EVERY Saturday, The Consumer Crew are here to solve your problems.
Mel Hunter will take on readers’ consumer issues, Amanda Cable will give you the best advice for buying your dream home, Maddy Tooke rounds up the best coupons to save you money and Judge Rinder will tackle your legal woes.
Jane Hamilton, property expert
Stewart Williams – The Sun Jane Hamilton gives tips to spruce up your gardens
AS the British love affair with gardens wilting? Research from online estate agent Housesimple shows almost a third of properties for sale in major towns and cities do not have outside space.
Gardens, terraces and balconies are being sacrificed so developers can squeeze in more homes.
As National Gardening Week starts on Monday, we look at how to make the most of your home’s garden, no matter what the size.
Getty – Contributor Use our top tips to get the most of your garden
With a small terrace, balcony or patio, make it seem bigger by letting it “flow” from the home. Interiors experts advise using the garden as an “outside room”, so match the colour scheme for the walls, rails or fence and add a small table and chairs. Bifolds or French doors that fold back will maximise your space.
If you have children, consider zoning so there is space for everyone. Create a section for sport away from plants, a veg patch to teach children about nature and an area for outdoor dining so you can enjoy family barbecues.
A large garden means keeping on top of maintenance can be costly. Think how you want to use it. Can you thin out the borders so there is less work? Put in sections to attract wildlife. A new shed will also add value, especially in a trendy paint.
Solar-powered lighting will allow you to enjoy the garden at night. Outdoor lights start from around £7 and come in designs to suit most tastes
No outside space? Then bring the outside in. House plants are back in fashion and cost from £2 at DIY chains and markets. If you are a first-time gardener or do not have much time, try a simple succulent or cactus, which will not need much care.
Buy of the week
This two-bed house in Swindon is on the market for £175,000
LOOKING to sell fast? Try Swindon.
The Wiltshire town has been crowned the UK’s fastest place to sell a property by Quick Move Now, with homes spending an average of 101 days on the market.
This two-bed is £175,000 at zoopla.co.uk/for-sale/details/51211450.
Adding valueTHREE in five homeowners have made improvements to their properties in the past five years, netting an average profit of £25,985, new research reveals.
The average spend on renovation is £14,015 but the tweaks typically added £40,000 to the property’s value.
Garden landscaping, a gym, an extension or walk-in wardrobe are most likely to increase the value.
Chrysanthy Pispinis from Post Office Money, which carried out the poll, said: “Over the past few years, as house price growth has slowed down, homeowners have turned to other options to add value to homes.
“Renovations are a clear opportunity.”
Deal of the week
Treat your little one to this unicorn light in our deal of the week and save £1.40
THIS unicorn light is too good to myth.
It is perfect for a kids’ bedroom or to brighten up a student flat.
It was £7, now £5.60, at matalan.co.uk.
We design our own Disney t-shirt and try out clothes in our personalised changing room at the world’s biggest Primark
Judge Rinder helps a reader with a health issue
Q) IN February 2017, I discovered my wife of 40 years was having an affair.
She left me to go back to her parents and, in September that year, at her request, my son and I remortgaged the family home and took her off the deeds and mortgage.
She received nearly £30,000 from the equity of our property and I agreed to pay off the credit cards which were in her name.She is now divorcing me and wants half of our assets.
Is she entitled to that given that we had already come to a financial arrangement, and she was the one responsible for the breakdown of the marriage? Michael, Bolton
Getty – Contributor Divorce mediation is always cheaper than going through the courts
A) Who gets what when a marriage breaks down has little to do with who’s at fault.
The legal starting point is that the joint assets should be split fairly between parties.
In this case that would almost certainly be a 50/50 split.
The £30,000 that you have given your ex-partner could be subtracted from her share of the pot, but she will be entitled to a significant portion of your assets despite you giving her a lump sum and paying her debts.
My advice is to get a good family lawyer to represent you and to do all that you can to get your ex-partner to agree to legal mediation.
Avoiding court proceedings is extremely important. If you don’t, only the lawyers will benefit and you may end up losing a fortune.
A floody jokeQ) I BOUGHT a new build in December 2018.
Last week, the bathroom flooded and an emergency plumber said the cause was an incorrect sleeve fitted to the pipes.
The house builder agreed to carry out repairs but is refusing to replace the wallpaper that was ruined.
Is the builder obliged to replace it? David, Essex
A) Assuming the original plumber was working as a subcontractor for the house builder, he is legally liable for all damage caused by his negligence, including the wallpaper.
Write to explain this.
If the plumber refuses, get the builder to do the repair work and take the plumber to the small claims court.
Q) I WAS an agency worker at a large electrical contractor based in London who had a contract looking after a big supermarket chain.
