Virginia creeper is taking over my home; my letting agent won’t pass on references; and cashing in on a home-reversion plan
QAAA Virginia creeper has climbed up the back of our three-storey house, reaching as high as the roof. I have had conflicting advice about how much damage it could do (lifting tiles, damaging paint and mortar, or none at all). Someone told me it is only ivy you have to worry about. What is the answer? I believe the creeper helps to insulate the house, as well as being attractive, so I would like to keep it if I can.
David Snell writes: Ivy ( Hedera) is detrimental to a house because it clings by means of root-like tendrils that seek out and exploit any cracks, expanding into them. Once established, it is extremely difficult to remove and the damage to brickwork and to slates and tiles may be irreversible. Virginia creeper ( Parthenocissus), on the other hand, clings on to walls and roofs by means of little suckers; when seen up close, they look like geckos’ feet. These don’t harm the building, but they do cling on quite fast. If the wall is rendered and needs painting from time to time, this can present difficulties. There is one other point, and that is that the creeper does provide a ladder for all sorts of vermin to enter the house. Be that as it may, it is glorious, which is why I have it on several of the walls of my own home. But I do restrict its growth; each year, I trim it away from the windows and I allow it no further than the eaves of my bungalow, training it back downwards and along where necessary. My feelings are that it makes a house look like a ruin when allowed free rein over the roof.
David Snell is contributing editor to Homebuilding & Renovating magazine and author of Building Your Own Home, available at £25 plus p&p from 0870 155 7222. QThe
letting agent handling my two flats refuses to give me copies of the tenants’ references, citing the Data Protection Act (DPA). Surely this does not apply to an agency arrangement? My understanding is that all information obtained on behalf of the landlord is his intellectual property; he needs it to make the commercial decision about whether to accept the applicants as tenants. I am also worried that without copies of the references my Tenancy Disputes Legal Costs Insurance and Rent Guarantee Insurance could be invalidated. Can you clarify the data protection rules? David Fleming writes: The Data Protection Act sets out a number of principles requiring those who gather personal information on people to safeguard it in different ways. One of these principles is that data can only be collected for a legitimate purpose and cannot be released without the person’s consent. The Information Commissioner’s Office gives guidance on the very question you ask; it says that a letting agent can pass on a reference as long as, when requesting it, they make it clear to the tenant and referee that this will happen. The letting agent, of course,
acts for you and should have anticipated that you would want the information. I would certainly advise any landlord to consider it before agreeing to a letting. Accordingly, you should ask the agent to get the necessary consents and to ensure that in all future lettings they make it clear to tenants and referees that the data will be passed on to you.
David Fleming is head of property litigation at William Heath & Co. QAre
there any consequences to bear in mind if I raise substantial equity in my property through a home-reversion plan and hand the cash on to members of my family? I would expect to retain only a small share of my property so that on death or on entering care when the property would be sold — and assuming that I live for more than seven years — I would avoid inheritance tax on the share already given away. Are the tax implications any different if I spend the money on luxury holidays and other things for my family instead?
Maggie Fleming writes: Gifts to family members are Potentially Exempt Transfers (PETs) and will not be liable to inheritance tax (IHT) provided you live for seven years afterwards. This applies to cash and assets. In the case of a holiday, however, HMRC may take the view that the recipient should pay IHT
Aimmediately at the lower lifetime rate of 20 per cent because the value of his/her estate has not been increased by the gift.
With some gifts you do not have to wait seven years until they fall out of your estate. First of all, there is the annual exemption; everyone can give away £3,000 per annum without any IHT consequences. The relief can be carried back one year so, if you did not use your allowance in 2007/08, you could give away £6,000 tax-free now. You can also give your spouse any amount of money taxfree; he/she could then use up their annual exemption by passing some on to family members.
You can also give away up to £250 per annum to any number of different donees, and make exempt
gifts to anyone who is getting married or entering a civil partnership. A valuable exemption, often overlooked, is that for “normal expenditure out of income”. It may not apply in your case, but if you do have spare income over and above your needs, you can make regular payments to family members without IHT consequences.
Finally, don’t forget that IHT is only an issue if your estate on death, plus any transfers during the previous seven years, exceeds the nil rate band — currently £312,000. If your spouse pre-deceases you and does not use up his/her nil rate band, the remainder can now be added to yours. In many cases, this will double the nil-rate band available on death.
Maggie Fleming is director of Isis Financial Planners and a member of the Chartered Institute of Taxation. QI
accepted an offer on my house on the basis that the buyer had a mortgage agreed in principle. A few days later, the financial adviser at my estate agency rang to say he had found a better mortgage for my buyer with a different provider so another survey would have to be carried out. The problem is the new mortgage is very popular mid-credit crunch, so it is taking longer than normal to process. My sale and the purchase of my new house is being delayed because the financial adviser interfered so that he could take a commission. Is this fair practice, given that I am paying a big fee, too? Whose interests is the firm serving, mine or my buyer’s?
Lorna Vestey writes: In the good old days estate agents didn’t get involved with offering financial services. Now, of course, most do and their staff are encouraged to introduce mortgage business, so conflicts of interest can and do arise. While you are paying his fees and are therefore the client, the agent does also have a duty of care to the buyer, so it can be said that he has behaved properly in helping find that cheaper mortgage. It is just unfortunate that circumstances have conspired to delay the processing and, consequently, both your transactions. That will be no comfort to you, and I sympathise.
I would write to the managing director or senior partner, calmly laying out the facts and pointing out that you instructed his firm in its primary business and that you are very unhappy that your sale is being adversely affected by the introduction of financial services. The tail appears to be wagging the dog. The delay has caused you stress and inconvenience and you therefore look forward to hearing what reduction he will offer on the sale fee by way of compensation.
Lorna Vestey is a former partner of a bluechip London estate agency.
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