Land Registry figures estimate that 19% of property sales in my constituency in 2017 involved leasehold homes. That is nearly one in five homebuyers who are experiencing the injustices of the leasehold process. I have received 54 responses to a consultation that I launched on this matter, and there was an overwhelming sense of injustice and frustration with the leasehold process, in line with the findings of the Select Committee. Constituents made comments such as:
“I feel stuck in a loop”,
and said that they felt that they were “being held hostage”. Others said:
“I’ll have nothing to leave for my children”.
One of the most common situations I have heard about is when homeowners wish to move home in order to downsize before retirement, but no company will offer a mortgage on the property because the lease is not long enough. Those people either have to find someone to buy the property cash in hand, or extend the lease. But extending the lease costs at least £10,000 and is frankly not an option for many of my constituents, who want to use that money to live on for the rest of their retirement.
The Minister has stated many times that at least there is choice in the property market for those who may not wish to buy freehold, but the evidence collected by the Select Committee and the heartfelt responses I have received suggest that this so-called choice is anything but. It is not a choice if there is a lack of information about what leasehold means, and 36% of the responses to my survey indicated that people were unaware of what leasehold meant at the point of sale. It is not a choice when homebuyers are not told that the property is leasehold until the very day that they are signing for their new home, which is what three of my constituents told me had happened to them. It was also not a choice for 13 of my constituents who told me that, after saving up and wishing to buy the freehold, and paying numerous administrative fees—in the hundreds of pounds—the freeholder simply said that they were not willing to sell at that point. It is not a choice for those families.
Another injustice is that of leases being sold by the freeholder to third-party companies, without any consultation, correspondence or notice given to the leaseholder. Where is the accountability? My constituents are telling me of their increased anxiety at the fact that their property does not “feel like their own”, and saying that
“outside people control their destiny”.
Does the Minister agree that this is not a healthy situation for any family to go through? This is the home that people have worked for, saved for and are paying for. I hope that she understands that this is not just a case of a few people feeling a little disgruntled at the system. I hope that she will really take into consideration the well-researched Select Committee recommendations, and specifically consider an investigation into the widespread mis-selling of leases.