Episode 10 Rip Off Britain


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Episode 10

Angela Rippon, Gloria Hunniford and Julia Somerville learn why for many the dream of owning a new home has turned sour.


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Transcript


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We asked you to tell us what's left you feeling ripped off

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and you contacted us in your thousands.

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You've told us about the companies that you think get it wrong and the

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customer service that simply is not up to scratch.

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They just want to take money from people.

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That's what it's all about.

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You've asked us to track down the scammers who stole your money

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and investigate the extra charges that you say are unfair.

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What kind of people could do this to an innocent human being?

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And when you've lost out but no-one else is to blame,

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you've come to us to stop others falling into the same trap.

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You have to go through various levels of authority

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and push your way through.

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So whether it's a blatant rip-off or a genuine mistake...

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We are here to find out why you're out of pocket

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and what you can do about it.

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Your stories, your money.

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This is Rip-Off Britain.

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Hello, and welcome to Rip-Off Britain,

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the programme that loves to battle on your behalf when you haven't been

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treated in the way you'd like.

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And of course, the whole aim is to get to the bottom

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of what's gone wrong.

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Now, all the situations you've told us about today are ones where you

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found yourself hit with charges that you either didn't expect or you

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don't think you should have to pay.

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Now, the trouble is that, in most cases,

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those charges are ones which are very, very hard to avoid.

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So as we try and find out whether or not they are costs that really

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are justified, stand by for a few tips

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and a bit of advice to make sure that

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you don't get caught out in the same way.

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Indeed, one of our stories in particular

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highlights a situation in which thousands of people just might

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be heading for extra costs that they had no idea were coming.

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Coming up, how the dream of owning a brand-new home turned sour for these

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residents hit with a charge

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thousands of pounds higher than they could have ever expected.

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It's been really stressful.

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We would never have bought this house ourselves

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if we'd have known that that was in the contract.

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And power to the people -

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the angry customers taking on the might of the big energy firms.

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I'm absolutely certain this is going to succeed.

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I am putting my heart and soul into this, and I know we will succeed.

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A story that continues to dominate the news in all sorts of ways is the

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shortage of housing here in the UK.

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In fact, the number of affordable homes being built in some parts

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of the country recently slumped to an all-time low.

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But don't think that all of those who have been lucky enough to secure

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themselves a new home are now able to sit back and enjoy it,

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because we've been hearing how a surprising number of buyers

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now bitterly regret making a purchase

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that they'd hoped was an investment,

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but that instead has left them facing bills

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of tens of thousands of pounds.

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The explanation for what's gone so wrong for them has its roots in

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a change in the way that many new homes are sold.

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So if you or any one you know is thinking about buying a new-build

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property, it really is worth keeping in mind what happened to

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the people that we're about to meet.

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Behind the neatly painted railings and smart houses of this new-build

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estate in Merseyside...

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..an air of discontent is brewing.

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And the topic of conversation over the fences here -

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a charge that's left dozens of residents

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facing payments of thousands of pounds.

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And many of them fear that, on top of the unexpected expense,

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it could mean that their dream homes become very difficult,

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almost impossible to sell.

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So, obviously, why we're here tonight,

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the leasehold issues that have arisen and

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that we've all sort of discovered recently.

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Lisa Roxby and her husband moved onto the estate -

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and the property ladder - seven years ago.

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We looked at the show home and just instantly loved the

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space, we loved the newness of it.

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We could instantly visualise our children playing in the toy room or,

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you know, having dinner in the kitchen.

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With their hearts set on the property,

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the couple were delighted when they got a mortgage, and then the keys

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of their brand-new home.

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We'd come from living in a small flat, so it was really great.

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We were really excited

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that we were going to be part of a nice new community.

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They were thrilled to have left their renting days behind them.

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But though they technically owned the bricks and mortar of their

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new home, the land on which the house sat

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was still owned by the developers of the estate, Taylor Wimpey.

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That's because the company sold the house as a leasehold property,

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which means that, for as long as the couple own it, they'll have to pay

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an annual fee to lease or rent the land.

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It's, of course, long been a common way of selling flats -

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and indeed some houses -

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but in recent years, a number of developers have taken to selling

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in this way homes that previously would have been sold as freehold,

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where you own the property outright

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and the land that it's built on.

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And there's increasing concern that selling houses such as Lisa's as

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leasehold may create pitfalls that buyers don't instantly appreciate.

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At that point in time, I never really understood what a leasehold

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or a freehold property was.

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All I knew at the time, when buying the house, was that

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we didn't own the land that it sat on

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and that we would pay £250 per year in ground rent

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for that, which we agreed to.

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Well, up until fairly recently, Lisa didn't think much more about it,

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until a neighbour popped round

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with news that the £250 a year ground rent

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was soon to double, and indeed would do so again every ten years.

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When Lisa checked her property deeds, she could see it was true.

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Every ten years her annual charge would become twice as high.

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So if the couple stayed living in the property for 30 years,

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by that point they'd need to pay an annual fee of £2,000 to lease

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the land - not far off ten times the amount they'd bargained for.

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We didn't have any inclination that the ground rent was going to

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increase at all, never mind that it was going to double

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and continue to double over a period of time.

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So it's just been a lot of worry.

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We would never have bought this house ourselves if we'd have known

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that that was in the contract.

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Lisa fears that, while the charges are manageable now,

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they may not be in the future.

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She worries that that could put off potential buyers

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when it's time to move on.

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It's been really stressful.

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It's making us worry about our future financial security.

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Now, the paperwork for Lisa and other residents does make clear

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that their ground rent will increase.

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But as you'll see, there's a good reason why some of them

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didn't realise the full extent of that.

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And in any case, Lisa feels strongly that the solicitors that the

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developers had recommended to handle the sale -

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a company called Bannister Preston -

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should have made sure that the consequences of buying

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a leasehold property were properly explained.

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And that's something that solicitor, and Rip-Off Britain regular,

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Gary Rycroft says is a common complaint.

