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‘Half my stuff got stuck in Milton Keynes’: Removal firms struggle to cope with stamp duty rush

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Blackbirds and starlings are singing. Over the fields in the distance I can see the July morning sunlight glinting on a sandy bay.

It’s the first day in the farmhouse we have just bought in the Scottish Borders; a dream come true, frankly.

And yet I am stressed as hell. I moved on Wednesday, but only half my stuff arrived at the new house. It wasn’t until 6pm that I learned that the rest was in a lock-up 300 miles south in Milton Keynes and it wouldn’t be arriving for a further 48 hours.

On the move: As many as 100,000 people are moving house each month; paying on average about £1,200 to use a removal service

On the move: As many as 100,000 people are moving house each month; paying on average about £1,200 to use a removal service

So I am writing this with the computer perched on a packing case. As for the kitchen table, three legs are propped in a corner. 

I heard one of the removal guys saying they hoped the fourth was on the other van. I hope so, too.

I have got off lightly. Up and down the country the national blood pressure has reached an unprecedented high level this week as homeowners rushed to complete their transactions and moves before the stamp duty ‘holiday’ ended yesterday.

There simply are not enough removal companies to cope. As many as 100,000 people are moving house each month; paying on average about £1,200 to use a removal service. 

The median distance moved by UK homebuyers in 2020 was 10 miles, an increase of 1 mile from the 2019 average.

It’s estimated that every 100 miles adds £100 to the bill. A light has been shone on the removals business and what it reveals is not always pretty. My removals team arrived about 4pm and finally left just before eight.

I had a testy conversation with the ‘team leader’ before he left about the ‘missing’ truckload of stuff. I was just getting into my stride when a thought occurred: ‘Hang on, are you driving back tonight?’

They were. Another six hours on the road. I let him go. For all the stress we housemovers are under, spare a thought for the people shifting the boxes.

May their bonuses reflect the incredibly hard graft they are putting in; pretty cheerfully, in my team’s case.

‘I have never seen a period like the last ten days,’ says Raz Hussein, owner of the removal company I used, Daniel Adams of Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire.

In demand: But there simply are not enough removal companies to cope with the high number of people moving home

In demand: But there simply are not enough removal companies to cope with the high number of people moving home

Ian Studd, director general of the British Association of Removers (BAR), has a bleaker message: ‘Many moves may not have been completed by the stamp duty deadline. There was not sufficient availability to cover the demand.’

BAR has 450 UK removals companies on its books, completing 280,000 home moves in Britain during an average year.

Yes, I can hear the bleak laughter from hundreds of frustrated movers. ‘Ahh, you’re missing a leg from your kitchen table. Poor you.’

At least my deal went through smoothly and I got a removal company.

Pressure has been building up in the property chains for weeks as solicitors triaged clients. Only after exchange can you confirm your contract with the removers.

I was moving the contents of a large house 360 miles north. It suddenly looked as if there’d be no one to move us. 

Tips for a smooth house move 

  • Ask for evidence of professional qualifications (eg membership of a removals trade body).
  • Carry out due diligence on who you may be inviting into your home. British Association of Removers’ (BAR) membership can be verified by clicking on Trading Standards’ TSI logo found on members’ own websites.
  • Ask for references.
  • Look for feedback reports and customer reviews.
  • Always get a minimum of two quotations. Quotes must be considered on a like-for-like basis (i.e. Is the service provision described exactly the same) and not simply on the price at the bottom of the page.
  • Check the T&Cs for potential additional charges and how/when they may be incurred.
  • Allow sufficient time for all of the above to happen and a formal contract offer to be made and accepted.
  • Finally, don’t move on a Friday (everyone else does).

But Daniel Adams came through. The question remains: have companies such as these grasped at every piece of business they can without considering whether their logistics can cope?

Raz Hussein denies this. He says the extra pressure ‘was not about how many jobs we took on, but the date changes that customers were experiencing due to chains trying to complete before June 30.’

Daniel Adams chose not to belong to the BAR. ‘It’s a paid subscription and we opted not to be members,’ says Hussein.

Ian Studd thinks it’s not always a question of fees. He says the BAR rigorously audits every company it deals with. Not all satisfy the selection criteria and some companies are asked to leave. He continues to ‘bang the drum’ about the lack of regulation in the removals industry.

‘There is nothing to stop a person buying a transit van today and calling themselves a removals expert tomorrow. This can leave the consumer at risk of being ‘gazumped’ at short notice.’

He also points out that I chose his company even though they are not BAR members. Well, at that stage I didn’t have much choice.

What will I do next time?

