Six ways to get on the first rung of the housing ladder without a wait

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

BORIS JOHNSON has promised a scheme to turn “generation rent” into “generation buy” by allowing first-time buyers to get a mortgage with just a five per cent deposit.

The plan is thought to include long-term fixed-rate mortgages, possibly backed by the Government – but there is no launch date yet.

If you are a first-time buyer, here is how to get on the first rung of the housing ladder without a wait.

Get a good mortgage advisor: There are already some 95 per cent mortgage deals on offer but you need a good credit rating to bag one. Speak to a mortgage advisor who can scan the whole market, not just deals from a single lender.

Save bigger for a better deal: If you can save more than a five per cent deposit, it becomes much easier to get a mortgage and you will pay a lower interest rate too. Deals with a 25 per cent deposit or more have the best rates.

Compromise: Your first bought home might not necessarily be your dream home. So be honest about what you can afford and the things you need rather than just “wants”.

Identify your ideal area – then be flexible: Be prepared to widen your search area. A mile down the road you might get more for your money.

Be prepared to move quick: Fallen in love with a property? Make sure you can beat other buyers by having everything in place. Line up your mortgage offer and solicitor so you are ready to make an offer and move fast.

Save for the hidden costs: As well as the cost of buying your home, there are additional payments including conveyancing, searches, moving and furnishing your new pad. Factor these in and save up.

BUY OF THE WEEK

HOMEBUYERS aren’t just escaping to the country for a post-pandemic change of lifestyle – they are looking for areas with low populations.

Topping the list is Lightwater in Surrey. It has fewer than 7,000 residents and searches are up 130 per cent last month, according to Rightmove.

This one-bedroom house there is on offer for £220,000. See the details here.

BEAT THE BOILER MELTDOWN

BOILER on the blink? The average cost to install a new one is £2,203, data shows.

But 13 per cent of customers paid more than £3,000, says the study by trade directory Boiler Guide. Its founder David Holmes advises: “It really is worth putting in the time and effort to explore your options for such an important investment, as you could save hundreds of pounds.”

DEAL OF THE WEEK

CREATE a cosy haven this autumn – at a very cool price. Aldi’s coveted faux-fur stool is back online and in store from tomorrow at just £14.99, a fraction of the price of similar seats elsewhere.

SAVE: At least £20

Judge Rinder, legal expert

Q) I AM an OAP, aged 73, and have rented the same bungalow for the past 11 years. I have never seen a water or electric bill – my landlady just demands £80 per month for electric and £20 per month for water.

I told a friend, who said that sounded high, but I have no idea if it is too much or too little because I never see the bills.

Do I have a right to see them? Or can my landlady charge what she wants?
Nina, Kent

A) I am appalled by your landlady’s behaviour. You are entitled to examine your utility bills. In fact, by law, your landlady can only charge you for the units of energy used.

I am extremely concerned that this woman has been overcharging you for years.

Get in touch with her as soon as possible, by phone and in writing. Make it clear you want copies of all of your energy bills since the beginning of the tenancy – and that if you have been charged way more than the amount you have used (you can find this out from the utility supplier) you will be expecting a refund for any overpayment.

The law is on your side here. Get these bills at once. You may even want to show her my answer if she refuses.

BATTLE OF WILL

Q) I WAS thinking about trying a DNA ancestry test, as my father was married before he wed my mum.

But if I found a half-sibling, would they have a claim on Dad’s estate? He died 27 years ago. My mother, the sole beneficiary, is still alive.

Gary, London

A) Even if you discovered a long-lost brother or sister, it is immensely unlikely they would or could have any legal claim on your late father’s estate.

There are specified time limits for family members to challenge wills, so any claim now would almost certainly be decades too late. I would worry less about the legal issues and instead prepare yourself emotionally for discovering you may have a sibling you were unaware of. Decent support is available online.

