Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Woman's fresh hope in council house wrangle

A WOMAN could receive a pay-out of thousands of pounds after she lost money selling her home due to restrictions on buying it.

A WOMAN could receive a pay-out of thousands of pounds after she lost money selling her home due to restrictions on buying it.

Mary Middleton, 64, tried to sell the property in Churchfield, off Timbers Lane, Nuffield, after being diagnosed with Graves Disease in February 2013.

She lost a sale when South Oxfordshire District Council enforced a restriction that the former council house could only be sold to someone who had lived or worked in the district for three years.

Mrs Middleton, who now lives in Woodley, had to accept a lower offer and claimed that when she bought the house in 2007 she wasn’t told about the restriction.

In September, the Local Government Ombudsman advised the authority to pay Mrs Middleton 50 per cent of the difference between the value of the property with and without the restrictions imposed.

This potentially could have meant a pay-out of tens of thousands of pounds, although she was claiming £6,000, but the council offered £250 instead. The ombudsman has now asked the council to reconsider its position, although it is not legally obliged to do so.

Ombudsman Dr Jane Martin said the council should have informed Mrs Middleton, and another homeowner with the same problem, about the restrictions.

“While I welcome the improvements the council has made to its policies and procedures following my initial report, I am disappointed it has not implemented my recommendations in full,” she said.

“The council has a responsibility to provide full and accurate information in response to solicitors’ enquiries. Its failure to do so contributed to the potential financial losses suffered by the two homeowners.

“I now urge the council to reconsider my report and provide the remedy I have recommended in full.”

Mrs Middleton, whose condition affects the thyroid gland and metabolism and can lead to inflammation around the eyes, has appealed to Rob Wilson, MP for Reading East, for help who has attempted to persuade the district council to go along with the ombudsman’s findings.

She said: “In October last year the council agreed to have the valuations done but refused to agree to pay me.

“The council did offer £250, which I refused, as it does not reflect the financial loss caused by the council’s change in selling conditions.

“I sought the help of Rob Wilson, who was highly supportive. He wrote to the council saying they should follow the ombudsmen’s recommendations in full.

“Mr David Buckle, [then] chief executive of the district council, wrote to me again offering £250 in ‘full and final settlement’ and again I refused it.” Mrs Middleton says the council has refused to discuss the matter further.

She said: “I asked Mr Buckle and the ombudsman if they believed the council had carried out the recommendations, as I believe she intended the valuations to be an accurate comparison of the effects of the restriction in force at the time I sold the house.

“Mr Buckle replied that ‘the matter was now closed’ and refused further discussion, however the ombudsman agreed with me and produced the new report.”

She added: “There was nothing in the agreement that said I could not sell to anyone who was not local.”

The council had said the onus is on the homeowners’ solicitors to check the details of the restrictions when they purchased their properties.

If homeowners want to sell a former council house within the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to someone from outside South Oxfordshire they require permission from the council.

A spokeswoman for the district council said: “We are now considering the ombudsman’s further report and will respond shortly.”

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