Outside the window, the lambs bleat and a deer leaps gracefully through a dewy field. It feels like the forever home. Just as well. I’m not going through all this again.

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Over 40 complaints made about ‘unsuitable’ books on English curriculum

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Some books being studied by Junior Cert and Leaving Cert English students feature “disturbing and sick content” and material that is “clearly unsuitable for minors”, complainants have told the Department of Education.

The department has received more than 40 complaints on the issue in recent months, with one email to Minister Norma Foley describing The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood as “nothing but sadistic, upsetting and of no moral learning or value to students”.

The acclaimed dystopian novel is based in a patriarchal totalitarian state where women, or handmaids, are forced to produce children for commanders.

One “concerned parent” said they were “perturbed” that their teenager was studying the novel Room by Irish author Emma Donoghue.

‘Questionable’

They said many of the topics in the book were “questionable” and that greater consideration should have been given before the book was “forced upon sensitive people in this day and age”. The Booker-shortlisted story is told from the perspective of a young boy held captive in a small room with his mother.

The emails, released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act, were from parents, one of whom said they were “appealing to and begging” the department to change the curriculum.

One parent expressed “shock and concern” about the prescribed reading lists, citing a perceived “lack of vigilance regarding the age appropriateness” of some books. “The material is offensive, abhorrent and clearly unsuitable for minors,” they said.

The curriculum could “only be described as the sexualisation and desensitising of our children… there needs to be an investigation into this whole sordid affair”, another complaint said.

‘Enslaving’

One person said the book list was “enslaving” students to “abominable ungodly content”, while another sarcastically suggested there was “nothing to stop” Fifty Shades of Grey, the bestselling explicit erotic romance novel, being added.

Some emails were directed towards Ms Foley personally, and called for her to be fired and “held directly responsible”. The department’s response stated that the curriculum at all levels was considered to be for all learners “regardless of race, religion, socioeconomic background, gender or orientation”.

It said it was important that each book was viewed “in its entirety rather than being reduced to particular sections which may be especially controversial”, and that the texts had “strong literary pedigrees” and featured on curricula internationally.

There were also several emails sent to the department in defence of the curriculum, predominantly from students.

The text-list working groups for each subject, convened by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, are comprised of teachers, third-level lecturers, staff from relevant support agencies and experts in children’s and young adult literature. The curriculum did not change this year though the Minister said it would be reviewed in the coming months.


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EDEN CONFIDENTIAL: A new £10m home sweet home in the Cotswolds for Nick Candy and Holly Valance 

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You might have thought having a Chelsea pad worth more than £75 million would be enough for most property tycoons, but not for Nick Candy.

I can disclose that Candy and his pop star wife, Holly Valance, have splashed out well over £10 million on a Grade II‑listed mansion in Oxfordshire.

They will be a short drive from trendy private members’ club Soho Farmhouse, where Prince Harry courted Meghan.

That's sweet: Nick Candy and his pop star wife, Holly Valance, have splashed out well over £10 million on a Grade II‑listed mansion in Oxfordshire (pictured)

That’s sweet: Nick Candy and his pop star wife, Holly Valance, have splashed out well over £10 million on a Grade II‑listed mansion in Oxfordshire (pictured)

Holly Valance and Nick Candy attend Lisa Tchenguiz's 50th birthday party at the Troxy in 2015

Holly Valance and Nick Candy attend Lisa Tchenguiz’s 50th birthday party at the Troxy in 2015

The seven-bedroom property has a pool, stables, tennis and squash courts and its own chapel

The seven-bedroom property has a pool, stables, tennis and squash courts and its own chapel

While it is unknown how much the couple paid, records show it was bought for £8m in 2012

While it is unknown how much the couple paid, records show it was bought for £8m in 2012

The house is a short drive from trendy private members' club Soho Farmhouse

The house is a short drive from trendy private members’ club Soho Farmhouse

Candy and his pop star wife, Holly Valance, have splashed out well over £10 million on the property

Candy and his pop star wife, Holly Valance, have splashed out well over £10 million on the property

The seven-bedroom property has a pool, stables, tennis and squash courts

The seven-bedroom property has a pool, stables, tennis and squash courts

Candy, 48, declines to say how much they paid, but the house was bought by the previous owners for £8 million in 2012

Candy, 48, declines to say how much they paid, but the house was bought by the previous owners for £8 million in 2012

Prices have rocketed in the area, where locals include Kate Moss and JCB tycoon Lord Bamford and his wife Carole

Prices have rocketed in the area, where locals include Kate Moss and JCB tycoon Lord Bamford and his wife Carole

Candy, who has two daughters with his wife, adds: 'We're very immersed in our quiet country life at weekends'

Candy, who has two daughters with his wife, adds: ‘We’re very immersed in our quiet country life at weekends’

‘We have been looking for years to get something in the Cotswolds for the family, and finally, a year ago, we found a gorgeous family home in a wonderful village,’ Candy tells me.

