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‘Half my stuff got stuck in Milton Keynes’: Removal firms struggle to cope with stamp duty rush

Blackbirds and starlings are singing. Over the fields in the distance I can see the July morning sunlight glinting on a sandy bay.

It’s the first day in the farmhouse we have just bought in the Scottish Borders; a dream come true, frankly.

And yet I am stressed as hell. I moved on Wednesday, but only half my stuff arrived at the new house. It wasn’t until 6pm that I learned that the rest was in a lock-up 300 miles south in Milton Keynes and it wouldn’t be arriving for a further 48 hours.

On the move: As many as 100,000 people are moving house each month; paying on average about £1,200 to use a removal service

So I am writing this with the computer perched on a packing case. As for the kitchen table, three legs are propped in a corner. 

I heard one of the removal guys saying they hoped the fourth was on the other van. I hope so, too.

I have got off lightly. Up and down the country the national blood pressure has reached an unprecedented high level this week as homeowners rushed to complete their transactions and moves before the stamp duty ‘holiday’ ended yesterday.

There simply are not enough removal companies to cope. As many as 100,000 people are moving house each month; paying on average about £1,200 to use a removal service. 

The median distance moved by UK homebuyers in 2020 was 10 miles, an increase of 1 mile from the 2019 average.

It’s estimated that every 100 miles adds £100 to the bill. A light has been shone on the removals business and what it reveals is not always pretty. My removals team arrived about 4pm and finally left just before eight.

I had a testy conversation with the ‘team leader’ before he left about the ‘missing’ truckload of stuff. I was just getting into my stride when a thought occurred: ‘Hang on, are you driving back tonight?’

They were. Another six hours on the road. I let him go. For all the stress we housemovers are under, spare a thought for the people shifting the boxes.

May their bonuses reflect the incredibly hard graft they are putting in; pretty cheerfully, in my team’s case.

‘I have never seen a period like the last ten days,’ says Raz Hussein, owner of the removal company I used, Daniel Adams of Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire.

In demand: But there simply are not enough removal companies to cope with the high number of people moving home

In demand: But there simply are not enough removal companies to cope with the high number of people moving home

Ian Studd, director general of the British Association of Removers (BAR), has a bleaker message: ‘Many moves may not have been completed by the stamp duty deadline. There was not sufficient availability to cover the demand.’

BAR has 450 UK removals companies on its books, completing 280,000 home moves in Britain during an average year.

Yes, I can hear the bleak laughter from hundreds of frustrated movers. ‘Ahh, you’re missing a leg from your kitchen table. Poor you.’

At least my deal went through smoothly and I got a removal company.

Pressure has been building up in the property chains for weeks as solicitors triaged clients. Only after exchange can you confirm your contract with the removers.

I was moving the contents of a large house 360 miles north. It suddenly looked as if there’d be no one to move us. 

Tips for a smooth house move 

  • Ask for evidence of professional qualifications (eg membership of a removals trade body).
  • Carry out due diligence on who you may be inviting into your home. British Association of Removers’ (BAR) membership can be verified by clicking on Trading Standards’ TSI logo found on members’ own websites.
  • Ask for references.
  • Look for feedback reports and customer reviews.
  • Always get a minimum of two quotations. Quotes must be considered on a like-for-like basis (i.e. Is the service provision described exactly the same) and not simply on the price at the bottom of the page.
  • Check the T&Cs for potential additional charges and how/when they may be incurred.
  • Allow sufficient time for all of the above to happen and a formal contract offer to be made and accepted.
  • Finally, don’t move on a Friday (everyone else does).

But Daniel Adams came through. The question remains: have companies such as these grasped at every piece of business they can without considering whether their logistics can cope?

Raz Hussein denies this. He says the extra pressure ‘was not about how many jobs we took on, but the date changes that customers were experiencing due to chains trying to complete before June 30.’

Daniel Adams chose not to belong to the BAR. ‘It’s a paid subscription and we opted not to be members,’ says Hussein.

Ian Studd thinks it’s not always a question of fees. He says the BAR rigorously audits every company it deals with. Not all satisfy the selection criteria and some companies are asked to leave. He continues to ‘bang the drum’ about the lack of regulation in the removals industry.

‘There is nothing to stop a person buying a transit van today and calling themselves a removals expert tomorrow. This can leave the consumer at risk of being ‘gazumped’ at short notice.’

He also points out that I chose his company even though they are not BAR members. Well, at that stage I didn’t have much choice.

What will I do next time?

Outside the window, the lambs bleat and a deer leaps gracefully through a dewy field. It feels like the forever home. Just as well. I’m not going through all this again.

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