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How to become a property guardian in Britain

Voice Of EU



Two years ago, Elliott Hines had a problem -he could not afford to live in London

‘The most basic flat cost £1,200 a month to rent, which meant I’d have to share,’ says Elliott, 35, a visitor from Chicago who had found a post as a religious education teacher.

‘And sharing meant one small bedroom and no living room.’

Property guardianship is an arrangement whereby individuals are granted accommodation at about a third of the market rate in return for keeping the place in good condition

Property guardianship is an arrangement whereby individuals are granted accommodation at about a third of the market rate in return for keeping the place in good condition

Luckily for Elliott he came across an advertisement in the small ads of a paper. 

It spoke about becoming a ‘guardian’ with four others, of the recently decommissioned National Westminster Bank in London’s Edgware Road at a far more affordable £575 a month, including bills.

‘At first I thought this was a crazy idea,’ says Elliott. ‘But I gave it a go and pretty soon I found it was a great way to live.

‘Being a guardian helped me get my finances sorted while living near the heart of London and meeting new people.’

The scheme Elliott had signed up to was run by Tim Lowe, of Lowe Guardians, who started his company after a six-month investigation for his last employers, estate agency Knight Frank. 

‘I discovered that there was this enormous problem with young people being unable to find affordable housing,’ says Tim, 33.

 ‘And at the same time, there were hundreds of empty buildings that needed someone responsible to look after them.

‘I put the two together and came up with the guardianship idea.’

Tim’s property guardianship is a contractual arrangement whereby individuals are granted temporary accommodation at about a third of the market rate.

They agree to keep the place in good condition and, in return, Tim’s maintenance team makes the premises habitable, installing kitchens and bathrooms and meeting all building regulations.

The guardians are legally ‘licensees’ not tenants, which means they have limited legal protection. 

They can be required to move out at short notice and the agreement between licensee and Lowe is based, to an extent, on mutual trust and goodwill.

Some stay in a property for four years, but more typical are stays of one to 18 months. Licensees, most of whom are key workers, young professionals or freelancers from the arts world, know the terms before they enter an agreement.

Being young, they usually travel light and are not looking for long-term security. However, the company also runs a re-housing policy to ensure a licensee isn’t suddenly rendered homeless.

It is worth noting that not all property guardianship companies are similarly scrupulous in their dealings.

Last month, Camelot Europe, which has now gone into administration, was found guilty of failing to licence a House of Multiple Occupation and 14 breaches of HMO management regulations relating to a former rectory in Colchester.

The residents shared one kitchen, bathrooms with no hot water and a clogged toilet. There was a faulty fire alarm, blocked fire escapes and sealed doors.

Around the same time, this paper reported on how Global Guardians were advertising derelict properties in London for the same extortionate rates as standard private rents. 

One was a ‘horrible disused factory’ in Rainham, another, a single room in a prefab hut with a grubby floor and dated wallpaper peeling off the walls.

Tim advises anyone new to guardianships to take care.

‘Research the company and question someone in a responsible position,’ he says. ‘Make sure you understand the terms of your contract. 

Speak to a few guardians and always ask how quickly the company responds to maintenance issues.’

Lowe Guardians, which Tim established four years ago, now has scores of properties and about 700 young people on its books, mainly in London and the South of England. 

Tim could hardly have chosen a better time to set up the scheme: more town centre shops close every day and over a third of UK bank branches have shut since 2015.

London’s Ovalhouse theatre is perhaps the company’s most ambitious project. Located at Kennington Oval in Lambeth, the former theatre is home to ten young singers, actors, writers and musicians.

The lovely old theatre has been turned into a recording studio and rehearsal space; there are seven bedrooms in what used to be the backstage changing rooms and it has a new kitchen and showers.

‘I’m sure this is an idea that would work countrywide,’ says Tim, who launched a charitable foundation linked to the company last year. 

‘Licensees have been able to save for a deposit on their own place having lived cheaply with us. 

