Countryside admits it sold houses with ‘doubling’ clauses

Joey Gardiner

News comes after Taylor Wimpey’s £130m writedown related to controversial leasehold contracts

Countryside has admitted selling leasehold homes under controversial “doubling” clauses similar to those that have recently mired Taylor Wimpey in bad publicity.

The use of leaseholds on house sales has sparked controversy since Taylor Wimpey’s “doubling” leases were revealed in the autumn, leading to debates in parliament and a Facebook group entitled the National Leasehold Campaign gaining 4,000 members.

Last month Taylor Wimpey announced a £130m writedown related to the leasehold homes problem and a fund to help its affected customers.

Under “doubling” leaseholds, homeowners are charged a ground rent that doubles at certain intervals, typically every five, 10 or 15 years, putting financial pressure on leaseholders.

Leaseholds affect around 1.6 million households and while they are common for flat purchases, since the financial crisis they have been increasingly used on house sales.

Countryside told Building it had used “doubling” leases in the past on a “very small number of sites”, but said it was not planning to take action to help customers who bought these houses.

The housebuilder’s chief executive Ian Sutcliffe said the firm had ensured that where possible all houses were sold on a freehold basis, but added: “What we were doing was absolutely in line with industry practice at the time.

“We absolutely refute that people didn’t know what they were getting into. It was clear in the literature, and if they didn’t feel informed the question has to go back to their solicitor.”

The Home Builders Federation, Taylor Wimpey and Countryside said that via the conveyancing process each buyer receives independent legal advice.

Taylor Wimpey said it is under no legal obligation to do anything, but at the time of its announcement last month, accepted that “the introduction of these doubling clauses was not consistent with our high standards of customer service”.

Pete Redfern, the firm’s chief executive, told Building: “We’ve listened to the concerns and difficulties that some of our customers have faced [and] we are sorry for the worry this has caused them […] This is about doing what we think is right.”

A Building investigation into the leasehold problem, published this week, also reveals that some affected households are preparing legal action against solicitors over alleged failures to advise them about the risks of leasehold contracts. Adviser Leasehold Solutions says it has just launched its first professional negligence case, involving 175 properties.

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