Disabled widower's eviction fears

Bedroom TaxDisabled widower Richard Rourke fears he will be evicted from his home over rent arrears as a result of the bedroom tax.

He was among a group of disabled people whose legal challenge over claims that the Government's so-called "bedroom tax" unlawfully discriminates against disabled people in social housing was dismissed by the High Court.
He did not make it to the the High Court in London to hear they had failed today, as he could not afford to travel from his home in Bakestone Moor, Whitwell, near Worksop, for the hearing.

After today's ruling, Mr Rourke, 46, he said: "They make us feel like scroungers and as if we are sub-human - if that was their intention then they have succeeded."

Since April 2013 Mr Rourke, a wheelchair user, has had his housing benefit reduced by 25% on the basis that he has two bedrooms spare.

Seven retirement nightmares
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Disabled widower's eviction fears
Figures from charity Age UK show that 29% of those over 60 feel uncertain or negative about their current financial situation - with millions facing poverty and hardship. Even though saving for retirement is not much fun, the message is therefore that having to rely on dwindling state benefits in retirement is even less so. To avoid ending up in this situation, adviser Hargreaves Lansdown recommends saving a proportion of your salary equal to half your age at the time of starting a pension. In other words, if you are 30 when you start a pension, you should put in 15% throughout your working life. If you start at 24, saving 12% of your salary a year should produce a similar return.
Many older couples rely on the pension income of one person - often the man. Should that person die first, the other person can therefore be left in a difficult position financially.
One way to prevent financial hardship for the surviving person is to take out a joint life annuity that will continue to pay out up to 67% of the original payments to the surviving partner should one of them die.

The disadvantage of this approach, however, is that the rate you receive will be lower. Again, the Pensions Advisory Service on 0845 601 2923 is a useful first port of call if you are unsure what to do.

Around 427,000 households in the over-70 age groups are either three months behind with a debt repayment or subject to some form of debt action such as insolvency, according to the Consumer Credit Counselling Service (CCCS).

Its figures also show that those aged 60 or older who came to the CCCS for help last year owed an average of £22,330. Whether you are retired or not, the best way to tackle debt problems is head on.

Free counselling services from the likes of CCCS and Citizens Advice can help with budgeting and dealing with creditors.

Importantly, they can also conduct a welfare benefits check to make sure you are receiving the pension credit, housing and council tax benefits, attendance and disability living allowances you are entitled to.


The average UK pensioner household faces a £111,400 tax bill in retirement as increasing longevity means pensioners are living on average up to 19 years past the age of 65, according to figures from MetLife. And every year in retirement adds an extra £5,864 in direct and indirect taxes based on current tax rates to the costs for the average pensioner household. You can be forced to go bankrupt if you fail to pay your taxes, so it is vital to factor these costs into your retirement planning.It is also important to check that you are receiving all the benefits and tax breaks you are entitled to if you want to make the most of your retirement cash.

The cost of a room in a care home in many parts of the country is now over £30,000 a year, according to figures from Prestige Nursing and Care. So even if the prime minister announces a cap on care costs - last year the economist Andrew Dilnot called for a new system of funding which would mean that no one would pay more than £35,000 for lifetime care - families will still face huge accommodation costs. Ways to cut this cost include opting for home care rather than a care home. Jonathan Bruce, managing director of Prestige Nursing and Care, said: "For older people who may need care in the shorter term, home care is an option which allows people to maintain their independence for longer while living in their own home and should be included in the cap." However, the only other answer is to save more while you can.
Older Britons are often targeted by unscrupulous criminals - especially if they have a bit of money put away. For example, many over 50s were victims of the so-called courier scam that tricked into keying their pin numbers into their phones and handing their cards to "couriers" who visited their homes. It parted consumers from £1.5 million in under two years. Detective Chief Inspector Paul Barnard, head of the bank sponsored dedicated cheque and plastic crime unit (DCPCU), said: "Many of us feel confident that we can spot fraudsters, but this type of crime can be sophisticated and could happen to anyone." The same is true of boiler room scams that target wealthier Britons with money to invest, offering "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunities to snap up shares at bargain prices. Tactics to watch out for include cold calling, putting you under pressure to pay up or lose the opportunity for good, and claiming to have insider information that they are prepared to share with you.

