Grow a small fortune by making the most out of your garden with our top tips

THE Consumer Crew are here to solve your problems.

Mel Hunter will take on readers’ consumer issues, Jane Hamilton will give you the best advice for buying your dream home, and Judge Rinder will tackle your legal woes.

Jane Hamilton, property expert

The garden’s where it’s at

CAN your garden grow you a small fortune?

The coronavirus crisis means both homeowners and renters are now prioritising gardens over any other part of their homes.

Property portal Rightmove found three in five of us now say outside space is a prime concern when moving home.

Here’s how to make gold from your green space . . .

  1. Begin with the basics. Trim overgrown plants, bushes and weed borders, and jet-wash patios and terraces to remove stains and moss.
  2. Customise your colours. Who says you have to stick to a creosoted fence? Be bold and choose a coloured fence paint. But brush on carefully so it’s not leaking on to the neighbour’s side. Cuprinol does a range of trendy choices, from £20 for a 2.5-litre tin.
  3. Tiny garden or patio space? Add an outdoor mirror. A large feature mirror makes the tiniest space look bigger, or place mirrors along the whole length of a wall for the wow factor. You can pick one up from £25 at garden centres or Amazon.
  4. Zone your garden. Create an outdoor area for eating, with a table and chairs, or even an outdoor sofa if you have room. You may want to deck this area or add pea shingle to section it off. Keep a separate lawned zone then add a veg plot, or plant herbs and colourful flowers such as lavender in ceramic pots.
  5. Get your lighting right. Adding lights transforms your garden into an extra “room” you can use in the evenings. String up fairy lights or spike solar lights into the ground along borders and paths.
  6. Build a garden room or home office. This is an expensive option, with builds ranging from £5,000 to more than £30,000 depending on the features and specs. But a good one can add at least five per cent to your home’s value – so work out if it’s worth it and whether you’ll use it.

Buy of the week

HEAD to Wigan and check out this two-bed cottage

THE Crabtree family in Wigan went viral on Facebook after building an ultra-realistic pub in their garden during lockdown.

If you snap up this cracking two-bedroom cottage in the town for just £99,950, there’s plenty of room out back to build your own mini-pub just like the Crabtrees.


A buyer's market

THE property market is showing signs of life.

Househunter numbers are up seven per cent and agents are agreeing an average of five sales per branch in the two weeks since restrictions were lifted.

But the figures from estage agents’ body NAEA Propertymark also showed 70 per cent of homes went for under the asking price, so there is still plenty of room to negotiate.

Boss Mark Hayward said: “It’s great to see the market up and running again, bringing back much-needed confidence.”

Deal of the week

WITH many spending lockdown clearing out and tidying up, make sure you do it in style with this black wicker storage basket.

Was £12, now reduced to £9.60, at

SAVE: £2.40

Judge Rinder

Q) I HAVE a problem with a neighbour’s tree that has caused damage to my property.

A root has grown out of the ground and damaged a fence panel and a post, lifted paving slabs and knocked down a small retaining wall.

I’ve spoken to my neighbour numerous times about it, but to no avail.  

The last time I spoke to him, all he would say was: “See a solicitor.”

I have written to him twice with proof of posting, saying I would not claim for any damage if he resolved the issue. He has not replied to any of my letters.

What is my next step?

David, Bucks

A) You’ll be pleased to hear that you are totally in the right.

If your neighbour’s tree is causing damage to your property, especially a supporting wall, he is legally responsible for removing it. Full stop.

It seems to me that this neighbour isn’t interested in settling this matter amicably so you are going to have to take legal action.

If the damage to your property costs less than £10,000 to repair, this case shouldn’t be too difficult to manage yourself.      

You’ll need, among other things, to get proof from an expert surveyor that the roots are causing the structural damage you claim.

You should write to your neighbour one last time, making clear that this is a letter before legal action and you would not issue proceedings if he removed the tree.

If he doesn’t reply to you, or repeats his aggressive indifference, then go to the small- claims court website and issue proceedings.

It may be worth getting some further legal advice if the damage is more extensive than it seems, as the case will be more challenging to deal with.

Roofer slated

Q) I BOOKED a balloon flight for me and a friend last year. It has since been cancelled about three times due to poor weather.