I was with the same firm with unbroken service for one week short of two years, but it did not have enough labour to cover the 24 hour services it offered.
I was working non-stop without rest breaks and falling asleep at the wheel doing 30-hour shifts when I was on call.
We were also forced to use a plant that required a licence, without training.
I made a protective disclosure to my line manager telling him everything because I was worried someone could be injured or even killed if things are not addressed.
I was dismissed shortly afterwards for being a troublemaker. I took it to an employment tribunal, but they did not believe I did not have a written employment contract.
I was found not to be a employee or even a worker so the claim was invalid. No agency workers as far as I know have ever got a written contract and it is always a verbal contract.
Do I really have no rights? Paul, London
Alamy An agency electrician asks about his rights
A) The difficulty in this case is that the Employment Tribunal appears to have already given a ruling in your case.
The only way that you can challenge this is by appealing its decision to the Employment Appeal Tribunal on the grounds that the ruling was legally flawed in some way.
I have a great deal of sympathy with the substance of your case and certainly think that there is a possibility that you may have a legal action regardless of whether you had a contract, especially as this company appears to have fired you for being a whistleblower.
The legal action that you may have against this firm could be in the Appeal Tribunal or possibly in the county court for unlawfully sacking you in retaliation for you making a perfectly legitimate complaint.
This is not a straightforward matter.
You need some legal assistance as soon as possible.
Get in touch with the Citizens Advice Bureau or the Free Representation Unit who may be able to help.
Judge Rinder regrets he cannot answer questions personally. Answers intended as general guidance.They do not constitute legal advice and are not a substitute for obtaining independent legal advice.
Got a question for Judge Rinder? Email email@example.com
Mel Hunter, Reader’s champion
The Sun Mel Hunter advises on consumer issues
Q) I BOUGHT a Thorpe Park annual pass as a Christmas present for my son, using an offer to get it for a special price.
I was told it wouldn’t be sent out until January, so I printed out the email copy to wrap up for Christmas Day.
When it still hadn’t been received by the end of January, I emailed their customer services, who told me it would be sent out before the park opened in March.
Despite sending several more emails, my son missed the opening event for pass holders, which is the best day to go as the queues are so much shorter.
He was so disappointed he had to miss out. Karen Dawes, Uxbridge
Handout Thorpe Park’s Rush rollercoaster
A) You got in early and bagged a bargain pass but you were worried that it wouldn’t arrive, leaving you out of pocket and your son without his present. I got on to Thorpe Park for you.
Although your son had already missed the pass holders’ day, when those with an annual ticket get to experience the thrills and spills of the park without the crowds, I did at least manage to get the ticket sorted and sent out to him before the school holidays started.
It arrived with just days to spare, giving him the chance to have some great days out over the Easter break.
Thorpe Park blamed a technical glitch, which it said they had made customers aware of.
Unfortunately, you hadn’t been kept in the loop.
Getty – Contributor Mel Hunter helped solve a reader’s pension riddle
Q) BACK in December, I was contacted by Aviva stating that I had a small pension that was due to expire, and I was sent a form which I completed and returned to the firm.
At the start of February, I received another letter advising me of the options that were available to me and I chose to take out the lump sum of nearly £4,500.
I was told I would receive a letter the following week, but this did not arrive.
I phoned again and was promised the letter again, but once more I received nothing. The firm apologised, but again no letter or email has arrived. This is my money, not Aviva’s. Barrie Clark, South Ockendon
A) To its credit, Aviva had tracked you down to a new address to tell you about the outstanding pension, so that was in its favour.
But nearly four months after it had first made contact, you were getting worried about where your money was.It turns out this was down to a human error and a nudge from me got things moving.
Aviva apologised and a cheque arrived a week later.
A spokesperson said: “We have been working with Mr Clark to release his pension funds and have been in contact with him about the paperwork we need.
“During this time, there have been some delays in processing Mr Clark’s request, which means on this occasion we have not achieved the level of service we aim to provide to our customers.”
CHECKOUT THIS Tesco Clubcard members to get up to 50% off as part of special promotion HOME SWEET HOME Mum, 24 reveals how she bought £145k home after TWO years of saving WHEELY CHEAP Man saves £1K a month living in home on wheels that costs £4-a-week to run WATER OFFER Inside mansion that comes with a cinema, a spa and a river running through it FROZEN OUT Cineworld axes Tango Ice Blast and viewers are threatening to boycott the cinema ExclusiveSAVVY SHOPPER Mum’s top tips to slash your family’s food bill to just £20 a MONTH
Maddy Tooke, Coupon Queen
John McLellan Maddy Tooke shares her best high street deals
My top five freebies this week
Getty – Contributor Let the kids do a slime workshop… away from the home
Top 10 deals