Havering Council won’t give me back my house: TONY HETHERINGTON investigating

Tony Hetherington is the Financial Mail on Sunday’s top investigator, championing reader engagement, uncovering the truth behind closed doors and carving out victories for those who don’t pay. Below is how you can contact him.

Ms EM writes: In 2016 I rented out a house as part of the London Borough of Havering project to provide temporary housing for families awaiting social housing.

I was assured that I would get my house back after giving three months’ notice to the city council, as the city council is legally my tenant and not the actual resident.

Last January I gave three months notice to the city authorities but now they say they cannot return my property as they are still unable to accommodate the resident.

Delay: Havering City Council is accused of

Delay: Havering City Council is accused of “getting into debt” over a rented property

Tony Hetherington replies: In fact, Havering Council has become a squatter in your home. Unlike real squatters, the municipality pays you rent.

But that’s only £1,150 a month, which isn’t even enough to cover your mortgage payments, alimony and taxes. Identical houses on the same street are now being advertised for £1,800 a month.

When you quit, the council set a date for the house to be returned in April. With interest rates rising at an ever faster pace, you would have at least had a chance to sell the property before your own mortgage rate went up that month. But of course the Havering Council did not stick to its plan.

When you explained that you were in really bad shape financially, the city manager let out a remarkable gasp.

You were told that Havering had a partnership with a company that bought land and leased it back to the community just like you had done. Why not sell the house to her? A great idea, you thought. Apart from the fact that the borough’s favorite property dealer only offered you £230,000 for your £350,000 house.

Why such a low price? Well, you wouldn’t sell empty holdings. And the reason there were no vacant lots was because Havering council refused to hand over the house – the same council that gave you the name of the estate agent who would continue to rent the house to the council.

As for the offers, that was a real bummer. The dealer would get a bargain priced house. The council would keep the lease. And you would be the loser.

I have asked the Havering Council for an opinion. A day later, the city council contacted you and offered you an unconditional increase in the rent by £150 a month. The council also said it would cover higher mortgage costs.

However, the council had already offered the extra £150 six months ago, but on the condition that it was a three-year lease. In short, you would be forced to make losses while Havering gets a home for cheap.

The municipal council informed me: “So far we have not been able to accommodate the tenant in Ms. M’s apartment in alternative accommodation.”

It added that while the council recommended you sell your home to his real estate agent friend, they were unaware of the details of an offer. In what looked like a breakthrough, Havering then said it would pay you the extra £150 a month, backdated to January, plus £1,999 for mortgage switching fees.

But there was a stab in the tail. From this month you will only be paid the additional monthly payment when the property is handed over. And that could be this year, next year – or Havering only knows when. The council admits they have a backlog of properties like yours that they have not returned.

I pressed the Council and they gave in. The additional £150 will be paid monthly and not accumulated until the resident has moved.

But with that, you still face the bad end of a bad deal. You could go to court to demand the return of your property, but the council has millions of pounds in its coffers and solicitors on its staff. You have neither one nor the other. The current financial equalization papers above the cracks, but nothing more.

This is meant to be a warning to anyone tempted to make the same deal. Ironically, the word “having” means hesitant, indecisive, or wasting time. How true.

Virgin’s claim is just hot air

Hot air: Virgin made a complete U-turn

Hot air: Virgin made a complete U-turn

Ms MM writes: My husband received Virgin Balloon flight vouchers for his 70th birthday.

He will be 77 this year and each of the five flights we booked have been canceled due to weather or Covid.

According to Virgin, the vouchers are non-refundable and are now void.

Tony Hetherington replies: When you explained that your husband’s health had deteriorated in recent years and that he no longer felt able to take part in a balloon flight, Virgin refused to give a refund.

When you said you would contact the media, Virgin told you: “Should you wish to escalate to an outside source, that is your prerogative but it will not affect the outcome.”

I reached out to Virgin for a comment and 24 hours later you were told that “given the specific circumstances of your request, we have agreed to issue a full refund to you.”

Virgin then informed me that in fact they had not received an invitation from me to comment on your complaint. It’s purely coincidental that within a few hours it completely reversed. The words “hot air” immediately come to mind.

The meter change is not so smart

Ms MN writes: I had a smart meter installed, but it couldn’t connect to the network.

Three other gauges also wouldn’t connect and the electrician said he would come back with a new one.

No one came so I phoned Ovo Energy for an hour and a half and was told the issue would be sorted out but nothing happened.

Failure: Ovo Energy said the smart meter issue would be resolved, but nothing happened

Failure: Ovo Energy said the smart meter issue would be resolved, but nothing happened

Tony Hetherington replies: Expect good customer service from any utility these days, and chances are you’ll be disappointed.

You told me you spent another hour on the phone with Ovo and sent pictures of the gauge, which Ovo said would be checked over the next 10 days.

Predictably, nothing happened. You were given an appointment to install a new meter, so your husband waited at home. Nobody showed up. Ovo later said that the technician arrived but found that the registration numbers on the external meter were not what he expected and left without knocking.

I picked up all of that with Ovo. Apparently Ovo’s records were never updated when the first failed meter was installed, so the estimated charges were calculated as if the original meter were still in place and still working.

There were more failures to update records afterwards, causing even more confusion, but the bottom line was that Ovo paid you £30 as standard canceled appointment compensation, with a promise of another payment in the pipeline.

A new meter was installed and it works. And your bills for the last few months have been adjusted to show you have a balance of £125.

If you believe you have been the victim of financial wrongdoing, write to Tony Hetherington at Financial Mail, 9 Derry Street, London W8 5HY or email tony.hetherington@mailonsunday.co.uk. Due to the large number of inquiries, a personal answer is not possible. Please only send copies of the original documents, unfortunately returns are not possible.

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Emma Colton

Janice Dean is a WSTPost U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Janice Dean joined WSTPost in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing: janicedean@wstpost.com.

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