‘There’s also a social side to the scheme; some have met as guardians and later got married. It’s more than a business.’  

On the market… at a cut price 

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Facebook admits high-profile users are treated differently

Voice Of EU



Facebook’s oversight board said the social media company hadn’t been “fully forthcoming” about internal rules that allowed some high-profile users to be exempt from content restrictions and said it will make recommendations on how to change the system.

In the first of its quarterly transparency reports published Thursday, the board said that on some occasions, Facebook “failed to provide relevant information to the board,” and in other instances the information it did provide was incomplete.

For example, when Facebook referred the case involving former US president Donald Trump to the board, it didn’t mention its internal “cross-check system” that allowed for a different set of rules for high-profile users.

Facebook only mentioned cross-check, or XCheck, to the board when asked whether Trump’s page or account had been subject to ordinary content moderation processes.

The cross-check system was disclosed in recent reporting by the Wall Street Journal, based in part on documents from a whistle-blower.

The journal described how the cross-check system, originally intended to be a quality-control measure for a select few high-profile users and designed to avoid public relations backlash over famous people who mistakenly have their posts taken down, had ballooned to include millions of accounts.

The oversight board said it will undertake a review of the cross-check system and make suggestions on how to improve it.

As part of the process, Facebook has agreed to share with the board relevant documents about the cross-check system as reported in the Wall Street Journal. – Bloomberg

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Green mortgages may leave owners of older homes unable to sell

Voice Of EU



Estate agents warn owners of older homes, rural houses and listed properties could struggle to sell under green mortgage plans

  • Boris Johnson has unveiled his plans for turning Britain green by 2050 
  • The plans include proposals on how to make the housing stock greener 
  • The plans would see lenders disclose the energy performance of properties

Homeowners living in older, rural and even listed properties risk being unable to sell if strict green finance targets are introduced, estate agents have warned.

The warning comes after Boris Johnson unveiled his plan for turning Britain green by 2050 this week, with mortgage lenders having targets for the energy performance of properties in their portfolio.

A body that represents estate agents across Britain claimed that the property market could be distorted as a result of the measures and called for Britain’s historic housing stock to be taken into account.

Boris Johnson revealed proposals on how to make the housing stock greener this week

Boris Johnson revealed proposals on how to make the housing stock greener this week

Timothy Douglas, of Propertymark, said: ‘Incentivising green improvements to properties via lending creates risks of trapping homeowners with older properties, those who live in rural areas, listed buildings or conservation areas, making their homes difficult to sell and therefore reducing the value.’

Propertymark said that those living in older properties could be left with homes that they could not sell if buyers were unable to secure finance on them due to their lower energy efficiencies.

The effect would be likely to be felt more by less wealthy owners, as deep-pocketed buyers would be more able to overlook mortgage restrictions and high-end older homes would continue to be desirable.

Mr Douglas said: ‘The use of targets could distort the market and sway lenders towards preferential, newer homes in order to improve the rating of their portfolio.

‘Stopping a large portion of housing stock from being able to enter the market could cause havoc for home buying and selling as well as the wider economy.’ 

He added that improving the energy efficiency of homes should be reliant on consumer choice and not something enforced by mortgage lenders, with all the knock-on effects this could entail.

He said: ‘We would be concerned if lenders raise rates and limit products because fundamentally, improving the energy performance of a property is reliant on consumer choice and it is not the core business of mortgage lenders.’

Mark Harris, of mortgage broker SPF Private Clients, said: ‘The green agenda is not new but there is increasing impetus behind it. There are more green mortgage products aimed at those purchasing more energy-efficient properties – A-C rated, and not just from specialist lenders but the high street banks too.

‘However, there is a real danger that green initiatives could create the next round of mortgage prisoners if homeowners are trapped in older homes that can’t be improved, so they can’t move because they can’t sell them on.

‘Without changes or improvements, lenders may restrict lending to lower loan-to-values, higher pricing, or not lend at all. This could penalise those who are unable to adapt to or adopt new efficient technologies economically.’