The seven-bedroom property has a pool, stables, tennis and squash courts and its own chapel.

Candy, 48, declines to say how much they paid, but the house was bought by the previous owners for £8 million in 2012.

Since then, prices have rocketed in the area, where locals include Kate Moss and JCB tycoon Lord Bamford and his wife Carole, who started the Daylesford organic empire.

Candy, who has two daughters with his wife, adds: ‘We’re very immersed in our quiet country life at weekends and adore the friendly and welcoming village.’

Candy's luxury two-storey penthouse in Hyde Park has gone on sale for £175million

Candy’s luxury two-storey penthouse in Hyde Park has gone on sale for £175million

The stunning apartment is split over two levels, boasts five bedrooms, a 21m swimming pool, and measures around 18,000 sq ft - the equivalent of almost 18 average homes in England.

The stunning apartment is split over two levels, boasts five bedrooms, a 21m swimming pool, and measures around 18,000 sq ft – the equivalent of almost 18 average homes in England. 

Prolific author Alexander McCall Smith, creator of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency has been promised great things – but only after his death.

He says: ‘I was on tour in the United States and this woman came up to me with a book for signature, and she looked at me and said: ‘You know something, you’re going to be much more successful posthumously.’ ‘

The writer, 72, who has written 21 novels in the series, says. ‘She wasn’t being rude, but it was rather an odd thing to say to somebody.’

How guitar guru Beck gave Depp a silver lining 

Pictured: Johnny Depp is planning his comeback

Pictured: Johnny Depp is planning his comeback

With his acrimonious divorce from actress Amber Heard, and their bitter court room showdown in London last summer, Hollywood star Johnny Depp suffered the biggest setback of his glittering career.

Now, however, I hear he’s quietly planning his comeback — right here in Britain.

The 58-year-old star of Fantastic Beasts and Charlie And The Chocolate Factory has been taken under the wing of British rock legend Jeff Beck.

The Hi Ho Silver Lining guitarist, 77, who’s so talented he had each of his fingers insured for £700,000 in 2010, has secretly been hosting Depp at his Riverhall country estate in Wadhurst, East Sussex, where they’ve been writing and recording together in Beck’s studio. Depp is an accomplished guitarist himself.

‘They’ve been collaborating on material for Jeff’s next album,’ reveals a source close to Depp. ‘It’s been great for Johnny to get back to his first true love, which is music.

‘Jeff has been a great friend to Johnny during a very difficult time, and being away from Hollywood has been exactly what Johnny needed.

‘He wants to take a step back from everything and focus on a comeback through music.’

Eight-time Grammy Award winner Jeff, who has been called ‘one of the most influential lead guitarists in rock’ by Rolling Stone magazine, recorded a cover of John Lennon’s Isolation with Depp last year, intended to help people cope with life in lockdown.

Johnny Depp of Hollywood Vampires performs on stage at Celebrity Theatre in 2018 in Arizona

Johnny Depp of Hollywood Vampires performs on stage at Celebrity Theatre in 2018 in Arizona

In 2019 they played together at the Crossroads Music Festival in Dallas, Texas, for Eric Clapton’s charity, then did a short tour of the U.S.

Depp has previously featured on songs by Oasis, Iggy Pop, and Aerosmith, as well as on records by his ex-girlfriend, singer Vanessa Paradis, with whom he has two children. In 2015, he formed the super group, Hollywood Vampires, with Alice Cooper and Joe Perry.

‘Johnny hopes to return to films eventually,’ adds the source, ‘but it’s music first.’

Boogie-woogie pianist Jools Holland is learning to sing lullabies. The Later . . . with Jools Holland host has become a grandfather at the age of 63.

‘I am very pleased that I now have a wonderful grandson, Gabriel,’ he says. His musician daughter, Mabel Ray, 30, is the proud mum.

‘We seem to have identical hair,’ he adds of the baby. ‘He is a delightful little fellow. All thanks to the fantastic staff at Homerton University Hospital for delivering him to us.’

Queen’s Windsor gong show for late Duke’s loyal page

The Queen is making sure Prince Philip’s most steadfast former aides feel rewarded.

I hear that she invited the Duke of Edinburgh’s loyal page, William Henderson, to Windsor Castle this week to collect his gong.

His appointment as a Lieutenant of the Royal Victorian Order was announced on what would have been Philip’s 100th birthday.

