FAMILIES who face losing their homes as the Crown Estate sells off its rural properties hope to take their campaign to the Government in an attempt to buy more time.
Some 45 cottages and farmhouses in Somerset are being sold off by the Estate and, in the majority of cases, tenants have been given between two and four months to either buy their homes or move out, sometimes after decades of living there.
Representatives who met the Estate for talks were led to believe ALL 166 homes owned by the Crown in the county would be sold-off eventually as the commissioners who run the estate for the Treasury change the portfolio.
Now, members of the tenants’ action group Forced Out hope to present their case to ministers.
Rebecca Pow, prospective parliamentary candidate for Taunton, Deane who is supporting the tenants’ case, said: “I have already written personally to the Chancellor to raise the plight of the tenants with him and I have also raised it with the Treasury with a view to following it up.”
Mark Kemp, who lives in a Crown farmhouse in Staple Fitzpaine, said: “At our meeting with Neil Jacobson of the Estate, we were told all 700 rural homes they own would be sold off.
"He said he didn’t want us to leave with any sense of optimism but he also said they would consider giving six months’ notice in cases of hardship.
“Well, in my book, being told to leave the home you have been actively encouraged to treat as your own, improved and maintained, where you keep animals and play a part in the local rural community and face being forced to move into local authority housing in town away from your friends and neighbours – that’s hardship.”
Mark’s wife, Debbie, said: “They seem to have forgotten that we all had to be interviewed to be given tenancies.
“We had to say what rent we would be prepared to pay and what we would bring to the community as a family. They were keen to bring young families in and they even wanted to see the children as part of the interview process, to see us functioning as a family.
“Now they are kicking those same families out.”
Forced Out is asking the Crown Estate to give them up to two years to explore all possible options, including working with Taunton Deane Council, housing associations, potential investors and even looking at having the homes registered as a community asset.
Debbie said: “We aren’t stupid. We know the Crown Estate is a commercial entity which exists to make money.
"They have a moral obligation to us as people, as tenants who have done nothing wrong, to treat us with respect and in a humane way.
“We just need time to come to terms with what his happening and to reorganise our lives. If the Estate has changed its remit, it should be transparent about that and deal with us fairly.”
The County Gazette put the following questions to The Crown Estate:
- Can you confirm that the intention is to sell all its county properties eventually?
- What is the timescale for selling them all off?
- What is your response to the tenants’ request that they be given 12 months to two years to enable them to explore all avenues including finding an investor to buy their homes, or finding more appropriate alternative accommodation?
- You have been accused of failing to fulfil your moral obligation to your tenants by district and county councillors. How do you respond to that?
Ken Jones, director of rural and coastal portfolio at The Crown Estate said: “Parliament established The Crown Estate as an independent business, with a clear commercial remit to benefit the nation’s finances.
“While many tenants are understandably upset by the news that notice is being served on their occupation, there are also numerous instances where families have been keen to take up our offer for them to buy the property they have been living in.
“Conscious that many cannot afford to buy, we have gone well beyond the statutory two month notice periods for market rented properties such as these, with the vast majority of notices being served on a four to six month basis.
“We have also asked that tenants continue to talk to us and made clear that if there are cases of particular hardship, we are willing to be flexible in our approach.”
The Crown Estate added: “It is not proposing to sell all of the direct let residential property under its ownership.
“However, it is progressing a strategy to reduce its exposure to this type of residential property on its rural portfolio.
“The Crown Estate regularly reviews its portfolio to determine where further sales and acquisitions can help it to meet its commercial objectives.”