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We always used to see new-build houses being sold as freehold,

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And then, a few years ago, developers cottoned on to the idea

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of selling them as leasehold,

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because that would allow them to still own the underlying freehold

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and to collect a ground rent year on year

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from the people who have bought the house.

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The ground rent starts as a small sum,

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but it builds up over a number of years. And clearly,

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if you stay in the house for a long time,

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then the amount of money you will pay out in ground rent

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will be quite significant.

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Lisa worked out that if they stayed in the property until the 50th

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anniversary of the lease they would have paid £77,000 in ground rent.

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That is our children's inheritance gone.

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It's something that we've worked hard for, and that we would always

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envisage handing our house down to our children.

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As news of the impact of the ground rent increase has spread across the

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estate, it's become THE topic of conversation among neighbours,

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including Chris, who lives next door to Lisa.

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Cos it's such a lot that it's going up by as well.

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-Oh, it's terrible. It's doubling.

-Yeah.

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It's absolutely shocking to me - I wasn't expecting that at all.

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And while you might think it's up to you as a buyer to understand

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exactly what you're signing up for,

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well, in this case it's not that easy.

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Because when some of these residents checked their paperwork, it became

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clear that the solicitors that residents say were recommended

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by the developers had included incorrect information,

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saying the ground rent would double every 25 years, and not ten.

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Now, when I went through all my paperwork,

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it seems that I wasn't advised of this.

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-I was expecting it to go up every 25 years...

-OK.

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..but it seems that, like yours, mine's going up every ten years,

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which is a little bit more of a shock to me.

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And no wonder.

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Over 50 years, the difference between doubling that original

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£250 every ten years rather than every 25

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would mean forking out an extra £38,750 in ground rent.

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When we found out about the issue,

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we decided to knock around on doors on the estate.

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It's a massive estate with...with probably

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just short of 300 properties.

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Everyone was equally as shocked when we explained to them

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what we'd found.

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Lisa's called an urgent meeting of affected residents to find out if

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there's anything they can do, and over 100 people have come along.

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Down the line, we may look to move elsewhere.

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And at the moment, we can't make them plans for the future now

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because we know, under this clause within our leasehold,

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that we are at a loss.

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Lisa is spurred on by the number of people attending the meeting.

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And having looked at the paperwork,

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solicitor Gary Rycroft thinks it may be worth

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Lisa and the other residents on the estate

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taking their case to the Legal Ombudsman.

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Lisa's solicitor made a mistake.

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The report that she'd got said that the ground rent would go up after

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25 years, whereas in fact it goes up after ten years.

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So that is a mistake, and on the face of it Lisa has a claim against

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her solicitor for providing her with the wrong information.

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Now, you might think the confusion over this increase is just bad luck.

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But astonishingly, something very similar has occurred on this estate

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in Greater Manchester, where father-of-two Paul Faye

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bought his brand-new three-bedroom family house in 2011.

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I knew it was a leasehold house.

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It's something I've heard of in the past.

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I know my parents, et cetera, have had leasehold houses

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where the lease typically was 1,000 years.

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They pay a small amount every year, and it's never really bothered them.

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When Paul bought his house for £152,000,

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he was aware that he would have to pay the freeholder an annual charge

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of £200.

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But the solicitors involved in his purchase -

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a business called Cohen Filippini -

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which again was recommended by the developer,

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also got wrong the key detail of

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how frequently the charge would increase.

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They'd sent us a letter saying the lease was subject to review every

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'20 years, but I've since found out that's not right.

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'It's up for review every 15 years, and it will at least double.

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'My concern is that, as that rises, if our mortgage payments go up,'

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this house will become less and less affordable for us.

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If Paul stays in the house for 45 years,

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when the ground rent will have doubled for a third time,

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it will have gone up from £200 a year

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to £1,600 a year.

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And over that time, it will have cost him nearly £21,000,

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a fact that Paul believes should have been properly explained to him

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when he bought the property.

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They didn't really make any issue of the leasehold

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of the property. They didn't advise us of any negative implications from

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it. They just seemed to say, "Yeah, it's a leasehold."

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Well, we contacted the solicitors in both these cases.

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Bannister Preston, who advised on Lisa's purchase,

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said it couldn't comment directly as the matter is the subject

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of civil claims, which it would vigorously defend.

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But the company insisted it did advise buyers on the terms of

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the lease before purchase, including the doubling of the ground rent.

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Similarly, the firm that advised Paul, Cohen Filippini,

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was told he, too, would have been alerted

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to the ground rent increases,

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which it says are...

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Both companies pointed out the increases are eventually capped,

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but neither responded directly to the allegation that home-buyers

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hadn't been given the right information.

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Meanwhile, the developer of Lisa's estate, Taylor Wimpey,

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which has since sold on the freehold,

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reiterated that the lease terms were...

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Adding that buyers received...

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However, it added that it's actively...

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And pointed out that, because of...

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..since 2011, it's stopped using this particular

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sort of leasehold agreement.

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And just as this programme was being completed,

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the company announced that it will be putting aside £130 million

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to settle disputes over the issue,

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accepting that leasehold agreements like these

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have caused understandable worry.

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The company also said that it was sorry for the unintended

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financial consequences that these leases have caused,

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and have confirmed that, from January 2017,

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all future sales of Taylor Wimpey houses on new developments

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will be...

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But whilst that's good news for some,

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it won't change things for anyone who has a leasehold

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that Taylor Wimpey itself no longer owns. So, for example,

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it won't help Lisa or the others on her estate,

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because the lease has already been sold on to a third party.

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What's more, with recent figures showing that in 2015 nearly half

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of all new builds were sold as leasehold,

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it's crucial that anyone buying a house this way

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understands fully what they're getting themselves into.

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You're caught up in the excitement of finding your dream home,

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growing your family.

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You put your trust completely in the solicitor to tell you what you need

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to know at that stage.

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And if they don't tell you something, you don't question -

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you don't question whether there's something missing.

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You just take their word for it.

