Couple forced to leave family farm by sky-high interest on debts

Sarah Coles

Mary and Alum Williams are dedicated lamb and beef farmers, and until this week were the owners of a Snowdonia farm that had been passed down through five generations of the same family. However all that changed yesterday, when a court ruled they would have to hand the farm over to a loans company.

The BBC reported that family has worked Rhyngddwyafon Farm in Snowdonia National Park for a century. The couple ran the farm with their two sons, and all four of them now face uncertainty over the future of their jobs, as well as losing their home.

According to The Daily Mail, the couple said they were advised to take a commercial bridging loan to cover their £1.24 million mortgage about four years ago. They were told that rates would start at up to 22% but then would fall back to around 4%. However, when the rate failed to fall, their loan mushroomed from £1.24 million to £3.1 million because of fees, interest and other charges.

When they were unable to pay their debts, the loan company, UK Acorn Finance, took them to court to repossess the property. Last July the court ruled that their home would be repossessed, and yesterday, another judge said that they could not appeal the decision - and would have to give up the farm.

Is this fair?

This kind of lending is not regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, and Elfyn Llwyd, a Plaid Cymru MP and barrister told the Daily Mail that a number of farmers had found themselves caught out in exactly the same way.

Last April BBC Radio 4's Face the Facts heard from two farmers in Devon, one in North Wales and another in Cornwall. All had turned to UK Acorn Finance for what they thought would be a short-term high interest loan followed by a cheaper long-term loan. All were caught out by the fact there was no long-term low interest loan - and faced repossession.

UK Acorn Finance told the programme at the time that: "UK Acorn Finance did not offer long term finance and did not promise to do so. None of the companies involved, nor Mr Phillips, offered advice to any clients in relation to any matter. The strict requirement of UK Acorn Finance was at all times for borrowers to provide their own repayment proposals which would deal with the exit from the lending, before we were prepared to lend. Borrowers were required to have independent advice in connection with this."

The Daily Mail said the Financial Conduct Authority, the Solicitors Regulation Authority and the Government are scrutinising Acorn's activities. However, this is unlikely to come as any comfort to the Williams family.

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