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Shared equity concerns raised

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A SCHEME designed to help first-time buyers has come in for criticism after it was revealed that Carmarthenshire County Council had lost crucial documentation relating to at least one of the properties concerned.

It has also been claimed that the advice given to buyers looking to sell shared equity properties has been at best contradictory.

Because the issues raised in this story could affect others who have not contacted The Herald, we have taken the decision not to identify either the person affected or the area in which this took place.

Our main source for this story was happy to be named, but as his issues with Carmarthenshire County Council have been largely resolved, we decided that identifying him, and the location, could cause problems for others who may face an impact from this. For the purpose of this article we have called him ‘Jon’.

WHAT HAPPENED

Jon’s partner had entered into an affordable housing deal with Carmarthenshire County Council (CCC) for a property in the Machynys area of Llanelli in 2010. She took out a mortgage for 70% of the property’s value, with CCC holding the other 30%.

However, as a result of changes in their circumstances, the two bedroom property was no longer sufficient for their needs, and the couple, who have two children, decided to sell.

‘MIXED MESSAGES’

Jon told The Herald that the couple were told that they could sell the property on the open market, and in June 2014 put the house up for sale with an estate agent. After several people viewed the property, a prospective purchaser from England offered to pay £112,000 cash for the property.

The couple informed the council that they had a buyer, and went to a solicitor to sort out the necessary documentation, at an estimated cost of £1,300.

However, at this point, Jon said that the council’s legal department ‘put a block’ on the sale, saying that it didn’t meet the terms of the unilateral agreement drawn up by the council.

“We were £1,300 out of pocket, and we still couldn’t move,” Jon told us. At this point the sale fell through.

Questions were also raised about the property’s valuation. Carmarthenshire County Council put the value at £135,000 following the advice of its property valuation team. However, three independent valuations which Jon instigated claimed the property was worth £112-114,000 – something he says was borne out by comparable house prices in the area at the time.

More worryingly, he said, the council apparently had ‘no procedure in place’ for the sale of shared equity housing: “We were told that the council had not allowed for people’s circumstances changing,” he added.

Following a subsequent meeting, and after local MP Nia Griffith got involved with the case, Carmarthenshire County Council hired a registered independent investigator.

PAPERWORK ‘LOST’

In August 2015, the advice given was that the couple had the paperwork in place to back his claim of 70% ownership. The council was unable to provide any evidence to the contrary.

This implies that Carmarthenshire County Council had failed to keep a record of a property transaction. It has been alleged that other homeowners in a shared equity mortgage agreement may be affected by this.

In terms of selling the property on, Jon was told that he would be given a list of people who qualified for the shared equity scheme, and that he and his partner would ‘have to get in touch’ with these to identify an interested party.

However, when Jon phoned the department on Monday, he was told that shared equity properties were only dealt with on one day a week.

In a subsequent meeting with a council legal advisor, Jon was asked the value of houses in the area of the same size.

“We didn’t want to make money out of this – we just needed a bigger house,” he told us.

STRESS

By this stage, the stress was beginning to tell on the couple, one of whom had been forced to sleep on the sofa every weekend for more than a year already. Jon told us that plans for their wedding had been affected by the uncertainty still surrounding the sale.

“They [Carmarthenshire County Council] didn’t care about the stress they were putting us through, or our children’s welfare,” he claimed.

At this stage, Carmarthenshire County Council was still claiming that owned 49% of the property rather than 30%. However, after ‘several ding-dongs’ it emerged that CCC was unable to locate ANY documents relating to the ownership of the house. “They didn’t have a leg to stand on,” Jon recalled.

At a meeting in October 2015 – more than a year after their initial sale had been blocked – the council accepted the couple’s valuation and 70% ownership claim, and asked how they wished to proceed.

“I told them; all we want is to be able to sell our home,” Jon said. “I said there needed to be a procedure in place to stop this happening to other people.”

Carmarthenshire County Council agreed to buy the couple’s share of the property back for cash. In addition, they agreed to cover legal fees up to this point, and ‘graciously’ offered £500 cash settlement for their trouble.