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My advice to anyone now looking to buy a new-build which is a leasehold

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property, would be to read the documents very carefully,

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get their own solicitor that's not recommended by the developer.

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Now, if you've ever winced when you've received your latest

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gas or electricity bill, or watched with total confusion as one,

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followed swiftly by the rest of the big six energy companies,

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hiked up their prices,

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then you'll have sympathy with the people that we are about to meet.

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So fed up were they at what they considered

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the unreasonable behaviour of whichever of the main suppliers

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they were getting their energy from

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that they took some really, really drastic action.

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And although what they did to battle against their bills is not for the

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faint-hearted, it does, I think you'll agree,

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show just how far people feel they've got to go

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to try and get a better deal - not just for themselves,

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but for other people as well.

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You've been saying it for years...

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My current energy company is putting the price up.

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The price has hiked quite a bit.

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..with the same points and concerns coming up time and time again.

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I think the energy prices that are set by the big six energy companies

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are really much too high,

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and they're obviously set to benefit themselves and

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their shareholders, rather than consumers.

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People have just had enough.

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Personally, I'm looking for a new companies time to time.

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I don't want to stay any one company - just for the prices.

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And now even the Government and the regulator Ofgem agree that the big

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energy companies have had it all their own way for too long.

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Prime Minister Theresa May recently declared that...

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Prices have risen by 158% in nine years,

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with several of the big names' latest inflation-busting hikes just

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starting to come into effect.

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It's perhaps no wonder that in a recent survey more than

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a third of all people asked - said they simply do not trust their

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energy supplier.

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It seems that all these energy companies...

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..they'll all kind of follow the same pricing bracket,

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so there's no real competition.

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But across the country, there is

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a quiet revolution taking place.

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Many of us are now opting for

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smaller energy firms, who seemingly

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have a more ethical, customer-focused stance.

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So while we often still talk about the big six,

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there are now around 50 suppliers operating in the UK.

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And nearly half of the eight million switches made last year

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were to small or medium-sized energy firms.

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And beyond that, some unhappy customers of the best-known names

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have taken their discontent further than simply switching.

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They've even gone as far as setting up their own energy companies.

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David Pike and Karen Soto from just outside Edinburgh

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are doing just that.

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So disenchanted were they with their energy supplier that they decided to

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take some radical action.

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As customers ourselves of one of the big six,

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we've had lots of experience of being frustrated as well,

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just as so many others have.

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And have felt at times there must be a different way of doing it,

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a way that makes you feel less like a number and more like it matters.

0:17:300:17:35

And we saw how disconnected they are with the customer,

0:17:350:17:38

and I just thought,

0:17:380:17:39

"There has to be a better way of doing this.

0:17:390:17:42

"There must be a better way of connecting the customer

0:17:420:17:44

"to the person who's actually selling you gas and electricity."

0:17:440:17:48

David and Karen are trying to raise enough money to set up an

0:17:480:17:52

energy firm, which they hope will supply gas and electricity

0:17:520:17:55

to customers nationwide.

0:17:550:17:57

And from comments on the fundraising website they have set up,

0:17:570:18:00

the unhappiness felt by some towards the big six is clear to see.

0:18:000:18:04

I love this comment. "It feels good to be part of something like this

0:18:050:18:08

"and helping to get it started.

0:18:080:18:09

"It just demonstrates the degree of mistrust and dissatisfaction

0:18:090:18:13

"with the current shower that run the big six energy companies.

0:18:130:18:16

"If this causes them to sit up and take notice,

0:18:160:18:19

"it will be a great pleasure to be able to say,

0:18:190:18:21

""You are too late - now, pay the penalty."

0:18:210:18:23

"Good to be playing my small part in this brave venture."

0:18:230:18:26

-That was nice.

-Hm.

0:18:260:18:28

But whilst taking on such a huge and complicated industry may seem like

0:18:300:18:35

an extreme way of dealing with their dissatisfaction with the big six,

0:18:350:18:38

Karen and David are convinced that they can make a complicated industry

0:18:380:18:42

much simpler for the consumer.

0:18:420:18:44

And they reckon that it's the pressure from shareholders

0:18:440:18:48

that means the big six have to keep raising their prices

0:18:480:18:51

without any real challenge,

0:18:510:18:52

and that's why they're determined to do things differently.

0:18:520:18:55

It's an ambitious venture,

0:18:580:19:00

to tackle the big six and create an alternative to them.

0:19:000:19:04

After seven years, we'll return 100% of the profits to the customers.

0:19:040:19:08

Also, the customers get shares that they own,

0:19:080:19:11

so they have a voting right within the company.

0:19:110:19:14

So the customers will have shares in the business

0:19:140:19:17

and they will keep those shares as long

0:19:170:19:19

as they are a part of our company.

0:19:190:19:21

We hope and believe that it will make customers feel more...

0:19:210:19:25

..invested in different ways. Both, of course, financially,

0:19:260:19:29

but also, more importantly,

0:19:290:19:31

emotionally in the company that is theirs,

0:19:310:19:34

that they own and therefore would want to stay with us.

0:19:340:19:37

That should be a no-brainer.

0:19:370:19:39

But there's no getting away from the fact that David and Karen are

0:19:400:19:43

entering a tough business. And not all the newer entrants to the market

0:19:430:19:48

have managed to stay afloat.

0:19:480:19:49

One recent casualty was the company GB energy,

0:19:490:19:52

a small energy supplier that was set up in 2013

0:19:520:19:55

and folded three years later,

0:19:550:19:57

after what it called a swift but significant increase

0:19:570:20:01

in wholesale energy prices.

0:20:010:20:03

It's easier for the longer-established big six to

0:20:030:20:06

weather such fluctuations in cost.

0:20:060:20:08

Which means that, while it's all very encouraging to think

0:20:080:20:11

that the power really can be returned to the people,

0:20:110:20:13

in reality, life for the smaller energy companies

0:20:130:20:16

can be anything but warm and cosy.