Q) I AM in a state of shock at the discriminatory treatment I received recently when flying. Before travelling, I had contacted my GP to ask for a mask-exemption letter, only to be told they do not do them.

They sent me a link to download exemption information from my local council, which I did. I also contacted the airline via Twitter and was told me they were in the process of training their staff to recognise exemptions.

But upon arrival at the departure gate, I was lambasted for not wearing a mask. I showed them the documents I had but they said “no mask, no fly”. Eventually, following a panic attack, I boarded the plane very reluctantly wearing a mask.

But my 50th birthday break was ruined because I could not stop thinking about the return journey.

I have suffered extreme anxiety for many years  and on top of that I recently contracted pleurisy – hence my exemption from wearing a mask. I feel this treatment was against the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 and the Equality Act 2010. Can I claim compensation from the airline?

Gary, London

You did everything you possibly could, entirely correctly. Your conduct and enquiries with the airline leading up to your flight read like a how-to-guide for anybody who is lawfully entitled to a mask exemption.

Your anxiety is almost certainly a disability as defined in the Equality Act 2010. Among other things, you seem to have had suffered with this psychological condition long-term, i.e. longer than 12 months.

This airline’s failure to have a policy on mask exemption for people like you may be unlawful on the grounds of disability discrimination. So you could have a case against the airline for the distress caused. This probably won’t be a fortune but could, for instance, cover the cost of the return flight and any further therapy you have needed as a result of what happened.

Your first step is to write to the head of legal affairs at the airline, setting out what transpired. If they ignore you, you will then need to get legal advice, as the claim you may be able to bring is not entirely straightforward in the current climate. Citizens Advice can point you in the right direction.

Mel Hunter, consumer expert

SHARD REFUND WAS TALL ORDER

Q) BEFORE Covid I had booked a trip to London for my family and I to see Les Miserables, cruise down the Thames and have tea at the Ritz.

We also booked a package trip up the Shard, which included a glass of champagne, brochure, photo and a weather guarantee.

After the trip had to be cancelled, everyone refunded my money, even for the non-refundable train tickets. But not the Shard. I got nothing.

The cost of the Shard package for myself, my wife and our two adult children was £122.25.

I have emailed and called nearly every week since March and they keep saying they will pass the matter to management.

Kenneth Glennie, Dunfermline, Fife

A) You should have got an email from The View From The Shard offering you an open ticket or refund. But this didn’t happen and your attempts to get your money back fell on deaf ears.

I got in touch and the company quickly held up its hands, admitting your case had fallen through the cracks. It quickly put this right and has refunded your tickets.

A spokesperson told me: “We can only apologise for the delay. Our customer services team was significantly reduced during lockdown.

“We hope Mr Glennie will get the opportunity to rebook his visit and come to experience the greatest views of the city.”

The View From The Shard is now open again for business. Anyone with gift tickets bought directly from the venue that expired while the 800ft tower was closed can now use them until March 31 next year. Check theviewfromtheshard.com for exact opening times.

RANGE RAGE

Q) I AM having great difficulty with an order I placed with The Range back in April.

I paid for a wardrobe, bed and mattress by credit card, totalling £770. The wardrobe arrived 12 days later but one of the doors was damaged.

I contacted The Range and sent a photo of the door. I was told a new door would be sent out and the damaged one collected. For the next four months I repeatedly tried to contact The Range but rarely got a reply.

The bed and mattress also never arrived, although I managed to get my money back on them.

DEREK HILL, Pontefract

A) The Range seems to have been in a right pickle over your order, unable to get you the three items you paid for then failing to inform you as to why. I asked the store what on earth was going on. After that, it seemed to pull its finger out. A Range member told you they contacted the wardrobe door supplier and that it would be delivered that day . . . and much to your surprise, it was!

The Range has apologised and, after your five-month wait, offered you a £70 gift card as a goodwill gesture.

No one at The Range will tell me what went wrong. But at least with a completed wardrobe, this is one case we can close the door on.

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