Sunday, 30 June 2013

Now moved in

I moved in on Thursday 27-June-13 and was greeted by the builder with a bunch of lovely lilies and a bottle of champagne (did I pay him too much I wonder?!).

The house is delightful but there's a lot of work to do in settling in and there's a few things the builder needs to finish off but nothing urgent.

There's only been two really challenging things happen - my new bed won't go up the stairs no matter which way we tried so at the moment I am sleeping on the mattress which is the essence of a good bed I think and my chest of drawers didn't make it up the stairs either - may be i can dismantle them a bit further and see if they will go.  At the moment they are in the sitting room which is a bit of a nuisance but it is not a huge priority at the moment.

My friend Sue (who lives in Tenby) came, along with her friend Tony, to take me out to lunch on the Friday - that was lovely and gave me something different to look forward to.  We went to the Navigation just below the Stoke Bruerne top lock which I enjoyed.

For the time being I seem to be going up and down the stairs most of the day!

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

VAT and other taxes

The following is the text of a letter I have sent to my MP concerning VAT and other taxes I have had to pay on this house. I think it is sell explanatory! I await a response with interest.

Andrea Leadsom
MP South Northamptonshire
House of Commons

I write to you as a new constituent having recently moved from Brookwood (Woking) to Stoke Bruerne (NN12 7SE). My concern is the VAT levied on me to bring a house back to a habitable status and other taxes.  I believe that I have brought a house back into the useful housing stock of the UK and at the same time left my previous house in good order and condition and now occupied by a young couple.

The house I have bought was described as being empty, unfurnished and unoccupied and as such attracted, at the time of purchase, a zero rating as regards Council Tax. Of course that ended on 01-April due to Government legislation and for some reason, unclear to me, I had to pay the full rate of Council Tax for the period 26-April (date of purchase) until date of occupancy (27-June).  I am entitled to the single person discount (25%) only from the date of occupancy despite the house remaining empty, unfurnished and unoccupied.  In the meantime I have had to find alternative accommodation.

I have undertaken some research and am aware that a listed building is entitled to some exemptions but I find the HMRC Notice 708 so complicated that after reading and re-reading it I find I am none the wiser and I regard myself as being of reasonable intelligence.  Likewise a new build is seemingly zero rated for VAT (again the HMRC notice is complex) but bringing back into use an old (1848 I believe) house which remained empty, unfurnished and unoccupied, is in a conservation area and is, according to the South Northamptonshire Council website subject to an Article 4(2) designation (no permitted development) subject to VAT at 20% on all work seems to me to be an omission on behalf of the Government and, in my opinion, grossly unfair.

The structural report I had commissioned on the house in Stoke Bruerne indicated that the house was structurally sound, had a contaminated water supply and I, along with friends in the industry; believe required complete renovation to bring it up to an acceptable standard.  I was surprised that there was no form of relief, from any source, for me to bring the house back to a habitable standard and back into the housing stock of the country whilst of course retaining the historical aspects of the house especially as regards the frontage onto the Grand Union Canal.

The work required included:
  • Complete renovation of the three canal facing windows whilst maintaining the historical aspect of the house
  • Replacement of the front and rear doors whilst retaining the historical aspect
  • Installing new cost effective heating
  • Replacement of the outdated kitchen
  • Complete renovation of the bathroom - the floor was unsafe amongst other issues
My accounts show that I paid the following amounts in VAT and other taxes
  • Windows (VAT) £640
  • Recarpeting (VAT) £400
  • Bringing the house back to a habitable standard (VAT) £8,300
  • Additional Council Tax for the period not occupied by me (due to building works) 26-April-13 to 27-June-13 £100
This is my only house, it is not a buy-to-let or any other form of investment, I am not a developer and it is my intention to remain in the house for the foreseeable future. I do not intend to sell the house or make it available for rent.

At a time when it is well known that the country is short of housing I am uncomfortable that there is no process to claim some kind of rebate against the swingeing VAT (20%) imposed on all aspects of bringing this house back to a habitable status.  I wouldn't expect a zero rating for work such as this (although new houses are zero rated) as I have undoubtedly improved the accommodation but I believe there should be avenues to claim a lower rating of VAT for the principle of bringing a house back into the usable stock of the country.  And as for the refusal of my local Council to grant the 25% single occupancy discount from day one of my ownership - I am lost for words on the way this is allowed.

I have paid Stamp Duty on the purchase but have also been taxed, unfairly in my opinion, on work required to bring the house back to a habitable standard to the extent of approximately £10,000 for which the Government has done nothing other than to add it to their coffers.

I would appreciate your views as to why I have been taxed, again in my opinion, so harshly when listed buildings and new builds are seemingly able to obtain substantial relief.

If you are in the Stoke Bruerne area I would welcome the opportunity to meet you.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Firm Date to move in

I now have a firm date to move into my 'new' house.  Thursday 27-June.  Yes I know it is about three weeks later than the original estimate but the spring has been very wet and apparently the new plaster (especially where it is thicker) has taken a very long time to dry out sufficiently to allow it to be painted.