THE ‘AFFORDABLE HOUSING’ SCHEME

Carmarthenshire County Council describes the Affordable Homes Scheme as follows: “Affordable homes are aimed at people who can get a mortgage and earn an average income, but cannot afford to buy a suitable home at open market prices.

“They’re usually sold on a shared equity basis – this means that you would buy a percentage share of the home, and we – or a Housing Association – will own the remaining share of the home (up to the market value).

“To be eligible, you must live or work full time, in Carmarthenshire, or have a long standing local connection to Carmarthenshire, such as immediate family within the area. Your income before tax should be a minimum of £15,000 a year. This figure can include benefits other than Housing Benefit. Priority is given to council and housing association tenants.”

In a list of Frequently Asked Questions on the council’s website, it is explicitly stated that to purchase an affordable home ‘you must be registered on our affordable homes register.’ This would preclude any open market sale.

“If you are interested in a particular development”, The website adds, “we will ask for further financial details from you including a mortgage certificate. We will then prioritise households according to our affordable housing allocations policy. We will write to let you know if you have been successful and the next steps you will need to take.”

It is difficult to reconcile these arrangements with those suggested to Jon. It is implied that any buying or selling of affordable homes will be carried out through the council, rather than personally by the co- owner. At the least this raises questions over whether the resale of shared equity homes had been properly thought through.

As Nia Griffith pointed out: “You would never expect a tenant vacating a place to find the next tenant.”

Given that the couple were initially advised to advertise the property on the open market, this indicates a lack of communication between different departments.

The Herald has been told that an email to Jon from the council’s Chief Executive acknowledged failings, and suggested that a review of the council’s own processes was under way. Whether or not this is the case remains to be seen. SHARED EQUITY ISSUES

The Herald has seen the original mortgage documents relating to the sale of the property. These clearly indicate that the mortgage taken out was for a 70%/30% split between the purchaser and Carmarthenshire County Council. This equated to £67,480 of a total agreed property price of £96,400. The mortgage papers make clear reference to a 30% discount.

However, after Jon and his partner announced their intention to sell, a letter from the council informed them that they had purchased 51.9% of the property, for £67,480, and that the original open market price was £130,000.

It is then suggested that their share of the property could be sold for around £70,000, which equates to 51.9% of the market valuation of £135,000.

These figures have been heavily disputed by Jon, who paid for three separate valuations. These put the value of the house between £110,000 and £120,000. At £120,000, a 70% stake would equate to £84,000. 70% of the council’s valuation would equate to £94,500.

This would have meant that by either valuation, Jon and his partner would have lost between £10- 25,000. While the amount initially paid was agreed by both parties, the council’s claim appears to be based on what could charitably be described as an over-estimate.

Given that the council failed to provide paperwork to back up their case, it could be suggested that the valuation is an extrapolation based on the flawed premise of a 52-48% split, with an increase in value along the lines of inflation.

NIA GRIFFITH MP

The Herald spoke to Nia Griffith, who Jon said was instrumental in assisting him in his struggle with the council.

Ms Griffith said that the main issue was the way in which the scheme had been handled by Carmarthenshire County Council, and the lack of certain provisions.

“I really think that the issue here is about how Carmarthenshire County Council manages this type of scheme,” she told us.

“If you say ‘we are giving firsttime buyers a leg-up’ by offering a 70-30 split equity mortgage, you have to work out what to do when they need to move on.

“I think the situation of any young purchaser, their needs, will change – most first time buyers will need a larger property at some stage.

“So, regardless of that everyone would expect families’ circumstances could change, that wasn’t taken into account.

“The council didn’t seem to have a clear idea about what to do.”

Ms Griffith described the treatment of Jon and his family as ‘utterly appalling.’

“At one stage they had a cash purchaser ready to go ahead, and when they asked CCC for permission they were told they couldn’t sell it on the open market,” she pointed out. As has been mentioned, this led to delays of over a year in selling their property. “The council has been guilty of sending out ‘mixed messages.”

“Carmarthenshire County Council has set up a system where you could purchase but had no strategy for exiting,” she added.

“There has been a strategic failure in the sense that they have not thought out how the scheme should work, and a practical failure where they have lost the relevant paperwork.

