Q. The sale of my flat has just fallen through for the second time. The buyer pulled out because her own sale fell through.
As a result I've had to pull out of the place I wanted to buy. I wanted somewhere less expensive so I could clear my growing debts. The worst thing is that I have had to pay for yet another survey and another set of solicitor's fees with nothing to show for it. That's eating into the amount I will have left after the sale so the debts are piling up while the kitty to clear them is being used up. Is there anything I can do to stop this happening a third time?
A. An option is to go for a lock-in agreement. It might be called a lock-out, a preliminary or an exclusivity agreement. Your solicitor will know what you mean if you explain what you want. Put simply, it commits you and your buyer to exchange on the sale/ purchase within a certain time (maybe two or three weeks) of receiving the contract. You agree not to show the flat to any other potential buyers for an agreed period of time, so that the buyer has the reassurance that you aren't going to look for a higher price. If the buyer pulls out or tries to reduce the price during that period, without a good reason, he or she has to pay whatever the agreed amount is – usually a small percentage of the selling price.
You do have to agree in advance every circumstance that will constitute a good reason for pulling out or reducing the price. The most likely reason would be if the survey throws up problems with the flat, but you might agree that either side could pull out without paying the penalty if a close relative died or the buyer lost his or her job. All of those details are agreed in advance. You will, of course, be adding the cost of drawing up the agreement to your legal fees, but, after experiencing this situation twice, I imagine you want peace of mind.
Some solicitors aren't happy to draw up these kinds of documents because they aren't very common and so they haven't used them before. If that's the case, shop around for another solicitor who can help.
In the meantime, as properties aren't selling very quickly in some parts of the UK, you need to get a grip on your finances. It could be months before you find another buyer, so you could be waiting for quite a while for that kitty you are relying on. If you are missing payments or letting the bills pile up, your credit rating could be damaged. If you need help to sort yourself out, ask a local advice agency.
Could you take in a lodger for a while to ease the financial situation? You can have up to £4,250 a year tax free under the rent-a-room scheme.
Q. My son has just given up his university course. He wasn't happy at the end of his first year, but as soon as he started back in October it became apparent that the course really isn't right for him. We've been supportive but he's back home and seems to have no idea what he wants to do. We have two other children who are still at school and having our son back is putting pressure on our overstretched budget. We really can't afford to keep him but there are no jobs in our area. Is there any help he can get while he sorts out what to do next?
A. He will be able to sign on for jobseeker's allowance as he's over 18, resident in the UK, not in full-time education, not working more than 16 hours a week and not living with a partner who is working more than 24 hours a week. He should make an appointment with the nearest Jobcentre Plus. He will probably get the minimum amount as he's unlikely to have paid national insurance (NI) contributions over the past couple of years.
There are two types of jobseeker's allowance. Contribution-based jobseeker's allowance isn't means tested but depends on the correct NI contributions having been paid in the past. Income-based jobseeker's allowance is for people who haven't paid NI but it's means tested and payable only to people who don't already have too much other income or savings. The adviser at the Jobcentre will be able to work out which benefit your son will be entitled to and I'd guess it will be income-based jobseeker's allowance.
There may be a question over what date he became eligible to claim benefit because he left his course. He will also have to prove to the Jobcentre advisers that he is actively seeking work. That means applying for jobs he sees advertised and handing out CVs to local businesses. Job-hunting can be a full-time job in itself and you're expected not to be too choosy about what you do. You will find more information at direct.gov.uk.