THOUSANDS of Bolton homeowners have been affected by the leasehold scandal. Now BRAD MARSHALL reports on one woman’s legal fight back.

DUBBED the next misselling scandal, increasing leaseholds have left thousands of people in Bolton trapped in a living nightmare.

Now one Bolton homeowner and leasehold scandal campaigner has launched legal action to fight back against the spiralling crisis.

Jo Darbyshire, who lives on the Silver Birches estate in Lostock, yesterday launched a bold legal action against the conveyancing firm who advised her when purchasing her house.

In December 2010, Ms Darbyshire bought what she thought would be her family’s “forever home”, where she lives with her husband Mark and two children, Adam and Heather.

But when choosing a solicitor to advise her and carry out the necessary searches, she followed the recommendation of the housebuilder, Taylor Wimpey.

Ms Darbyshire says that the full implications of the seemingly “innocent looking agreement” were never explained to her by her solicitor.

It was only when a neighbour’s attempt to sell their home fell through that the reality of her situation came to light.

The leasehold which Ms Darbyshire was signed left her with an onerous ground rent clause, rendering her home essentially unmortgageable and unsellable, she says.

She can also be charged and must seek permission for any alterations made to her home.

Further, less than a year after moving in, the leasehold on her home was sold and the new landlord told them it would cost tens of thousands of pounds to buy it outright ­— charging them more than £100 just for supplying that information.

Ms Darbyshire said: “The leasehold scandal is having huge financial and emotional impacts on hard-working families.

“Ultimately, I feel that I was mis-sold my home, and that the conveyancing solicitor that Taylor Wimpey recommended I should use failed to ensure that I was aware of vital information that would have been material to my decision making with regards to the purchase.”

Two years ago, in a bid to end the crisis, she founded the National Leasehold Campaign ­— an organisation which now has more than 12,500 members and works across the country to keep homeowners and prospective buyers informed.

It also lobbies Parliament and collaborates with MPs, including recently giving evidence at select committee meetings.

However, yesterday she took the bold step to instruct professional negligence lawyers at law firm Simpson Millar to investigate why more was not done to protect her.

According to the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership, as many as 100,000 homes have onerous lease terms, and Ms Darbyshire falls into a wider trend of people who discover too late that they are obliged to pay the inflated ground rents, or feel they were poorly advised when purchasing their home.

A recent survey conducted by NAEA Propertymark suggests almost six in 10 leaseholders didn’t understand what being a leaseholder meant until they had already purchased the property, and more than nine in 10 people regretted buying a leasehold property at all.

Ms Darbyshire’s lawyer, Robert Godfrey, partner and head of Simpson Millar’s professional negligence team, said: “As part of the leasehold terms on Jo’s property there were a number of very complex and somewhat sinister terms.

“Her ground rent was scheduled to double every 10 years, she needed to seek permission to carry out any kind of alterations on the property which comes with an associated fee, and, perhaps most worryingly, the freehold could be sold on to a third party at any time. Indeed, that’s exactly what happened to Jo, and having been told initially by the sales advisor that she could buy her freehold at any time for a fixed cost of circa £5,000, it has transpired that the cost to make such a purchase is in fact now circa £30,000.

READ MORE: Solicitor sets up dedicated legal team for leasehold scandal

“Needless to say, that is going to make a future sale incredibly difficult to secure, as her neighbours have discovered. Many mortgage lenders are tightening lending criteria and will not lend on properties where the ground rent doubles more frequently than every 20 years.

“A lease is a very complex document which needs to be carefully and simply explained to clients.”

Taylor Wimpey said it has introduced a scheme to help customers who purchased and still own homes which have a lease with a 10-year doubling ground rent clause. The company says when concerns with this lease term were raised, it undertook a review of historic leasehold structures.

It then launched a voluntary help scheme in April, 2017, specifically aimed at customers’ concerns around affordability and mortgageability on properties with 10-year doubling ground rent clauses, and are now offering such customers the option to convert their terms to a structure based on the Retail Price Index ­— a measure of inflation.

READ MORE: The leasehold scandal: What does it mean?

Taylor Wimpey also said it will cover the cost to those making the switch, and has set aside £130 million to cover the conversion costs.

A spokesman said: “The leases we used were clear and all our customers received independent professional legal advice from regulated legal firms when purchasing their property and signing their leases.

“We would expect all solicitors and legal practitioners to explain all aspects of the transaction, including the ownership structure of a property and any rent reviews to their clients.

“Like most major developers, we have a panel of independent legal firms that we generally make available to customers to use for their purchase, but only if they wish. All lawyers on this panel are completely independent of Taylor Wimpey.”