“The reason Jon managed to prove that they owned 70% of the equity was because the mortgage company noted the detail.

“The disgraceful thing CCC had done was no paperwork to this effect, so the onus was on the first time buyer to prove this.

“To be fair the council accepted what it had to do when the investigation raised these issues – whatever happened had clearly been badly mismanaged, which was probably why the Head of Housing was prepared to bring in outside consultants.

“These are things that CCC has to get right: How to maintain a bank of affordable properties; how to enable the value of a property to grow, while at the same time keeping it as an affordable property; When devising the scheme, they have to make sure that staff are trained to avoid mixed messages.

“They need to find a way to make sure that no one should go through that agony when going to sell a property.

“Another question which remains unanswered is that if the property is sold on the open market what would happen to the affordable housing provision?

“Whilst it is laudable in its aims the details need to be watertight.

“You would never expect a tenant vacating a place to find the next tenant.”

The Herald asked Carmarthenshire County Council whether or not any review of shared equity mortgage policy had been initiated following the terms of their eventual agreement with Jon.

We also asked whether there were any outstanding issues pertaining to documentation with other shared equity properties, given reports that other residents had been given similarly misleading valuations.

Robin Staines from Head of Housing and Public Protection, told us: “As has been confirmed, the matter relating to this property is resolved. Unfortunately, documentation relating to a small number of shared equity agreements were destroyed in error during an office relocation. We have since contacted all affected owneroccupiers to apologise and review their individual agreements. The council has reviewed its shared equity mortgage policy due to recent changes in lender practices.”

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Health

Council end contract with Plas Y Bryn Care Home

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FOLLOWING significant concerns with its financial position and an inability to pay their staff and creditors, Carmarthenshire County Council has had to give notice on its contract to provide care with Plas Y Bryn Care Home, Cwmgwili. 

The residents at Plas Y Bryn are being supported by the council to find new homes by a dedicated team of social workers and managers.

Whilst this has come as a great disappointment to the Council, we have been providing significant financial support to ensure that the care company can meet its financial obligations and that care is not impacted. This has included bringing regular payments in advance to enable the company to pay staff salaries.

As a result, the council has had to take the difficult decision to give notice to the care company. The decision has not been taken lightly and we share the deep concerns that the people living and working in the care home will have.

There have been continued attempts to work with the operators to understand their financial position. A variety of alternative options have been considered but, unfortunately, due to the legal and financial circumstances that surround the care company, there are no viable solutions that can be found at this time.

We would like to recognise and thank the staff within Plas Y Bryn Care Home for their commitment to delivering high-quality care and highlight that the quality of care has at no point been a contributing factor to this difficult decision.

Cllr. Jane Tremlett, Cabinet Member for Health and Social Services, Carmarthenshire County Council, said:

“The welfare of the residents at Plas Y Bryn is of the utmost importance and we have acted quickly to support the care home to continue to provide excellent care of its residents.

“We are supporting residents along with their families and next of kin, during what is a very difficult and distressing situation, to find suitable and adequate accommodation for them to find new homes.

“On behalf of the council, I would like to express my gratitude to the staff at Plas Y Bryn for their invaluable work at the care home. We are also supporting them during this hard period as they continue to provide care to the residents.”

Ahead of the contract coming to an end, the council will be working with people and their families over the coming weeks to find new homes where they can receive the care and support that they require. Wherever possible, we will do our best to ensure that people are supported to move to locations of choice. Residents are also being provided with access to advocacy services to support them through this difficult time.

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Carmarthenshire County Council cracks down on fly-tippers

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CARMARTHENSHIRE County Council handed out a total of £4,350 in fixed penalty notices (FPN’s) related to fly-tipping last month.

17 FPN’s were issued as a result of CCTV footage at Carway recycling facility, resulting in a total of £2,675 in fines being given.