He is a council tenant and lives in a three-bedroom bungalow. His stepdaughter , a university student called Rebecca, has a rare form of muscular dystrophy which she inherited from her mother Claire who died last year.

She lives in halls of residence during term time but returns home for the full summer vacation, at holiday periods and at weekends when she can. Mr Rourke uses the third bedroom, which is a box room measuring eight feet by nine feet, to store his equipment, including a hoist for lifting him, his power chair and his shower seat.

Mr Rourke is now £251 in rent arrears and fears "it can only get worse".

He said: "Even if I paid the £251 now, it would mount up again . I just can not afford to pay the extra. I can not pay the shortfall."

Mr Rourke's only income is from benefits. He gets £83.57 a week including a discretionary housing housing payment of £7.41.

Stricken by a range of illnesses including arthritis in the spine, sciatica, sleep apnea, diabetes and progressive deafness, he is not only unable to work but has found his day-to-day living costs are increased due to his disabilities. His progressive illnesses put an end to his work as a mechanic.

His rent is £101.54 a week. Bills automatically swallow up a large part of his income. This includes about £60 a week in fuel bills which helps to keep his adapted vehicle on the road so that he can attend doctors' appointments.

"By the time I have finished paying the fuel bills there is basically nothing. I am not overstating it but there have been times in the last year where I have had to go to food banks," he said.

"If they think I have oodles of money to splash around they are sadly mistaken.

"My stepdaughter comes here. This is her home and it is where her family lives. She has nowhere else to come home to.

"The people who have made this decision can not have a clue about what it is like to live on a budget."

Of the Government he said: "What did they do this for?

"It feels like they are taking money back from the most vulnerable people that they can, people who would not be expected to fight back and can least defend themselves."

He said he has contacted the council, lawyers and his local MP to try to find a way to resolve his situation.

10 consumer rights you should know
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Disabled widower's eviction fears

The law states that any goods you buy from a UK retailer should be of satisfactory quality, as described, fit for purpose and last a reasonable amount of time.

This applies even if you buy items in a sale or with a discount voucher. You may have to insist on these rights being respected, though.

Useful phrases to use when you want to show you mean business include, "according to the Sale of Goods Act 1979" and, if it's a service, "according to the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982".

Some shops will allow you to exchange goods without a receipt, but they can refuse to should they wish.

If the goods are faulty, however, another proof of purchase such as a bank statement should work just as well.

If you attempt to return goods within four weeks of the purchase, your chances of getting a full refund are much higher as you can argue that you have not "accepted" them.

After this point, you can only really expect an exchange, repair or part-refund.

The updated Consumer Credit Act states that card companies are jointly and severally liable for credit card purchases of between £100 and £60,260 (whether or not you paid just a deposit or the whole amount on your card).

Anyone spending between these amounts on their credit card is therefore protected if the retailer or service provider goes bust, their online shopping never arrives or the items in question are faulty or not as described.

Start by writing to the agency asking it to either remove or change the entry that you think is wrong. It will investigate the matter and find out whether you have been the victim of ID theft or a bank's mistake.

Within 28 days from receipt of your letter the agency should tell you how the bank has responded. If the bank agrees to change the entry, they will authorise the agency to update their records. They should also send updates to any other credit reference agencies they use.

You can also contact your lender directly to query a mistake. If the lender agrees to the discrepancy, ask them to confirm this in writing on their letterhead and send a copy to the agency, asking them to update your file.

The FOS settles disputes between financial companies such as banks and consumers.

If a financial organisation rejects a complaint you make about its services, you can therefore escalate that complaint to the FOS - as long as you have given the company in question at least eight weeks to respond.

The FOS will then investigate the case, and could force the company to offer you compensation should it see fit.

Bailiffs are allowed to take some of your belongings to sell on to cover certain debts, including unpaid Council Tax and parking fines.

They can, for example, take so-called luxury items such as TVs or games consoles. However, they cannot take essentials such as fridges or clothes.