I am looking forward to it with nervous anticipation.  I am concerned mainly that my bed will go up the stairs - it does break into two pieces which are about 3'3" x 4' so it should.  My friend Sue, who will be staying with a friend of hers, Tony, in Buckingham, has said she will try her best to visit on the Friday - I may well need it but do hope so much she can visit.

In the meantime I have to sort out the van (done), sort out the storage company (I think that's done although they keep sending me bills which I don't owe), sign to say the storage is empty and then get myself to Stoke Bruerne in time for the removers to be able to have unfettered access.

Almost all too much but I expect it will be OK on the day - I sincerely hope so.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

A visit to the new house

The bathroom looks so
much better
I chose Saturday as it appeared to be the best day of the weekend and I wanted to see what Stoke Bruerne was like during a festival.  Well it wasn't the best day of the weekend so I am not sure if the crowds were representative or not.

Progress continues and the painting is going ahead at pace.

The bathroom was probably the worst room in the house but it now looks lovely (even though not finished) but the shower tray and loo are in place and it seems as if there is going to be plenty of room.  I had to make a quick decision on the phone about whether the tiles should be horizontal or vertical.  I chose horizontal (also known as 'brick' pattern) and pleased I did as it appears to be very pleasing to the eye and meets with the approval of the tradesmen.
The dark line on the ceiling
was where the wall/door was

The kitchen looks like a bomb has gone off in it but I am sure it will tidy up very quickly.  The removal of the door and wall at the bottom of the stairs has been a huge improvement.  I would have liked the stairs to come down and finish by the front door but there was a problem with headroom.  It looks so much better than it did and seems to have so much more room.  I have been thinking about a table for the kitchen and rather liked the idea of one with a glass top - I saw one last night in the Pelican at Addlestone and now know I don't want one with a glass top - it was messy (despite the best efforts of the staff to keep in clean) and showed numerous scratches.

The wall between the bathroom and No1 bedroom has been replaced (it was just two bits of hardboard) and no further work has been undertaken to bedroom No1.

The loo will be behind the
workman's stool
Bedroom No2 is one floor up and in place of the old wardrobe a stud wall has been erected over half the width and behind that will go a handbasin and a loo - just so that whoever sleeps in there doesn't need to go downstairs in the middle of the night.

The carpet (for the bedrooms and stairs) has been ordered and will go in soon.

I enjoyed the festival but found the boats difficult to view but I don't suppose the gusty showers helped.

I have made arrangements to have my furniture moved in on Thursday 27-June.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

A visit to the new house

The kitchen (which is below the towpath level) is
taking shape
I paid a visit to the new house in Stoke Bruerne today and had the lovely company of my friend Brian (Orion's Wey).

Progress is amazing with the bottom two floors tiled, the kitchen well on the way to being installed, the bathroom completely different (and so much better).

Unfortunately the suggested date of 21-June is no longer achievable due to delivery issues with some of the bits and pieces needed for the new house - I am told this is quite common practice in the current economic climate so we have agreed on 26-June as the 'handover' date.

The waterway was full of boats with Russell Newbery engines (still there from the previous weekend) and some lovely historic boats ready for the coming weekend which is the 50th Anniversary of the opening of the Canal Museum.  I think I may well go up to the house again on Saturday to see what a 'full' Stoke Bruerne (boats and people) is really like.

Added 12-June-13 - Sod's law of course means that the company whom I contracted to move my furniture can't manage 26-June-13 so I am moving in on 27-June-13 but to be optimistic that's a fortnight tomorrow and as my friends Rodney and Valerie say - a few days at this stage is nothing.  I know they are right but it's not easy!

Thursday, 6 June 2013

A slight delay

A phone call from the builder (Tom) this morning asking if I could delay my visit (planned for Friday 7-June) until Tuesday 11-June as it would slow up progress on the house if the Friday visit went ahead.  I had hoped to see a bit of the Russell Newbery Register weekend but the progress on the house is important and I think it would have been a bit selfish of me to insist on visiting on Friday so I shall content myself with a quiet day at Walsham Gates on a delightful mooring.

I believe we are still 'on' for 21-June and I don't wish to compromise that date in any way.  I am sure there will be plenty of time to enjoy the events that happen in Stoke Bruerne in the future.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013


It was just a phone from my friends Mick and Suzanne Wilson who were moored in Stoke Bruerne on their narrowboat Aqua Vitae in which it was mentioned that there was a cottage for sale adjacent to the top lock.  I had a wee look on the internet and made an arrangement to go and see it.  I had been living in Brookwood in Surrey on the edge of the Basingstoke Canal for some 22 years as it indulged my interests in inland waterways and it was close to my work (BA at London Heathrow).

To cut the story short I managed to sell my house in Brookwood and agree a mutually acceptable price for the cottage in Stoke Bruerne.  I engaged builders to undertake repairs and, despite some worries in the small hours of the morning on occasions, Tom and his builders are on target to complete the work by 21-June-13.

My background is that I was born and brought up in New Zealand but have been in this country working for British Airways since 1977 where I looked after all their operational data - data created by virtue of operating aeroplanes.  I retired in August-2010 and have been enjoying life since then.  I have a narrowboat - Leo No2 - which I will move to Blisworth in the autumn - it is currently on the delightful River Wey.