This includes:

  • £125 FPN issued to a Carway female for depositing a bag
  • £400 FPN issued to a Carway male for depositing black refuse bags, blue recycling bags and paint pots at the site on several different occasions
  •  £125 FPN issued to a Carway female for depositing a bag
  • £400 FPN issued to a Carway resident for depositing blue recycling bags and other items

Fixed penalty notices issued at other locations in the county include:

  • £125 FPN issued to a female for depositing a black refuse bag at Red Roses recycling facility.
  • £300 FPN issued to a Gorseinon resident who failed in his duty of care when he had his household waste removed by a person not registered as a waste carrier.
  • £400 FPN issued to a Llanelli resident for fly tipping after CCTV footage provided by a member of the public led to his identification.  The male was seen driving along the rear lane between James Street and Swansea Road in Llanelli where he was seen throwing a blue recycling bag from his moving vehicle into the lane.
  • £300 FPN issued to a Llanelli resident who failed in their duty of care after their waste was found in an overgrown verge/hedgerow in the rear lane of their street.  The resident claimed to have paid a male to dispose of their waste but failed to provide their details.
  • £300 FPN issued to a Llanelli business for failing to produce waste transfer notes after waste produced by the business was found illegally deposited in Swiss Valley, Llanelli. The business was issued a notice requiring them to produce waste transfer notes within 7 days which they failed to do. The business was also issued a legal notice to ensure any waste from the business is disposed of correctly in the future.  

Cllr Aled Vaughan Owen, Cabinet Member for Climate Change, Decarbonisation and Sustainability said: “The introduction of CCTV at Carway recycling facility has enabled us to clamp down on the unlawful dumping of waste at this site. I hope this serves as a reminder that all waste deposited at our recycling facilities must be placed in the correct container, with all bags and boxed removed from the site.”

“The Council’s CCTV strategy will be extended to other recycling facilities in the county in the coming months to help combat instances of fly tipping in these areas.”

“I would urge anyone who needs to dispose of waste to do so responsibly. We have recycling centres at Nantycaws (Carmarthen), Trostre (Llanelli), Wernddu (Ammanford) and Whitland as well as a bulky waste collection service and weekly household waste collections. When paying for rubbish to be disposed of, please use a licensed business and ensure that you are given a valid waste transfer note when waste is collected.”

For more information on disposing of waste please visit Carmarthenshire.gov.wales/recycling

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Wales stands firm in support for Ukraine

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IN THE latest update on the Ukraine crisis, Wales’s Minister for Social Justice Jane Hutt thanked all those households across Wales who have come forward to offer their homes to Ukrainians fleeing the War and encouraged more households to provide this vital support.

APPEAL FOR MORE HOST FAMILIES

The Minister for Social Justice said: “I’m delighted to say that over 5,650 people from Ukraine, sponsored by the Welsh Government and Welsh households, have already arrived in the UK.
“More than 8,200 visas have now been issued to people from Ukraine who have sponsors in Wales, so we expect the number of arrivals to continue to grow in the coming weeks.
“Thousands of Welsh households sponsored Ukrainians to arrive in Wales and committed to hosting them for at least six months.
“As we move into the autumn, we approach the end of that initial period.
“We hope hosts and Ukrainians will agree to extend many of those placements, but we need additional hosts to support those who cannot continue living where they are.
“To ensure a warm welcome to Wales, I’m inviting households across Wales to come forward and open their homes to welcome those seeking sanctuary.
“We’re immensely thankful to all those across Wales acting as hosts to Ukrainians, but more households must come forward.
“I completely understand that there are those who want to help but may not have the resources to do so, given the circumstances we’re all facing with the cost-of-living crisis.”

WALES WILL STEP UP TO THE PLATE

Jane Hutt continued: “What we all know, and has been proven countless times, is that the people of Wales are one of the most generous across the globe, and I’m sure we will step up to the plate once again.
“The idea of hosting can be daunting. That’s why we have funded Housing Justice Cymru to provide a Host Support service which includes expert and reliable information, training, advice, and guidance for people hosting, or those considering hosting, Ukrainians in Wales.
“More information on sessions and training can be found on the Housing Justice Cymru website. We also publish regularly updated guidance for hosts and sponsors at gov. wales/ukraine.
“We still need many more households to consider whether they could provide a home for those in need. This would normally be a commitment to hosting for 6 to 12 months.
“If anyone is considering this, we encourage them to register their interest at gov.wales/offerhome, and to attend one of the ‘Introduction to Hosting’ sessions, facilitated by Housing Justice Cymru. You won’t need to continue the process if you decide it is not for you.
“We have also partnered with Airbnb.org to ensure very short-term emergency placements can be provided to prevent homelessness.
“If you cannot host for more than 6 months but you could offer your property for up to 30 days at a time, you may also be able to contribute. Visit gov.wales/offerhome and follow the link to the Airbnb.org platform.”
Finally, the Minister stated: “We will continue to communicate with those who host Ukrainians, with updated guidance and information to support the valuable role you are undertaking.
“To all those that are already hosting and to those that are considering hosting, thank you, we owe you all a huge debt of gratitude.”

