Jane and Richard Hudson say they feel they have been robbed
As the credit crunch bites some people who can't pay their mortgages are turning to sale and rent back schemes.
But there are fears that they have little protection against unscrupulous operators.
The schemes give struggling homeowners the chance to sell their houses to a company and then rent them back.
It's a growing business with some 2,000 schemes in the UK - but for some it has not turned out to be the lifeline they had hoped.
One such couple are Jane and Richard Hudson. When they fell behind with mortgage payments early last year they asked their local council for advice.
Among the options discussed, Basildon Housing Department suggested sale and rent back and handed Jane a leaflet for a company called Home Assured.
Within days of contacting them, the paperwork had been done - and for the Hudsons the deal sounded so simple.
"You just get a phone call saying, 'I'm going to buy the house. We're going to buy it for this amount of money, is that agreeable?'" Mrs Hudson said.
"Of course it was - someone was willing to buy our house and let us stay on as tenants."
But things went badly wrong and before the end of their initial 12 month lease, the company wanted them out.
Home Assured had already taken more than £19,000 in fees. It also kept a further £20,000 of the family's equity on deposit - money they are still waiting to get back.
The Hudsons, with their five children, are now squeezed into rented accommodation, having lost their home of 13 years.
"They robbed me, they've robbed my kids and they've knocked my confidence," Mrs Hudson said.
She had this advice for other homeowners: "Anyone who's considering doing this sale and rent back - I would say don't do it. Just don't do it or you'll lose out."
With mortgage arrears on the rise, more and more people like the Hudsons are being tempted into what seems like a quick fix.
And while it may be the right option for some, there's growing concern that vulnerable homeowners are being misled.
Advice to homeowners
There are dozens of sale and rent back companies advertising online and it is a completely unregulated business.
What they offer isn't illegal, but many believe customers aren't being given the full picture.
The industry body representing regulated equity release schemes has been compiling a host of advertising material which it wants Trading Standards to investigate.
Andrea Rozario, from Safe Home Income Plans (SHIP), says the sale and rent back sector needs to clean up its act.
"Whilst there may be some ethical companies out there, there is an awful lot of companies that are springing up that have no real idea how to portray the risks to customers," she said.
"They can say what they like and print what they like."
SHIP has produced a list of recommendations for homeowners considering a sale and rent back scheme.
The do's include:
- Speak with your lender if you are having problems meeting your monthly re payments
- Talk to an organisation such as the Citizen's Advice Bureau or the National Debt Helpline
- Consider other alternatives such as trading down, family help, renting a room or any savings or policies you could use first
- If sale and rent back is feasible, do consult your family about your intentions
- Speak with a qualified financial adviser who will discuss your options with you
- Get independent legal advice
The don'ts are:
- Don't be put under pressure. Speak with the companies you owe money to sooner rather than later
- Don't forget that the monthly rent is a commitment you may not be able to keep up, and that the amount of rent is likely to increase in the future
- There is no guarantee you will get housing benefit to cover the rental cost, no matter what the company tells you
The man who appears on the Hudsons' lease is Philip Hope, but the BBC was unable to reach him for comment.
Trading Standards in Reading are now investigating Home Assured and have received complaints from 10 other people who have lost their homes.
Basildon Council admitted giving the Hudsons a leaflet about Home Assured, but insisted that it was intended to highlight sell-to-rent generally - not the company itself - as one of the many options open to people at risk of being made homeless.
"All our records suggest this was an isolated case, and at no point has the council actively recommended Home Assured Ltd or distributed any material on its behalf," it said in a statement.
The Office of Fair Trading is looking into the sale and rent back sector and is due to publish its findings soon.
If you have had any problems with Home Assured or with other sale and rent back companies, then please post your comments below.
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