Wood, a long-standing activist with the Campaign Against Retirement Leasehold Exploitation (Carlex), argued that as the fee was for a service that was not carried out – ostensibly to vet the capability of the flat’s purchaser for “independent living” – she should receive the money back.
Exit fees have long been a source of controversy in retirement leasehold. The Office of Fair Trading believe them to be unfair, but has not ruled against them, and McCarthy and Stone, which included them in its leases for years, now declines to enforce them (although as it has sold almost all its freeholds this is of little practical importance).
The issue was heard on January 2 in the small claims division of Sheffield County Court, but Fairhold, a freehold owning company within the Tchenguiz Family Trust, was taking no chances.
Barrister Paul Letman was sent up from London to fight the case, which may have cost many times more than the sum disputed.
Wood gave a polished outline of her case, which rested on the simple point that she had been charged for something that had not, in fact, been done. Only if this argument failed did she ask the court to rule that the transfer fee represented an “unfair term” under consumer contract legislation.
But Letman successfully argued on points of law that the lease did not say that the transfer fee was a fee for a service, nor did this represent an unfair contract term.