0:20:160:20:18

Even so, there are a number of others taking a stand,

0:20:180:20:22

including some city councils like Manchester, Nottingham and Cardiff,

0:20:220:20:26

who are amongst those who either already have

0:20:260:20:28

or are looking into setting up their own energy companies,

0:20:280:20:31

supplying not just to the local community,

0:20:310:20:33

but nationally,

0:20:330:20:35

helping boost their coffers and fund community projects.

0:20:350:20:39

Peter Haigh is the man in charge of the council-owned energy company in

0:20:390:20:42

Bristol, and he believes people

0:20:420:20:44

welcome that consumer-focused message.

0:20:440:20:46

It was about making sure that we were a very ethical business,

0:20:470:20:50

that we reached out to the fuel poor and those that are disadvantaged

0:20:500:20:53

and really set a new sort of benchmark in energy retailing.

0:20:530:20:56

What we have also found is that customers in Dundee or Littlehampton

0:20:560:21:00

or Truro actually really like the fact the future profits

0:21:000:21:05

will go to a community - even if it's not theirs,

0:21:050:21:08

they would much rather it went to a community rather than lining the

0:21:080:21:12

pockets of a private investor.

0:21:120:21:14

But the company, which has now been operating for just over a year,

0:21:160:21:20

has seen first-hand just how tough it is

0:21:200:21:22

at the coal front of the industry.

0:21:220:21:24

Despite having around 40,000 customers,

0:21:240:21:26

they're yet to make a profit.

0:21:260:21:28

And with money still very tight,

0:21:280:21:30

it's easy to see why anyone wishing

0:21:300:21:32

to start up their own energy company needs nerves of steel.

0:21:320:21:36

Their website has sometimes struggled to keep up with demand,

0:21:360:21:40

crashing at times of peak activity.

0:21:400:21:42

And some of its reviews aren't good either,

0:21:420:21:44

with some customers wondering whether dumping the bigger names

0:21:440:21:47

for the smaller one was actually a good idea after all.

0:21:470:21:50

It's always a challenging journey with a start-up,

0:21:520:21:54

but we are on-plan

0:21:540:21:56

and looking forward to future profits.

0:21:560:21:59

'We've always said that our tariffs will be fair.'

0:21:590:22:02

We never set out to be the cheapest.

0:22:020:22:04

What we set out to do is offer consistent pricing

0:22:040:22:06

that is fair, whether you're a direct debit customer

0:22:060:22:09

or a prepayment customer.

0:22:090:22:10

'And we've seen customers respond to that.'

0:22:110:22:14

In ten years' time,

0:22:140:22:15

the key thing is that Bristol Energy has delivered on all its promises,

0:22:150:22:19

that we continue to offer a really fair deal to customers.

0:22:190:22:22

Although 56% of people in the UK have still never changed

0:22:220:22:26

their energy supplier, switching levels recently reached

0:22:260:22:29

their highest point for several years.

0:22:290:22:33

But personal finance expert Sarah Pennells says

0:22:330:22:35

the customer experience using the smaller companies

0:22:350:22:38

may sometimes be worse, not better, than with the big six.

0:22:380:22:42

I think one of the ways that the independent, smaller companies

0:22:420:22:45

are trying to differentiate themselves from the big six

0:22:450:22:47

is on customer service, because they know the big six,

0:22:470:22:50

many of them, frankly, have been fairly appalling

0:22:500:22:52

at it over the years.

0:22:520:22:54

But the trouble is, it's very easy to come up with a slick answer,

0:22:540:22:56

a caring marketing message.

0:22:560:22:58

It's much harder to get the customer service right behind that.

0:22:580:23:01

And one of the particular issues for the smaller companies is

0:23:010:23:04

if they have a very good tariff,

0:23:040:23:06

they can find they just don't have the resources to cope with it.

0:23:060:23:09

So when they launched, the customer service may be brilliant.

0:23:090:23:12

Six months down the line, it could, frankly, be appalling.

0:23:120:23:16

Sarah is in no doubt that, for most of us,

0:23:160:23:18

switching - whether to big or a small supplier -

0:23:180:23:21

is usually a good idea.

0:23:210:23:23

And although if a smaller company goes bust you will be protected,

0:23:230:23:27

she thinks the risks are still worth bearing in mind.

0:23:270:23:30

Under Ofgem, the energy regulator's rules,

0:23:300:23:32

you won't be left high and dry with no gas or electricity.

0:23:320:23:36

They will basically appoint another supplier to take over your supply,

0:23:360:23:39

so you won't notice any disruption.

0:23:390:23:42

The disadvantage is that you may not then be on that great deal

0:23:420:23:45

that you signed up to,

0:23:450:23:46

cos the new supplier is under no obligation to carry on supplying you

0:23:460:23:51

at the same price you were paying.

0:23:510:23:52

Now, over the years we've had several heated exchanges

0:23:540:23:57

with Energy UK,

0:23:570:23:58

the organisation that represents all the energy companies in the UK,

0:23:580:24:02

big or small.

0:24:020:24:04

Lawrence, this is the fifth time I've been here

0:24:040:24:06

to these officers to interview you for Rip-Off Britain.

0:24:060:24:09

There are many instances where the customer service is just atrocious.

0:24:090:24:13

And we've done it in our office. We've carried out our own survey.

0:24:130:24:16

And we've been sitting there 40-45 minutes before you get to a person.

0:24:160:24:19

If you have a problem with your bill, if you've got to sit on

0:24:190:24:23

40-45 minutes, you are frustrated by the time you actually get a person.

0:24:230:24:27

I agree. And, look,

0:24:270:24:30

all I can say is we haven't performed as well

0:24:300:24:33

as we would want to.

0:24:330:24:35

There are instances where companies are turning the boat round, if you

0:24:350:24:39

will, where actually wait times and volumes are falling.

0:24:390:24:44

When we got in touch on this topic,

0:24:440:24:46

it told us that, collectively, the smaller, independent suppliers

0:24:460:24:50

now have a greater market share than ScottishPower,

0:24:500:24:53

Npower and EDF Energy individually.