I asked for a refund, as my friend no longer wanted to go. With coronavirus, it is not even possible to book another flight.

I have asked again for a refund but they still refuse, saying I need at least five flights cancelled.

They’ve renewed my voucher but there are no flights until at least the end of July.

I don’t feel I want to go any more. Is there any way I can get a refund?

Kierran, Kent

A) Covid has complicated this problem.

Given the number of cancellations, you would almost certainly be legally entitled to a refund, as the firm hasn’t fulfilled its side of the contract in a reasonable time.

But balloon rides often have “force majeur” clauses in their contracts, which mean a firm can argue it isn’t liable to refund you yet, as it can’t deliver your trip due to a government shutdown.

You could seek a refund and would have a decent legal case that the firm has breached the contract due to the length of delay, but you may also consider avoiding the legal wrangle. July isn’t far off, after all.

Q) I HIRED a builder last year to do some work for me.

He provided a reasonable quote and promised to do a good job.

He said he would require three equal payments – a deposit, a mid-payment and a final payment on completion.

I have paid the deposit and mid-payment.

Before the lockdown, he asked for a part-payment of the final instalment, for special materials, which I paid. I then heard nothing back for three months because of lockdown.

My problem is that he started my job last year and still has not finished.

Every time I call him, he either has some excuse why he can’t come round or he just does not answer my call.

This is very frustrating and I don’t know what action to take next. Please help.

Bev, Carlisle

A) There’s a straightforward legal answer. This builder must complete the work as promised as soon as practicable or he could be liable for the cost of another builder finishing the job. Write to him at once, setting out the payments you have made.

Make clear in your correspondence that you require a start date for the building work to commence.

If he fails to reply or refuses to give you a date, get another builder to quote you for the cost of completion.

You may wish to send this quote to your original builder and remind him that he would be liable for this sum, which is likely to be greater than the money you have paid him for materials and some of the work he had done.

Mel Hunter, Reader's champion

Locked out of flight refund

Q) MY husband and I both had EE phones but both left in January this year.

Shortly afterwards, I noticed an EE direct debit still leaving my account. When I phoned them, it turned out it was for a different phone number.

I reported fraud, but they’ve said that number has been running in my name for more than four years and I’ve been paying £28 per month for it.

EE says that all I’m entitled to is £17 – the remainder of this month’s line rental. I explained that my husband and I were both with EE, so direct debits to them were always leaving our account, but they didn’t care.

EE admitted that no texts, calls or data have ever been used from this account and suggested maybe I’d taken it out by accident.

Despite many calls, emails and letters, they’re refusing to give me a penny more.

I feel so stupid and upset that I’ve not spotted this for so long and wasted so much money.

Corrie Ickringill, Studley, Warwicks

A) You held your hands up on this one, admitting you should have checked all payments going out of your account. But with two other EE contracts, it was an easy mistake to make, and EE was charging you for a service you’d never used.

When I asked the phone company to double-check what had happened here, it did a bit of digging and discovered that it was in fact at fault.

Years ago, you’d got a phone with a new EE contract from a third party, but changed your mind and sent the handset back. EE was told by the third party to cancel the account but this didn’t happen.

Four years on, with me on the case, you finally got £2,050 back. EE said: “We accept this was an EE error and we have refunded the full amount.”

Q) WHEN my husband left our home, he put a redirection in place for his post.

Yet my mail was also redirected, despite not being on the instruction.

When I realised this was happening, I contacted Royal Mail to make them aware that I was receiving no post.

Later, my children and I had to move home, but again I’ve received no post.

I have contacted Royal Mail three times and was told this would be put right, but instead I’ve just received mail for my ex-husband, who is not on the redirection list.

They are not providing the service I paid £41.99 for, yet when I ask for a refund I am told they are not authorised to give this.


A) Instead of getting your post from Royal Mail, you were on the receiving end of a whole heap of stress.

Royal Mail had let you down twice and, with the house moves related to your relationship breakdown, this was particularly upsetting.

I managed to get the postal service to put this right, and refund you the cost of your redirection.

I couldn’t, though, undo the angst you’d been caused.

Royal Mail said: “After an investigation, we have tightened up our processes for this customer’s redirection.”

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