Q. About 12 families live in our small development. The houses are all close and one of our neighbours is planning to build another floor on to their house. The rest of us are all worried about the noise and disruption the building work will cause and we're also concerned that we'll be left with big bills for cleaning the dust and cement off our windows, walls and paintwork.
Apart from that, the house in question will be much bigger than the rest and look out of place. Some of us objected to the local council when the neighbour originally applied for planning permission, but we were ignored and we weren't successful in appealing.
However – we can still stop the building going ahead. Although planning permission has been granted, all the owners belong to the management company which owns the freehold of the flats and houses. The management company has to give written permission before the work goes ahead. There's a meeting coming up next month to discuss this. Do you think we should just say no?
Name and address withheld
A. Neighbour disputes are always difficult. What are you really objecting to? You have to be careful not to make unreasonable objections, and unreasonable is hard to define. Mind you, your neighbour shouldn't be unreasonable either.
You need to think this through carefully, and if you are determined to object, make sure you're on solid ground – take advice from a solicitor with specialist knowledge of property and planning. If there are a dozen of you involved, you could split the cost and even pay for an experienced solicitor to be at the meeting. Someone in the group may already have a solicitor who is up to the job.
It might be reasonable to refuse permission for the extra floor to be built if, in some way, you would lose out financially because of it. But it would have to a significant loss. Could it cause the value of your homes to go down? But also consider that having a bigger house on the development might attract buyers with more money and push up the desirability of the development?
Even if the extra storey would cut out some of your light, that's not likely to be a good enough reason to withhold permission. If you're just worried that the months of work will be inconvenient, that may not be enough of a reason to say no either. What will this cost you? If there are likely to be cleaning bills, calculate how much they'll cost each neighbour. You could ask at the meeting that the person who wants the extension pays for those expenses and pays for any other cleaning around the development that needs doing to restore it to its original condition after the builders have left. When it comes to noise and disruption, usually builders can only work between 8am and 6pm, Mondays to Fridays and between 8am and 1pm on Saturdays, but check what your local authority by-laws say.
If you do withhold permission, your neighbour may take the view that it's unreasonable and take court action. That leaves everyone facing court and lawyers' fees, which you want to avoid if at all possible.
The most important thing is not to ruin good neighbourly relationships. You all have to go on living together, run the management company and agree how to resolve any future problems that crop up. Don't forget that, if you decide to sell, you'd have to let any potential buyer know if you were in dispute with your neighbour. Go to the meeting well-informed and with your objections – but have suggestions as to how the objections can be surmounted. It might be possible to negotiate that work starts later and finishes earlier and never on a Saturday, for instance. Good legal advice now may save you a lot of money in the long run.
Q. I've been off work for the past six weeks after a serious operation and the doctor says I won't be ready to go back for another month or maybe two. My boss has been OK about it up until now, but yesterday he called and told me that he'd stop my wages if I'm not back to work by the beginning of May. Can he do that? I'm worried I won't be able to pay the bills.
A. Without seeing your written terms and conditions of employment, it's hard to know exactly what your entitlement to sick pay is. At the very least, you are likely to be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP – the minimum amount set by the Government), but employers can be more generous.
If your employer has paid your full wages until now and is willing to carry on for another two weeks, he is being more generous than the law requires. The details of his company sick pay scheme should be in your contract. You should have a copy and that may tell you what you need to know.
Some employers pay only the SSP set down by the Government. Some pay full wages for the first few weeks of illness and then reduce it to half-pay or right down to the SSP level. My guess is that when your boss said he'd stop your pay what he meant was that your contract allows for you to get full pay for the first eight weeks of illness and after that it drops to the SSP level.
There are rules about who can and can't qualify for SSP sick pay, but if you're an employee rather than working on a self-employed basis, earn more than the lower earnings limit, which is £97 from 6 April 2010, and haven't already had 28 weeks of SSP from your employer in the past three years, you're likely to qualify. That means that you will go on getting £79.15 a week for the rest of the time you're off as long as that doesn't exceed 28 weeks. The money will be paid to you by your employer.
That may not sound like good news. Most of us spend what we earn, so it's likely that your bills and spending comes to more than £79 a week. Whether you are entitled to additional help in paying for mortgage interest, rent or council tax depends on whether you have a partner who is earning, how much in total is coming into the household and how many children you have.
If, for some reason, you aren't entitled to SSP, or you are still unable to work when the 28 weeks are up, you may be able to claim Employment and Support Allowance.
My suggestion is to make an appointment to see an adviser at your nearest advice centre such as the Citizens Advice Bureau. If you're not well enough to go, perhaps your partner could go, taking all the paper work, including your work contract. Failing that, you might be able to arrange for a home visit. You'll find details of advice centres in your phone book.
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Write to Julian Knight at the Independent on Sunday, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5HF firstname.lastname@example.org