WESTMINSTER MUST BACK HOSTS
DURING COST-OF-LIVING CRISIS

Conservative MS Mark Isherwood raised how the cost-of-living crisis affects Ukrainian refugees.
Where families had taken in those fleeing Russian aggression, he noted a risk of sponsorships not continuing beyond six months because the hosts cannot afford the rise in fuel costs.
He asked the Minister what discussions she’d had with the UK Government about increasing the £350 contribution to households who’d taken in Ukrainian refugees.
The Minister agreed with Mark Isherwood that ending a specific ministerial post dealing with refugees was regrettable.
She noted a lack of information from the UK Government over the summer months and since Liz Truss replaced Boris Johnson as head of the Conservative Government.
Ms Hutt said: “We asked for an increase at least to £500, or up again, doubling to £700 per month. An urgent decision is needed regarding this as they reach the end of their six-month period.
“That period is underway, so we’re writing to all hosts to see if they will continue.”

UK GOVERNMENT URGED
TO PICK UP THE PHONE

The Minister thanked Mark Isherwood for introducing her to a charity offering support in North Wales, Link, and hoped that he and his colleagues would bring pressure to bear on their Westminster colleagues to ensure those in need from Ukraine and those in Wales helping them received support.
She added: “I look forward perhaps that we might have some telephone calls from the Prime Minister and other Ministers to us in Government. We must engage with them and follow this through.
“There is a huge job of work to be done here. We’re taking responsibility in the way I’ve outlined, funding our welcome centres and paying thank-you payments to hosts if they support a family who initially arrived in Wales under the Ukraine family scheme.
“That’s not happening in England. The commitment that we’re making is considerable.
“I hope everyone will join us today, saying that we need to press for those answers in terms of financial support.”

THE THREAT OF HOMELESSNESS

Sioned Williams of Plaid Cymru raised the spectre of Ukrainian refugees becoming homeless in Wales due to a lack of financial support and the end of existing hosting and housing placements.
The Minister praised the work of local authorities across Wales supporting refugees.
She said: “There are very imaginative programmes. That includes a whole range of issues like repurposing empty buildings.
“Local authorities are really coming up with a whole range of ways in which we can support people, perhaps, from a welcome centre, or a host family, into that intermediate accommodation, and then on to other longer-term accommodation.”
Pembrokeshire currently houses around 200 Ukrainian refugees, with the demand for assistance outstripping the availability of suitable accommodation.

NOT ONE PENNY FROM WESTMINSTER
TO SUPPORT FAMILIES FLEEING WAR

Responding to a question from Mabon ap Gwynfor about problems housing family groups, Jane Hutt hit out at the lack of support from the UK Government and how it’s u-turned on a commitment to help families.
“The UK Government has never given a penny towards the family scheme.
“The former Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, in one of his last PMQs, actually said that he thought the Ukraine family scheme should get the same funding and support as the Homes for Ukraine scheme. It’s never happened.
“We have provided thank-you payments to people who are hosting Ukrainian families. It’s all Welsh Government money; it’s not UK Government, because they don’t provide a penny. And also, the British Red Cross—£246,000—who are actually supporting Ukrainian families who are hosting family members under the Ukrainian family scheme.”
On Wednesday, September 28, Eluned Morgan, Wales’s Health Minister, announced the continuation of free healthcare in Wales to Ukrainian residents displaced by the ongoing conflict.
The exemption will continue to apply unless there’s a significant change in circumstances in Ukraine.

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