0:24:530:24:56

And smaller suppliers are showing strong...

0:24:560:24:59

And welcome news that many of the people switching last year

0:25:010:25:05

were doing so for the very first time.

0:25:050:25:07

As a result, in just one year, the number of people

0:25:070:25:10

on standard tariffs,

0:25:100:25:11

usually the most expensive, dropped by 880,000.

0:25:110:25:15

Meanwhile, just outside Edinburgh,

0:25:170:25:18

it's a nail-biting time for David and Karen.

0:25:180:25:21

They're putting a lot of faith and their own money into what they hope

0:25:210:25:25

will be an alternative to the big boys of the energy market.

0:25:250:25:28

But whether they can succeed where others have failed, remains,

0:25:280:25:32

of course, to be seen.

0:25:320:25:33

I am absolutely certain this is going to succeed.

0:25:330:25:36

I am putting my heart and soul into this and I know the other members of

0:25:360:25:39

the company are as well, and we will succeed.

0:25:390:25:42

Well, if you're one of that 56% who still never switch supplier,

0:25:420:25:46

remember you could save hundreds off your bill.

0:25:460:25:49

And if you're not sure what to do, do head to our website...

0:25:490:25:52

..where you will find tips to make the process simple.

0:25:550:25:59

Still to come on Rip-Off Britain -

0:26:030:26:05

as space for burials runs out,

0:26:050:26:07

why this woman was hit with an unexpected charge

0:26:070:26:11

to bury her father.

0:26:110:26:12

This overall experience has made me very cross

0:26:120:26:16

with Barking and Dagenham Council for making me have these feelings

0:26:160:26:21

at the time when I'm already grieving about my father.

0:26:210:26:25

Once again this year, we opened up our pop-up shop,

0:26:290:26:32

giving out free consumer advice in one of the UK's busiest shopping

0:26:320:26:35

centres. One of the best parts was meeting so many Rip-Off viewers.

0:26:350:26:40

You sound as if you know what we are all about.

0:26:400:26:42

-Oh, yes, watch you.

-Excellent.

0:26:420:26:44

And it was no surprise to find many of you had some consumer tips

0:26:440:26:47

of your own.

0:26:470:26:48

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

0:26:480:26:51

One of the experts returning to our pop-up shop this year

0:26:510:26:54

was Caroline Wells from the Financial Ombudsman Service,

0:26:540:26:58

who was only too happy to find a moment to spell out

0:26:580:27:00

how that service can help if you have a problem.

0:27:000:27:04

Caroline, so many times we hear that people have said,

0:27:040:27:07

"Go to the Financial Ombudsman and they'll sort you out."

0:27:070:27:10

-Yes.

-So I thought maybe we would just look at exactly what

0:27:100:27:13

the organisation is and what it stands for.

0:27:130:27:16

So the Ombudsman Service is there for anybody that's got a complaint

0:27:160:27:19

about their financial business - your bank, your insurance company.

0:27:190:27:23

If you just can't get yourself heard,

0:27:230:27:25

then you come to the Ombudsman.

0:27:250:27:26

There is no problem too small.

0:27:260:27:28

What is the spectrum, then, of things that you've seen

0:27:280:27:31

in your time?

0:27:310:27:32

Anything from somebody being owed five pence

0:27:320:27:34

to hundreds of thousands of pounds.

0:27:340:27:37

And is it a free service?

0:27:370:27:39

It is. It's free to consumers to use.

0:27:390:27:42

The only thing you have to do is spend a bit of time

0:27:420:27:44

to have a chat to us about what's troubling you,

0:27:440:27:46

and we'll talk you through what we can do to help.

0:27:460:27:49

For me, one of the most important things is - you don't have

0:27:490:27:51

to have a case to come to us.

0:27:510:27:54

If it's a hunch, if it's a feeling that you have got,

0:27:540:27:57

that is just as important.

0:27:570:27:59

It doesn't matter your background, how much money you earn,

0:27:590:28:02

what the problem is -

0:28:020:28:03

if it's worth it to you, that's all that matters.

0:28:030:28:06

And if you want to contact the Financial Ombudsman Service,

0:28:070:28:10

its web address is...

0:28:100:28:12

Or you can call free on...

0:28:150:28:16

One person who came in to see Caroline - along with a new face

0:28:220:28:25

on our experts team,

0:28:250:28:26

cybercrime and fraud solicitor Arun Chauhan -

0:28:260:28:29

was Harry Nuttall from Blackburn.

0:28:290:28:31

On the hunt for a second-hand camper van,

0:28:310:28:34

Harry had spotted one for sale on an online auction site for £4,000.

0:28:340:28:39

I attempted to purchase...

0:28:390:28:41

..a camper from an online auction site.

0:28:430:28:45

I did a bit of checking. I thought it looked a good buy.

0:28:450:28:49

It was a kosher registration, it was taxed,

0:28:490:28:53

so it must have been insured by somebody. So I thought, "Right, OK."

0:28:530:28:56

But after registering his interest to buy the caravan,

0:28:570:29:00

an online scammer managed to hijack proceedings,

0:29:000:29:03

intercepting the sale and e-mailing

0:29:030:29:06

Harry his own instructions on how and where to pay the £4,000,

0:29:060:29:10

which he asked to be transferred using a money transfer website.

0:29:100:29:14

So, I go on,

0:29:140:29:15

it's gone seven o'clock at night by the time I've managed to sort of

0:29:150:29:19

process all this lot, and it's sent.

0:29:190:29:21

I then thought about it and I thought, "Right,

0:29:210:29:24

"I'll see that this money has actually passed through my account,"

0:29:240:29:29

and it didn't show anything.

0:29:290:29:30

So I rang the auction site, they said,

0:29:300:29:32

-"Oh, no, no, you've been had, mate. It's a scam."

-It's a scam, yeah.

0:29:320:29:36

As it was the weekend and the payment wouldn't be leaving his

0:29:360:29:39

account till Monday, Harry called his bank to stop the transfer

0:29:390:29:42

to the fraudster's account,

0:29:420:29:44

which by chance happened to be with the same bank.

