A courtroom battle over £1,150 paid in exit fees takes place on January 2, which may prove good news for the Bumblebee Conservation Trust & Buglife which will be getting the money if the action is successful.
Susan Wood is demanding back the 1 per cent exit fee paid to Fairhold, a freehold owning company that is part of the Tchenguiz Family Trust. The sum was paid on the sale of her late father’s flat at King’s Court, Sheffield, in 2010.
Wood maintains that when the flat was bought in 2001 the fee was represented as a charge for assessing that the future incoming resident, when the flat was sold on, was suitable for “independent living”. However, no such checks were made, so she wants the money back. Fairhold claims that the fee did not relate to the provision of a service and is just a fee.
The Office of Fair Trading has been investigating these exit fees since 2009, with Carlex arguing that the fees should be ruled “unfair contract terms”.
In August the OFT did secure an undertaking with the Tchenguiz Family Trust covering issues such as sub-letting fees and, in particular, Fairhold undertook to make it clear, in future, that the fee did not pay for any service. The full agreement can be read here
The issue became relevant a month later in the Channel 4 Dispatches programme ‘Undercover Retirement Home’, broadcast on September 24. In it, an undercover reporter quizzed a McCarthy and Stone saleswoman about the purpose of the exit fee, and was told:
“The transfer fee is to cover the cost of solicitors, because whenever one of the properties is sold, we have to oversee the sale of it. We’re not involved with who it’s sold to really, but we have to check them out, because we have to make sure that they haven’t got dementia.”
The freehold owning company, also part of the Tchenguiz Family Trust corrected this stating that: “The assertion by the McCarthy and Stone employee that the transfer fee is for some form of medical check is simply wrong.”
Wood has been in correspondence with Fairhold for months and despite a last minute attempt before Christmas to delay proceedings, her case comes before Sheffield County Court on January 2. The Court has allocated it to the Small Claims Track.
If Wood wins, she will donate the money to the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and Buglife (The Invertebrate Conservation Trust) – it being the case that not all creatures lacking backbone are employed by the Office of Fair Trading.