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Council apology after homes fiasco

PUBLISHED: 17:32 31 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:29 30 June 2010

County council chiefs have apologised after a holiday homes plan backed by the authority turned into a “fiasco”, leaving vulnerable adults thousands of pounds out of pocket.

County council chiefs have apologised after a holiday homes plan backed by the authority turned into a “fiasco”, leaving vulnerable adults thousands of pounds out of pocket.

Norfolk County Council issued a public apology after parents demanded to know why a group of people with learning difficulties from Sprowston who pooled their own money to buy two chalets on the Norfolk coast have still not received their promised share of the proceeds from their sale nearly four years ago.

Tony Mandall-Hall, whose son Gary, 47, is among them, said: “The whole thing is a fiasco. Why has this been dragging on as long as it has? When are they going to sort it out?”

His son is among a number of people living together in supervised accommodation who clubbed together 11 years ago to buy two adjacent chalets at Sunbeach Holiday Village, California, near Great Yarmouth.

The purchase, overseen by the council's social services department, was intended to provide a local base for holidays and short breaks.

When the chalets were finally sold in 2006 all the people who contributed were supposed to get a share of the proceeds, but many have still not received their money.

Mr Mandall-Hall, 70, of Horsford, said he initially thought buying the chalets was a good idea but began to have doubts when he discovered his son had visited just twice and was refusing to stay there.

“My biggest complaint is the properties have been sold since 2006 and from 2007 we have been told that the money was going to be distributed between those that had contributed,” he added.

“The money's been hanging round somewhere. There's a mountain of paperwork about it but there's never been a conclusion. It's a scandal that is has been allowed to fester. It's not a case of anyone being on the fiddle - I don't think that for one minute - but it is a total mess.

“If I don't speak up for Gary and others like him what chance have they got?”

The purchase and sale prices are not known, but the Sprowston tenants are understood to have contributed amounts ranging from several hundred pounds to £2,000. Similar chalets are currently on the market for between £15,000 and £20,000 each.

Family friend Joe Tohill, 68, of Spixworth, a retired senior nurse teacher specialising in learning disabilities, said: “The professionals ought to have known the consequences of even suggesting this. The decision went against the basic philosophy of care at the time, which was that people should have been allowed to take holidays independently, rather than being taken somewhere en masse.

“It beggars belief that the project would have been undertaken at that time. It would have been loaded with difficulties, both in terms of the management of the chalets and how they would be sold in the future.”

Another parent, who asked not to be identified, said their child and other tenants also had to pay to furnish, maintain and renovate the chalets.

“There were complaints and they were told to get them done up. All the electrics had to be done and the fascias had to be replaced. They were a bad buy,” said the parent, who understood their child had received a share of the sale proceeds.

“I want to know what the hell is going on. Have they got the money or haven't they? This should have been over and done with years ago.”

James Bullion, assistant director (community care) at Norfolk Adult Social Services, said in a statement: “We understand the frustration of the tenants and relatives and we apologise for the unacceptable length of time it has taken to access the proceeds from the sale of these chalets.

“In an effort to be helpful, we agreed to support a group of vulnerable tenants in 1999 who asked for our help with the financial and legal aspects of buying a holiday home.

“At the time, it was a ground-breaking idea for people with learning difficulties to have this much control over their own finances and the freedom to enjoy many happy holidays, whenever they wanted. Unfortunately, this has proved to be a very complex arrangement, particularly following the sale of the chalets.

“The main cause of the delay has been around changing the named signatories - both tenants at the time of the purchase - on the account holding the money.

“Cheques were issued some time ago, but unfortunately, because they were not signed by both signatories, many people's banks refused to cash them. This process has been further delayed by a number of staff and management changes.

“However, we would like to reassure tenants that their money is quite safe and held in an account that only they can access. We are now arranging, through an independent solicitor, for a new signatory to be added to the account.

“As soon as this is done, the money can be distributed, proportionate to the person's original share, with any interest made added on.

“Should a similar situation arise now or in the future, we would still respect tenants' wishes, but we would support them to find independent legal and financial advice.”


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