0:29:440:29:47

She confirmed that the money was still there and that the money

0:29:470:29:49

was still in the account and it hadn't been taken out.

0:29:490:29:52

His bank told him it would stop the transaction from happening.

0:29:520:29:55

But come Monday, for whatever reason,

0:29:550:29:57

the £4,000 transfer did go ahead.

0:29:570:30:00

No thanks to his bank, Harry had lost his money to the fraudsters.

0:30:000:30:03

You went in very quickly after you realised you'd been scammed.

0:30:030:30:06

Within hours.

0:30:060:30:07

And the fact that they seemed to believe that the money was

0:30:070:30:10

still in your account and hadn't transferred over,

0:30:100:30:12

I think that's something that we need to look into further as well.

0:30:120:30:15

-Right, OK.

-I think Caroline's right.

0:30:150:30:17

They have the facilities, as far as I'm concerned,

0:30:170:30:20

to suspend the account, and I'd want to query why that hasn't happened.

0:30:200:30:23

We have to be careful. It's not a legal obligation to repay you,

0:30:230:30:25

but they do have a discretion where they can say, in your case,

0:30:250:30:28

it's worth looking at,

0:30:280:30:29

and I do think it's worth pushing that forward.

0:30:290:30:32

The advice that I've had today

0:30:340:30:36

has been well worthwhile.

0:30:360:30:38

And now I've got professional guidance

0:30:380:30:41

and they're pretty sure that I've got a justifiable case.

0:30:410:30:45

So, yeah, I'm quite pleased.

0:30:450:30:47

After the pop-up shop, Caroline spoke to Harry again.

0:30:470:30:50

She set up a complaint for him with the Financial Ombudsman Service

0:30:500:30:55

and it's going to involve a full investigation.

0:30:550:30:57

Now, this next subject is something most of us, I'd guess, don't like

0:31:010:31:04

thinking about, let alone discussing.

0:31:040:31:07

And that's what it's going to cost us to be buried after we die.

0:31:070:31:11

It may feel a bit of a conversation stopper over the dinner table,

0:31:110:31:15

but having a chat about what you'd like,

0:31:150:31:17

can take a lot of the stress out of the situation

0:31:170:31:19

for those closest to you when the time comes.

0:31:190:31:22

However, things may not be quite as straightforward as you think.

0:31:220:31:25

One Rip-Off viewer found herself first of all perplexed

0:31:250:31:29

and then really angry

0:31:290:31:30

about a charge she didn't think she should be paying.

0:31:300:31:34

And when she asked us to take a look,

0:31:340:31:36

we found that what's behind it is a much bigger problem,

0:31:360:31:39

affecting graveyards right across the country.

0:31:390:31:42

It's often said that there are only two certainties in life -

0:31:440:31:48

death and taxation.

0:31:480:31:50

And Amanda Mosley from Essex has found herself with a problem that

0:31:500:31:53

combines elements of both.

0:31:530:31:55

Amanda and her family have always lived in and around the East London

0:31:560:32:00

borough of Barking and Dagenham.

0:32:000:32:01

In fact, they love the area so much

0:32:010:32:03

they've committed to spending the rest of eternity there.

0:32:030:32:07

Because for nearly 60 years now, they've owned a family burial plot

0:32:070:32:10

in the local cemetery.

0:32:100:32:13

In 1963, my grandma passed away,

0:32:130:32:16

and she bought a plot of land in Rippleside Cemetery

0:32:160:32:19

so that herself and two other people

0:32:190:32:23

could be buried there,

0:32:230:32:25

and that was going to be my mother and my father.

0:32:250:32:29

Now, reserving the space where you're going to be buried may not be

0:32:290:32:32

something you'd given too much thought to,

0:32:320:32:34

but when Amanda's father Joseph died in September last year,

0:32:340:32:38

it was reassuring to know that this had already been taken care of.

0:32:380:32:41

It was always known that both my mum and dad wanted to be buried

0:32:430:32:47

with my nan at Rippleside Cemetery.

0:32:470:32:49

So we made some enquiries into how we went about doing that.

0:32:490:32:52

Amanda was told it was going to cost £960 to bury her father in the

0:32:540:32:58

family plot. And if that sounds steep,

0:32:580:33:01

it's actually rather less than the average national cost,

0:33:010:33:04

which is typically around £1,645.

0:33:040:33:08

My initial reaction to £960 was, "That is quite a lot of money."

0:33:080:33:12

But I completely understand that payment has to be made,

0:33:120:33:16

so I thought that was probably a fair price.

0:33:160:33:19

Unfortunately for Amanda, however,

0:33:200:33:22

her father's burial costs were about to climb significantly higher.

0:33:220:33:27

She was astonished to be told there was going to be an additional fee,

0:33:270:33:30

and that's because, despite having lived in the area for so long,

0:33:300:33:33

for the last 12 years of his life Amanda's father, Joseph,

0:33:330:33:37

had moved outside of Barking and Dagenham,

0:33:370:33:39

which meant his burial incurred an extra charge.

0:33:390:33:42

Purely because my dad was a non-resident, it was an extra £1,000.

0:33:430:33:47

There was no explanation.

0:33:470:33:49

I asked for a breakdown of costs on several occasions and I was never

0:33:490:33:53

given a reply. I feel very cross about the extra money,

0:33:530:33:57

mainly because my dad spent at least 60 years

0:33:570:33:59

as a resident of Barking and Dagenham Council,

0:33:590:34:02

and he worked all that time,

0:34:020:34:04

paying his council tax, and yet he was still charged this extra money.

0:34:040:34:08

Unhappy about the extra cost

0:34:100:34:12

when, as far as she was concerned,

0:34:120:34:13

her father had been a local resident for many years,

0:34:130:34:16

paying all the appropriate taxes,

0:34:160:34:18

Amanda wrote to us.

