Despite the assertion by HS2 that applicants to the Need to Sell scheme ‘do not need to appoint professional representatives to help with your application’ because the application process has been designed so that ‘you do not need anyone to act on your behalf’, our experience has been quite the reverse. Our HS2 advisory team has been handling a range of applications for compensation for land and property owners, including Need to Sell (NTS) applications, for several years now and our evidence is that none of the application processes are straightforward.
Helpfully, HS2 does issue statistics on how successful Need to Sell applications have been and they do not make particularly encouraging reading. Out of 601 applications made since 2016 for both Phase 1 and 2a, only 256 have been successful – a rather dispiriting 43% success rate for aspiring applicants. The stats are even less reassuring for Phase 2b (those areas of the line running up to Manchester and Leeds): out of 331 applications only 79 have been successful, a success rate of just 24%.
The HS2 Need to Sell scheme guidance gives a number of examples of what constitutes acceptable proof to ‘support a compelling reason to sell your property’. The evidence they require is comprehensive – and always has been – but given that only a quarter of applications for NTS on Phase 2b have succeeded to date, we believe that HS2 has changed its approach making it much harder for applications to be successful.
Here are some practical tips to improve your chances of a successful application:
- Detail is everything. HS2’s own guidance heavily emphasises the need for applicants to provide as much detail as possible. As each application is considered on its own merits it is better to overestimate than underestimate the amount of detail required. When advising clients, we ensure that they provide as much detail as possible. Lack of detail is probably the main reason why most applications fail.
- When considering Criterion 2 – location of property, check to see whether there is a significant impact on your property from the proposed construction works or operation of the railway line. Even if you live some distance away from the proposed line, it is worth checking HS2’s plans and technical documents as you may well find that the construction of the route affects your property. Find out if there are properties in and around you that have already been accepted under the Need to Sell scheme. If so, you may have a case.
- Criterion 3 requires you to prove you have made every effort to sell. You must ask three estate agents to give you a valuation (and retain proof that you have done so). To this end, make sure your initial asking price reflects the existing market and ensure that you do everything you would normally do to secure a sale such as dropping the price by 15% to encourage more viewings. It is essential to impress upon your agent(s) the importance of recording if people refer to HS2 as a reason for either not viewing or retracting an offer. HS2 will take into an account a letter / email from an agent citing HS2 as the reason why your property is not attracting viewers / offers.
- Criterion 5 – the need to have a compelling reason to sell - is the one that causes most problems. Proving that you will be put under an unreasonable burden within the next three years if you cannot move can be onerous. If you cite retirement as the reason you wish to move, then the older and nearer you are to statutory pension age the better. If you have planned to retire and downsize then you need to provide evidence of those plans. If medical issues are the reason then a full medical history including consultant reports (if those are available) will be required, not just a letter from your GP. You may also need to demonstrate why a large property is no longer suitable – for instance if you have mobility issues and need to employ someone to do the jobs you used to do, or if you can no longer afford to maintain the property. If you are pleading financial difficulty then you need to be totally transparent with HS2, providing full details of investments, savings, income and outgoings as well as demonstrating what pensions you may be entitled to. If your retirement fund is contingent on selling your property then, again, you will need to provide proof which may necessitate commissioning a financial report by an accountant to fully explain your financial position.
- Health and finances are just two factors that may provide the compelling reason to sell. There are other factors that fall within this criterion such as employment, divorce and educational requirements all of which are subject to the same stringent proof requirements. The only factor that tends to be more straightforward (and for obvious reasons) is if the owner of the property is deceased and their executors need to sell as part of dealing with the estate.
Our experience helping clients with their applications has shown, time and time again, that providing detailed evidence is critical if your application is to be successful. It is also clear from HS2’s own statistics that the government is taking a much tougher approach to assessing Need to Sell applications, making it much harder for applicants to have a successful outcome – which is why HS2’s statement that applicants do not need professional advice is rather disingenuous. As specialist advisers, we know how to craft a successful application and our success rates (approximately 85% of our applications are successful) speak for themselves.
We can advise on all the available compensation claims, including Blight applications and applications under the discretionary compensation schemes, so if you have any queries or would like to have an initial discussion on any of these matters, please contact either Iain Johnston or Sarah Beer and we’d be delighted to help.