving the roofs, Annington avoided the expense of having to supply low-cost housing. “You’ve got a 1950s roof with a brand new house underneath,” recalled Trevor Windsor. “New kitchen, new floors, new ceilings. It was very clever – a brilliant bit of civil engineering.” (Though Hough doesn’t quite agree. She believes the process has “given the houses slightly uneven floors and doors that don’t quite fit.”)

This episode in St Eval was not the only element of the 1996 deal in which Annington ran rings around the state. In fact, it now looks representative. The full extent of the fallout from the deal – for the MoD, residents and taxpayers – is only now being understood. When Kevan Jones was minister for veterans under Gordon Brown, he called in representatives from the company, in order to try and make sense of the arrangements. “I tried to get us out of it, but it was impossible,” Jones told me. “It was an incredibly bad deal for the taxpayer. I just couldn’t believe that the former government had signed it.”

The deal signed by the MoD has become a millstone. Today, the houses that Annington bought for £1.67bn are worth £6.7bn. Under the terms of the deal, the MoD rents back thousands of houses for members of the armed forces and their families. Last year, the rental bill for 39,014 houses around the country was £167m. Of those houses for which the MoD was paying millions in rent, 7,680 were empty.

There is worse to come. The original deal gave the MoD a 58% discount on renting the houses for the first 25 years. It also allows a rent review every 25 years. The first rent review will take place in 2021 and there is nothing to stop Annington charging full market value after that point. If that happens, the MoD’s bill for accommodation for its servicemen and women will rocket and Britain’s armed forces will be faced with enormous existential questions. …”

Beware retirement properties

“An investigation has exposed systematic ‘abuse’ in fees for retirement properties.

According to the Law Commission, which has just completed a two-year probe into the practice, retirement home residents are being charged ‘event fees’ triggered by one-off occasions, like sub-letting the property.

It warned that there are “major problems” with the way these fees are charged – and how they are hidden in the small print.

When older people buy a retirement property, it is generally on a leasehold basis. My own grandfather lives in a lovely complex just over the road from my parents.

As with normal residential leasehold properties, there is a host of additional fees to worry about, and they come with all sorts of names – exit fees, transfer fees, contingency fees, etc.

And according to the Law Commission they are open to abuse. Its investigation found that these fees can be hidden within the small print of complex lease documents, or are disclosed too late in the process for the buyer to take them into account.

Bad timing

There is also a significant issue about exactly when these fees are charged, which the Law Commission said may come as a “surprise” to the owner because of how broadly drafted the fee is.

For example, it is reasonable to expect that an event fee might be charged when you sell the property.

But the Law Commission’s investigation found numerous examples of the fee being charged when the property was inherited or mortgaged, when a spouse, partner or carer moved in, or when the normal resident moved out.

These fees aren’t small change either – they can work out as much as 30% of the property’s value!

What’s most irritating about all this is that it is nothing new. Back in 2013 the Office of Fair Trading (remember them?) also looked into the issue, and found the exact same problems, suggesting that a number of the fees being charged were unfair and actually a breach of the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations.

Yet here we are, four years later, and the same fees are being charged, hitting older people in the pocket.

Hurting the supply of retirement homes

These fees are bad enough just from a moral point of view, but some believe that they are actually serving as a barrier to more retirement homes being built.

Nicola Charlton of law firm Pinsent Masons suggested that the “legal uncertainties” over the status of event fees “have in the past dissuaded developers from building the homes older people need and investors from providing the required funding”.

Now that the Law Commission has published its views on the fees, this uncertainty is removed, which could possibly mean extra investment of as much as £3.2 billion into new – and badly needed – specialist retirement housing.

There are currently only around 160,000 retirement properties like those reviewed by the Law Commission, which simply isn’t enough.

Is regulation the answer?

The Law Commission has declined to call for event fees to be scrapped entirely, as it argues that they can actually make specialist housing affordable precisely because some of the payments for services are essentially deferred until the property is sold.

Instead, it wants regulation with the introduction of a new code of practice overseen by the Department for Communities and Local Government.

This code of practice would limit when a fee can be charged, and in some cases exactly how much can be charged.

It would also impose “stringent obligations” on landlords to provide transparent information about exactly which fees may be charged early in the process.

This idea has had a warm welcome from the industry. A statement from the Associated Retirement Community Operators said: “It’s been long overdue, and we believe that an event fee that has not been transparently disclosed should not be charged.

In other countries, event fees are a well-established mechanism that can enable older people to use their housing equity to ‘enjoy now and pay later’, for example by reducing their service charge or deferring some of the costs of building communal facilities.”

However, the Campaign Against Retirement Leasehold Exploitation (CARLEX) described the report as “tokenistic”, adding: “Pensioners and their families who feel they have been blatantly cheated in retirement housing have reason to feel let down.”

What to consider when buying a retirement property

Clearly, if you are thinking about buying a retirement property it pays to look carefully through the contracts to ensure you fully understand what fees you are likely to have to pay and precisely when they may be charged.

It isn’t just these event fees you need to consider either – there will also be service charges to cover maintenance and upkeep of the property to account for. These are often higher than the service charges you may face on a normal property, as retirement homes tend to come with more services included.

Critics claim that the managing agents and maintenance firms are often offshoots from the freeholder, meaning there is no actual competition for the role, resulting in eye-watering overcharging.

It also pays to do your research on the resale value. Have similar retirement properties in the area been resold at a decent price?

These properties can be more difficult to sell than a normal home, while you will want to check the small print of your contract to ensure you are free to choose who you market the property through – some freeholders insist that you resell it through their own company, with a higher fee to pay than selling through an estate agent.

Given how difficult it can be to resell a retirement property, you may prefer to rent instead.”

More than 200,000 homes empty in England worth more than £43m

“In England there are 200,000 homes that have been sitting empty for more than six months, according to new Government figures. This is equivalent to £43bn worth of housing stock.

In London alone there were 19,845 homes sitting vacant for over six months last year, property that is worth £9.4bn, taking into account average prices.

Kensington and Chelsea has the capital’s highest number of homes which are vacant for more than six months with 1,399 empty, up 8.5pc on last year, and 22.7pc higher than 10 years ago.

This is likely due to the buy-to-leave phenomenon, where wealthy buyers snap up homes as an investment, and leave them empty while waiting for its value to increase.

Communities secretary Sajid Javid downplayed the role of such foreign buyers in exacerbating the housing crisis, saying the problem “isn’t as bad as some people think”. A Savills’ report found that the majority of homes bought by people based overseas were being rented out, rather than left empty. …”