What's more, they can only generally enter your home to take your stuff if you leave a door or window open or invite them in.

You are therefore within your rights to refuse them access and to ask for related documents such as proof of their identity. If they try to force their way in, you can also call the police to stop them.

Private sector debt collectors do not have the same powers as bailiffs, whatever they tell you.

They cannot, for example, enter your home and take your possessions in lieu of payment.

In fact, they can only write, phone, or visit your home to talk to you about paying back the debt. As with bailiffs, you can also call the police if you feel physically threatened.

Thanks to the Distance Selling Regulations, you actually have more rights buying online or by phone than on the High Street.

You can, for example, send most goods back within a week, for a full refund (including outward delivery costs), even if there's no fault.

You will usually need to pay for the return delivery, though. The seller must then refund you within 30 days.

We enter into contracts all the time, whether it be to join a gym, switch energy supplier or take out a loan.

In most cases, once you've signed a contract, you are legally bound by it. In some situations, however, you have the right to cancel it within a certain timeframe.

Credit agreements, for example, can be cancelled within 14 days. And online retailers must tell you about your cancellation rights for any contract made up to stand up legally.


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The vital lessons of celebrity divorce
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Disabled widower's eviction fears

Rupert and Anna Murdoch: $1.7billion (£901m)

Australian Murdoch and his former wife were married for 32 years and had three children together, before splitting in 1999. Around $1.7 billion of Murdoch's fortune went to Anna.

"The divorce rate is rising rapidly among the over-60s - up 58% in 2012 compared with 2011," explains Stowe. "According to reports at the time, Anna wanted her media tycoon husband to slow down – but like many people these days, Rupert didn't want to approach his sunset years sitting in an armchair. Over 60s want to enjoy themselves, making the most of what time they have left by doing what they love best."

Mel and Robyn Gibson: $425million (£273m)

Mel Gibson's 31-year marriage to Robyn felt apart when his mistress and soon-to-be second wife Oksana Grigorieva's pregnancy was made public. Robyn was entitled to half of his assets under California state law and the Lethal Weapon actor reportedly handed her half of his estimated $850 million fortune.

"Robyn's sizeable settlement included 50% of her movie star husband's pension rights," explains Stowe. "My male clients are often displeased to discover that financial negotiations extend to their pensions. They are also shocked to discover that, if the wife is younger than the husband, her claim to a share of the pension can potentially be greater than his because her life expectancy may be greater than his."

Roman and Irina Abramovich: $300 million (£193m)

Roman Abramovich reportedly finally agreed to divorce wife Irina when she could no longer put up with his roguish ways and he refused to give up his mistress. The £150 million payout could have been a lot more painful for the Chelsea FC owner - Irina sought 50% of his $12.1 billion fortune, which if successful would have been the largest divorce settlement of all time by a count of six.

"Most couples, whether or not they are in the public eye, prefer to avoid court and maintain their privacy," says Stowe. "Moreover court proceedings, which pit one party against the other in an adversarial environment, can be unpleasant and stressful. Although $300 million sounds like a lot, Irina Abramovich could have fought for a far greater share of the couple's fortune. By agreeing to settle for less, she was able to avoid an acrimonious court case – and all the public scrutiny that would have come with it."

Tiger Woods and Elin Nordegren: $110million (£70m)

Shamed by the sex scandal that wrecked their marriage, Swedish Nordgren got a reported $110 million settlement from her cheating ex, golf star Tiger Woods. When Nordegren finally ended nine months of silence over her heartbreak in August 2010, she said she "felt stupid" that Woods cheated on her with a parade of party girls and porn stars, and noted: "Money can't buy happiness. Or put my family back together."

"When the rich and famous divorce, the public want details: the juicier, the better," says Stowe. "However it is easy to get carried away by the sums and forget that, even for the most privileged among us, money is no balm for heartbreak."

Steven Spielberg and Amy Irving: $100million (£60m)

The couple, who first met when Irving tried out for the lead role in 1977's Close Encounters of the Third Kind, went onto marry in 1985. According to Celebritynetworth.com, when they divorced in 1989, Irving claimed their prenup was invalid because it was written on a napkin without any lawyers present. She successfully won a $100 million settlement.

