The exceptionally hard to get scheme, part 2

(… continued from The exceptionally hard to get scheme, part 1, posted on 5 Dec 2014).

At the end of part 1 of this short blog series I reproduced the evidence “slide” that was displayed in support of the evidence given by Ms Sandy Trickett to the HS2 Select Committee (see footnote). Ms Trickett works in the Bedworth constituency office of Dan Byles MP (North Warwickshire and Bedworth) and has extensive experience of the workings of the HS2 Exceptional Hardship Scheme (EHS). To save you having to refer back to part 1 I have repeated that slide below.

(Source: HS2 Action Alliance evidence to HS2 Phase 1 Select Committee)

(Source: HS2 Action Alliance evidence to HS2 Phase 1 Select Committee)

Guided by Rebecca Clutten, barrister representing the HS2 Action Alliance, Ms Trickett identified five problem areas revealed by her experience with the EHS for both phases of HS2.

Ms Trickett’s first complaint was that even where the identified “hardship” was not financial in nature – she gave the example of a terminally-ill person who is looking to downsize “so he can put his affairs in order before he passes” – the applicant was still being asked “to provide massive amounts of personal data” relating to their financial situation. She explained that this personal data extended to “bank statements, all building society accounts, pensions wherever possible, every sort of income that’s coming in, every bit of outgoing, to the nth degree” and cited examples of “somebody’s chiropody bill or the maintenance of their sit-on mower”. She characterised this as “very, very intrusive” and claimed that “a lot of elderly people don’t feel comfortable sharing that detail” and consider it “a real intrusion”.

For her second grumble, Ms Trickett levelled her sights at the valuers appointed to fix compensation amounts, who she said did not always correctly apply the guidelines for the scheme – she subsequently revealed that she had obtained a copy of the two-page guideline sheet and so was in a position to make this judgement. She cited the selection of inappropriate “comparable” properties used to make an assessment of the non-blighted value of a claimant’s property, and the failure of the EHS secretariat to check these valuations to ensure that mistakes have not been made. Her view of this lack of diligence was typically succinct:

“They should not be just sending that and taking it as read. They don’t take anything as read from the applicant, why should they be taking anything as read from anybody else?”

Ms Trickett said that valuations in the cases that she had dealt with had been up to “£113,000 less than the non-blighted considered price by the market”. For good measure, she also told the Members of the Committee about one of her cases where the unfortunate property owner had been turned down by the EHS Panel and was forced to sell at a loss of £135,000, only to find out subsequently that the property had been identified for compulsory purchase. A similar fate had befallen the owners of two other properties that she had helped. These cases had been accepted for the EHS, but now find, according to Ms Trickett, that “having completed, that they would have actually been compulsory (sic) purchased” and had, as a result, “lost a considerable amount of money”.

On her third point, that there was a muddle over the blight criterion, Ms Trickett claimed that the three written estate agents’ opinions on a realistic asking price that the EHS secretariat require “almost totally comes back as a blighted figure because that is what they have had to market it at”. If this is accepted by the EHS secretariat, without query, as the unblighted market price, then the whole EHS assessment process becomes based upon a false premise, and this is precisely what happened in one of the cases where your blogger became involved.

Ms Trickett also cited other problems with the way that the EHS panel determine the fair unblighted market price. She said that the three estate agents’ opinions were required to be obtained before the property is put on the market, but that EHS applicants who have had their property on the market for some time before submitting an application, as is often the case, couldn’t possibly comply with this requirement. Such applicants, according to Ms Trickett, were “automatically negating” themselves “out of a huge wedge of evidence”.

Whilst she was telling the Members of the Committee about the involvement of estate agents in the EHS scheme, Ms Trickett talked about the fees that they charge. She advised that a fee of £700 to £1,000, upfront, “is absolutely normal” – of course, fees are normally charged on successful completion of sale – and that estate agents could charge “anything up to £8,000” to fill in an EHS application form. She also claimed that “a lot of estate agents” insist on being paid their commission when an EHS application is successful “as though they’ve sold that property”. Although she didn’t comment on it, I wonder how this latter requirement works out where more than one estate agent has been appointed, bearing in mind that EHS applicants are asked for three valuations.

(To be concluded …)

Footnote: Sandy Trickett’s evidence starts at paragraph 344 in the transcript and at about 11.55am in the video.

Important Note: The document from which the quotes reproduced in this blog are taken is an uncorrected transcript of evidence, which is not yet an approved formal record of the proceedings of the HS2 Select Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record, and it may therefore be subject to changes being made in the light of any such corrections being requested.

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