A UK Finance spokesperson said: ‘Greening our housing stock is vital if we are to meet our climate change obligations and banks and finance providers are committed to helping achieve this goal and making sure consumers are not left behind.’

Ways to boost energy efficiency  

Propertymark recommends three measures to improve the energy efficiency of homes without negatively impacting the housing market.

1. Improvements linked to an EPC

These include linking a plan for energy efficiency improvements to the recommendations on a property’s Energy Performance Certificate.

It could demonstrate the ‘most suitable route’ to a warmer home, regulatory compliance and zero carbon, according to Propertymark.

2. Tax breaks

It also recommends using tax breaks to incentivise homeowners to finance energy efficiency improvements.

For example, these could include making energy improvements exempt from VAT or offering lower rates of council tax for homes that have been made more energy efficient.

3. Adjustable tax rates

An adjustable rate of property tax that is tied to energy performance is also being recommended by Propertymark.

This could be done in two ways, it suggested. First, by applying the adjustment as a reduction on more energy-efficient properties. And second by offering rebates to buyers if energy efficiency improvements are made to less efficient properties within a certain time period after purchase.

Propertymark said that by linking energy performance with property taxes, this could help introduce increased saleability for more energy-efficient properties. In addition, it suggested that improvements would become standard for homeowners seeking costs and improve the desirability of their homes.


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Johnson rules out face masks as UK’s daily Covid cases rise above 50,000

Voice Of EU



Daily coronavirus cases in Britain have risen above 50,000 for the first time since July, but Boris Johnson said he will not bring back compulsory face coverings or introduce vaccine passports.

Speaking in Northern Ireland, the prime minister said his government was holding firm to its policy of no legal restrictions introduced in July, but was watching the numbers carefully.

“The numbers of infections are high but we are within the parameters of what the predictions were,” he said. “We are sticking with our plan.”

Mr Johnson acknowledged the “patchiness” of Britain’s vaccination programme, urging people to come forward for their booster jabs as soon as they are invited to do so. But Labour leader Keir Starmer said the government should beef up the programme, ensure that more children were vaccinated and aim to deliver half a million jabs a day.

“The government said that the vaccine would be the security wall against the virus and now the government is letting that wall crumble,” he said.

“We’ve seen those that most need it not able to get the jab they need. Only, I think, 17 per cent of children have got the vaccine. And the booster programme has slowed down so much that at this rate we’re not going to complete it until spring of next year. So the government needs to change these, it needs to get a grip. I think it needs to drive those numbers up to at least 500,000 vaccines a day.”

Vaccine passports

The British Medical Association (BMA) accused the government of “wilful negligence” in not bringing back some restrictions, and of failing to learn the lessons of a parliamentary report last week about its handling of the pandemic. The association’s chairman, Chaand Nagpaul, said doctors could say categorically that it was time to bring back compulsory face masks and to introduce vaccine passports.

“By the health secretary’s own admission we could soon see 100,000 cases a day, and we now have the same number of weekly Covid deaths as we had during March, when the country was in lockdown,” he said.

“It is, therefore, incredibly concerning that he is not willing to take immediate action to save lives and protect the NHS. ”

Health secretary Sajid Javid warned this week that some restrictions could be introduced if the public failed to exercise caution and to take up vaccination offers. He acknowledged that Conservative MPs could show an example by wearing masks in the House of Commons, but house leader Jacob Rees-Mogg on Thursday rejected the suggestion.

Crowded spaces

“There is no advice to wear face masks in workplaces. The advice on crowded spaces is with crowded spaces with people that you don’t know. We on this side know each other,” he told the SNP’s Pete Wishart.

“Now, it may be that he doesn’t like mixing with his own side, wants to keep himself in his personal bubble. He may find the other members of the SNP – who I normally find extraordinarily charming…but we on this side have a more convivial fraternal spirit, and for our calling the guidance of her majesty’s government.”

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