"Don't assume that a prenuptial agreement isn't worth the paper it is written on: in England and Wales, pre-nups will certainly be considered by the court but are not yet automatically binding, " explains Stowe. "However a prenup is more likely to be upheld if it is consensual and voluntary, not signed in haste, not clearly out of date (providing for future children, for example), preferably including a review after a period of time, and properly drafted with full disclosure."

Madonna and Guy Ritchie: $76m-$92million (£48m-£59m)

When Madonna divorced director Guy Ritchie in 2008 after eight years of marriage, Ritchie was said to have walked away with between $76 to $92 million - almost a fifth of the singer's estimated $500 million net worth, plus a country house and a London pub.

"The settlement rumoured to have been received by Ritchie is thought to have been the largest divorce settlement ever paid to a man, showing that in 2013, it isn't always the wives who get the divorce settlements," explains Stowe. "In recent years I have encountered a number of successful female breadwinners who were bewildered to discover what they faced to lose if they divorced."

Sir Paul McCartney's and Heather Mills: estimated at $48.6million (£28million)

Following their divorce in 2006 Heather Mills was awarded £24.3m in the settlement decided by a court judge. According to the BBC, McCartney paid his estranged wife a £16.5m lump sum, including £2.5m to buy a London property, in addition to £7.8m assets and £35,000 a year for their daughter Beatrice. The settlement was blow for Mills who had sought some £125m of the former Beatle's £400m fortune.

"The demolition of family law legal aid, which provided help with legal costs, has led to a boom in people representing themselves in court," explains Stowe. "Heather Mills represented herself in the High Court – and discovered for herself the disadvantages of doing so.

"In the courtroom, there are no prisoners taken. You may think you are saving money by representing yourself or opting for a cheap DIY divorce online – but such decisions can turn out to be expensive in the long run if you settle for less than you are worth. "

Donald Trump and Ivana Trump; $25 million (£16m)

The Trumps 15-year marriage came to an end in 1992, with Ivana taking $25million in an out-of-court settlement, plus several properties. The couple's old Mercedes proved a major sticking point, which Ivana – who claimed Donald had given it to her as a gift – eventually won.

"I have often observed that clients who are knowledgeable and well-prepared, with a realistic outlook, are better equipped to cope with proceedings and move on with their lives afterwards," explains Stowe. "Ivana Trump has a refreshing attitude and since divorcing has gone on to enjoy considerable success of her own as a real estate developer and as the founder of Ivana Haute Couture, which sells her signature products, fragrances and accessories."

Lionel Richie and Diane Richie; estimated at $20 million (£12m)

Richie married Diane in 1995 and the couple had two children, before their marriage broke down in 2004. The Richie's became tabloid favourites, reports Forbes magazine, as Diane detailed their lavish lifestyle in her alimony petition. Among her claims: a monthly clothing allowance of $15,000; $50,000 a month for manicures, massages and other personal services; and a plastic surgery budget of $20,000 a year.

"Richie rubbished Diane's demand as "a lawyer giving some advice that's completely absurd", and insisted that despite the headlines, the couple still had a "great time" together," explains Stowe. "Perhaps he was right: the couple have remained on good terms and were spotted shoe-shopping together in 2011. It is difficult for a divorcing couple to stay friends, irrespective of the settlement size, but it can be done."

Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall; estimated between $15 and $25 million (£9.6m-£16m)

After nine years of marriage, Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall divorced with a $25 million settlement. According to Celebritynetworth.com, Jagger attempted to get out of any payment by claiming they had never really been married because their Balinese Hindu wedding ceremony was not legally binding.

"Their ceremony was invalid because under Balinese law, only Muslim marriages can be validly conducted," explains Stowe. "When a couple's marriage is not valid according to English law, it is still possible for one spouse to obtain a financial settlement – but only if the Petitioner spouse thought he or she had actually gone through a lawful marriage ceremony and acted as married thereafter. If you plan to marry overseas, however, do avoid Jerry Hall's plight by double-checking the law before you leave."

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