Henderson was among those who took part in the funeral procession, walking behind the coffin.

Known for his sarcastic quips when required to report on the love lives of the Royal Family, waggish news anchor Simon McCoy seems to be secretly obsessed with the Windsors.

‘If I were invisible, I would go into Highgrove and stand by the phone to listen to any conversation Prince Charles might have with Harry,’ admits McCoy, who recently moved from the BBC to its new rival channel, GB News.

‘I feel desperately sorry for Charles — I really do. Family difficulties are bad enough without one of you bleating about it to the Press all the time.’

Creating a buzz with Angelina the Queen Bee 

There’s a buzz about Angelina Jolie, but it’s nothing to do with her film career.

The actress brought a touch of Hollywood glamour to the new French Apidology Observatory, in Sainte-Baume, where she presented its first graduates with their diplomas.

Angelina Jolie with children Pax, Zahara and Shiloh seen shopping at trendy KITH's in Paris, France

Angelina Jolie with children Pax, Zahara and Shiloh seen shopping at trendy KITH's in Paris, France

Angelina Jolie (pictured shopping Paris) brought a touch of Hollywood glamour to the new French Apidology Observatory where she presented its first graduates with their diplomas

Jolie, 46, who’s recently been seen out with her British ex-husband Jonny Lee Miller, was there because she’s involved in the Women for Bees project, which aims to encourage women to become beekeepers.

Clearly, there’s only one Queen Bee.

Paymaster General Penny Mordaunt, who starred on TV diving show Splash, will be demonstrating her water skills at the local pool rather than heading off to the Med this summer.

‘I’ll be staying in my constituency and spending time at my local lido,’ the MP for Portsmouth North tells me at the Westminster launch party for her book, Greater: Britain After The Storm, which she’s co-written with Chris Lewis. ‘I’ve earned that — I went to great lengths to save it.’

The forecast is hotting up with Carol’s exotic secret 

This could liven up those dull BBC meteorological reports: weather presenter Carol Kirkwood has revealed a secret skill.

‘I can belly-dance,’ whispers the former Strictly contestant.

‘It is actually quite hard, but I learned to do it when I was a student travelling in Turkey and Greece.’

The Scottish hotelier’s daughter, 59, adds: I can’t claim to be very good at it — but I do at least have the belly for it these days.’

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Planning permission sought for 600 apartments on former Irish Glass site

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Planning permission for 600 apartments on the former Irish Glass Bottle site near Ringsend in Dublin has been submitted by a consortium led by developer Johnny Ronan.

The consortium, which also includes the National Asset Management Agency (Nama), Oaketree Capital Management, and Lincor Developments, is expecting construction to commence on what is the first phase of Pembroke Quarter early next year.

The site was once a symbol of Celtic Tiger hubris after receivers appointed by Nama were appointed in 2012 after its respective owners ran into financial trouble. However, the vacant plot is now earmarked to become Dublin’s newest suburb, which once completed will deliver 3,800 homes, more than one million sq ft of commercial space, and educational facilities and other community amenities.

One quarter of the units developed at the site are to be allocated to social and affordable homes.

The property has been earmarked for development for some time with a company called Becbay, which was backed by developer Bernard McNamara, property financier Derek Quinlan, and State agency the Dublin Docklands Development Authority, having acquired the holding in 2006 for €412 million in an Anglo Irish Bank-backed deal.

Consortium

Mr Ronan’s Ronan Group Real Estate (RGRE), Oaktree Capital and Lincor were chosen as preferred bidders for a 80 per cent controlling stake in the former Irish Glass Bottle site last year after submitting a bid valued at in excess of €130 million. Nama has retained the remaining 20 per cent stake in the project.

Other shortlisted bidders for the controlling stake last year were: Sean Mulryan’s Ballymore Group; Dallas-based private equity giant Lone Star’s Quintain Ireland housebuilding unit; and Hines, a US real estate group.“This site that, for many years, has held so much unfulfilled potential to deliver housing in Dublin is finally being brought to life,” said Rory Williams, chief executive of RGRE.

“Over the coming years Pembroke Quarter will deliver much-needed homes for more than 10,000 people in Dublin’s city centre. We understand deeply how acute the need for housing is in the city, so we are very pleased to be able to submit this planning application for the first phase of development so quickly after the purchase of the site,” he added.

Nama chief executive Brendan McDonagh said: “We are delighted to see this superbly located Dublin Bay site move into the first phase of its development lifecycle with the submission of this first planning application for 600 residential units.”

He added that the 25 per cent allocated to social and affordable units would “provide homes to those most in need, close to the heart of Dublin”.

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