0:34:180:34:20

And while Barking and Dagenham Council didn't explain to us either

0:34:210:34:25

exactly how that charge breaks down,

0:34:250:34:27

it did make clear why it feels it's necessary.

0:34:270:34:30

It's the result of what is rapidly becoming a national problem -

0:34:300:34:34

the growing shortage of available land for new plots.

0:34:340:34:37

The council told us that...

0:34:380:34:42

..and no further burial income is forthcoming,

0:34:420:34:44

the cemeteries still need to be able to generate an income

0:34:440:34:48

to pay for ongoing maintenance.

0:34:480:34:50

And one way of doing that is by stipulating that any person

0:34:500:34:53

who is not resident in the borough

0:34:530:34:55

at the time of their death will be charged a premium for their burial.

0:34:550:34:59

Those who have moved away only recently won't face the same fee.

0:34:590:35:03

And the council says its guidance is comparable to that

0:35:030:35:06

of other authorities.

0:35:060:35:07

But for Tim Morris,

0:35:090:35:10

chief executive of the Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management,

0:35:100:35:14

stories like Amanda's highlight

0:35:140:35:16

not just a discrepancy in burial costs around the UK,

0:35:160:35:20

but more worryingly, an increasing lack of space

0:35:200:35:23

for where they can take place.

0:35:230:35:25

In fact, he believes that over the next 20-30 years

0:35:250:35:28

we may run out of plots altogether.

0:35:280:35:31

The main factor is that cemeteries are not sustainable.

0:35:310:35:34

When a cemetery becomes full,

0:35:340:35:36

a local authority has some difficult decisions to make.

0:35:360:35:40

Does it build a new cemetery?

0:35:400:35:42

Then, it has two sites to maintain on the same income.

0:35:420:35:45

There is a pressure on the budget,

0:35:450:35:48

pressure to increase fees.

0:35:480:35:50

If cemeteries were made sustainable,

0:35:500:35:52

there would be no need to build new cemeteries.

0:35:520:35:55

So, faced with a shrinking amount of cemetery space,

0:35:550:35:59

Tim believes some drastic measures are needed, and he says that means

0:35:590:36:02

recycling burial plots.

0:36:020:36:04

Sustainability can be achieved through the re-use

0:36:040:36:08

of old, abandoned graves,

0:36:080:36:09

as it is available in London through legislation,

0:36:090:36:12

and has just become available in Scotland through legislation.

0:36:120:36:16

So really the Government for England and Wales needs to act...

0:36:160:36:21

..and produce sustainable cemeteries.

0:36:220:36:25

The whole idea of reusing graves is a controversial one,

0:36:260:36:30

but to find out if it really is a way to keep burial costs down,

0:36:300:36:33

I visited one of the only places that's putting it into practice.

0:36:330:36:37

-Hello, Julia.

-Hi, Gary.

0:36:400:36:41

Welcome to the City of London Cemetery.

0:36:410:36:43

Well, thank you for sparing the time.

0:36:430:36:45

Gary Burks is the superintendent of the City of London Cemetery.

0:36:450:36:49

There are over 500,000 burial plots here, and simply maintaining

0:36:510:36:55

them costs hundreds of thousands of pounds every year.

0:36:550:36:58

Now, obviously the cost for people who want to have their loved ones

0:36:590:37:03

buried here has changed tremendously since the old days.

0:37:030:37:06

-It has.

-And what are the costs now?

0:37:060:37:08

The costs have just...have increased

0:37:080:37:10

because we have to maintain the area and that grave

0:37:100:37:14

for the time of that lease, or sometimes in perpetuity.

0:37:140:37:18

So it has to cover the maintenance of this site.

0:37:180:37:22

-Generally speaking, we aim to break even on a yearly basis.

-Yes.

0:37:220:37:28

Gary says it takes 61 staff to keep the grounds here a nice place for

0:37:280:37:32

people to visit, and that's an expensive year-round business.

0:37:320:37:36

Does everybody pay the same who ends up here?

0:37:360:37:39

It depends on what you want, actually.

0:37:390:37:42

-Oh, OK.

-If you was to choose a woodland grave,

0:37:420:37:44

where there is no memorial and there's not that much maintenance,

0:37:440:37:47

it costs somewhat significantly less than a memorial...

0:37:470:37:51

Than a grave in a different area,

0:37:510:37:53

so the fee structure is set out

0:37:530:37:54

so that people can choose what they want.

0:37:540:37:57

So your fee structure is based on what people...?

0:37:570:37:59

The quality, if you like, of what they're going to get...

0:37:590:38:02

-Very much so.

-..not on who they are and where they came from?

0:38:020:38:04

-Absolutely not.

-No.

0:38:040:38:06

-I mean, we don't have...

-I mean, is there a catchment area?

0:38:060:38:09

Because the City's only got a small group of residents -

0:38:090:38:12

8,000 residents -

0:38:120:38:14

-all of our fees are set for non-residents.

-Yes.

0:38:140:38:17

So anyone can be buried here, irrespective of City connection.

0:38:170:38:21

-Yes.

-When I'm asked that question, usually I say the only requirement

0:38:210:38:24

for being buried here is you have to be dead.

0:38:240:38:27

Despite being one of the most populated cemeteries in the country,

0:38:290:38:32

the fees to be buried here are

0:38:320:38:34

broadly the same whether you lived in the area or not before you died.

0:38:340:38:38

And the way they try and keep prices down is by recycling their plots.

0:38:380:38:43

They say they're the only site in the UK

0:38:430:38:46

where any grave over 75 years old can be reused,

0:38:460:38:49

which means, provided there are no objections,

0:38:490:38:52

remains that are found are moved lower down

0:38:520:38:55

to make room for the new burial.

0:38:550:38:57

And though this won't be something everyone wants to consider,

0:38:580:39:01

if a family wants to buy one of these recycled spaces,

0:39:010:39:04

they can do so for a fraction of the cost of an entirely new grave.

0:39:040:39:09

So, Gary, why don't you show me one of these graves

0:39:090:39:12

-that's been reclaimed?

-Certainly.

0:39:120:39:14

I mean, that grave there has been reclaimed,

0:39:140:39:17

that grave there has been reclaimed and reused.

0:39:170:39:19

This memorial itself,

0:39:190:39:22

if you tried to purchase it now,

0:39:220:39:25

it would probably be £40-50,000.

0:39:250:39:27

It's a lovely piece of granite, it will last forever.

0:39:270:39:30

Our options were really to clear it away and start again,

0:39:300:39:35

or to make the new family the custodian of that memorial.

0:39:350:39:39

It does two things -

0:39:390:39:40

it allows us to use these areas again

0:39:400:39:43

and it allows families to have

0:39:430:39:45

a magnificent memorial like this for a very small cost.

0:39:450:39:49

Yes. I mean, I imagine the cost element

0:39:490:39:51

-is really one of the important factors.

-It is.

0:39:510:39:54

I mean, to purchase...

0:39:540:39:55

to purchase a grave like this costs this family

0:39:550:39:58

somewhere in the region of £7,000.

0:39:580:40:02

Because of the amount of time we had to spend renovating it and cleaning

0:40:020:40:05

it. It gives you a rough idea of the saving that a family would make

0:40:050:40:08

by choosing a reclaimed grave.

0:40:080:40:11

Yes.

0:40:110:40:12

'Paying 7,000 to re-use of plot, as opposed to 50,000 to buy a new one,

0:40:130:40:18

'is obviously a huge saving.'

0:40:180:40:20

And the idea of recycling graves in this way is likely to spread,

0:40:200:40:24

with approval already granted in Scotland.

0:40:240:40:27

Do you envisage a time when, actually, all over the country,

0:40:280:40:31

cemeteries are going to have to do what you do here?

0:40:310:40:34

In order to make burial achievable

0:40:340:40:37

in the longer term, I believe so.

0:40:370:40:39

The Scottish Government has decided to build it into the new legislation

0:40:390:40:43

for Scottish burial - in a country where there is more space.

0:40:430:40:47

So they are seeing and recognising, going forward,

0:40:470:40:50

that it's going to be something.

0:40:500:40:51

And it's available in London,

0:40:510:40:54

but it's not available outside of London -

0:40:540:40:56

at the moment, in this country.

0:40:560:40:57

But in Amanda's case,

0:40:590:41:01

while she understands that space is at an increasing premium and that a

0:41:010:41:04

lot has changed since 1963 when her grandmother bought the burial plot,

0:41:040:41:09

she feels she and her father should have been warned

0:41:090:41:11

about the additional costs long before he died,

0:41:110:41:14

when the information would have been easier to absorb and discuss.

0:41:140:41:19

This overall experience has made me very cross with

0:41:190:41:22

Barking and Dagenham Council

0:41:220:41:25

for making me have these feelings

0:41:250:41:28

at the time when I'm already grieving about my father.

0:41:280:41:32

Amanda thinks her father would have been outraged by the extra costs and

0:41:330:41:37

she plans to take her case to the Local Government Ombudsman

0:41:370:41:41

in the hope that she might get some of her money back.

0:41:410:41:44

She is especially keen to fight her corner because,

0:41:440:41:46

when it comes to the time when her mother comes to be buried in

0:41:460:41:50

the family plot,

0:41:500:41:51

she doesn't think it's right that she'll have to pay the extra fee

0:41:510:41:54

again, then, too.

0:41:540:41:56

I do feel that the non-residents' fee will apply to us again at a later

0:41:560:42:01

date, because obviously we still have a plot left to fill.

0:42:010:42:06

I would be very angry to have to pay the increased fee again.

0:42:060:42:09

If you've got a story you'd like us to investigate,

0:42:170:42:19

get in touch with us via our Facebook page...

0:42:190:42:22

..our website...

0:42:250:42:26

..or e-mail Rip-Off Britain at...

0:42:300:42:32

..or if you want to send us a letter, then our address is...

0:42:350:42:38

Well, with so much flak being directed at the big energy companies

0:42:500:42:54

these days, you can't help but admire anyone

0:42:540:42:56

who puts their money where their mouth is

0:42:560:42:58

and sets themselves up as a new player in the market,

0:42:580:43:00

like the people we saw earlier in the programme. I'm sure we're going

0:43:000:43:04

-to be keeping an eye on them to see how they get on, don't you?

-You bet we will.

0:43:040:43:07

And hopefully today we've manage to clarify for the

0:43:070:43:09

people concerned, some of the charges that they've written to us about.

0:43:090:43:13

Even when it's a cost that you've got no choice but to pay,

0:43:130:43:16

you want to be sure it's fair.

0:43:160:43:18

That's really what we're looking for - fairness.

0:43:180:43:20

Which, I'm sure you'd agree, at the very least means knowing that it was

0:43:200:43:23

-coming.

-And I think you've hit the nail on the head there, Gloria,

0:43:230:43:25

because a bill is bad enough at the best of times,

0:43:250:43:28

but even worse when it's unexpected.

0:43:280:43:30

But I'm afraid that's all we've got for you today.

0:43:300:43:32

Thanks to everyone who's taken the trouble to contact us with a story,

0:43:320:43:36

whether we've been able to investigate it further or not.

0:43:360:43:38

And indeed, thanks as always for watching. So until next time,

0:43:380:43:41

-from all of us, bye-bye.

-Bye.

-Bye.

0:43:410:43:44

Angela Rippon, Gloria Hunniford and Julia Somerville investigate the unexpected charges leaving viewers out of pocket, investigating why for many the dream of owning a new home has turned sour - thanks to a cost thousands of pounds higher than they had ever expected. As frustrations on this topic spiral, the team explores why some now consider the way new homes are increasingly sold to be a major scandal.

Also, with continuing anger towards the big energy companies, a couple taking them on by setting up their own energy company reveal how they plan to do things differently.

And, the case of a woman hit with an unexpected extra cost to bury her father exposes the country's growing shortage of burial plots - and a controversial solution.