17 MAY 2019

Let's set the mortgage prisoners free

The financial crash may be over a decade ago, yet people are still suffering. Especially hard-working families who have become trapped in expensive mortgage deals. Last week I presented a bill to Parliament to set these so-called mortgage prisoners free - and to forge a new covenant that would deliver a fairer deal for small business borrowers too.

Some 200,000 people across the country have become trapped by changes in mortgage regulation following the financial crash. The new rules say they can't afford payments lower than they are currently making. How can they not afford to pay less?

Take Charlotte, who is 39 years old and lives with her husband. They took out a Northern Rock mortgage in 2007. In 2010 she had twins who suffer from serious disabilities – both are wheelchair bound. They've never missed a single mortgage payment. Yet they cannot re-mortgage due to the regulators' affordability test. Why does this matter so much? Because with a fairer mortgage, they could pay much less and afford more therapies for their sick children.

So how can people like Charlotte be freed? These borrowers have proven their ability to pay for over a decade. So it makes no sense to have a computer-driven affordability test that ignores what's happening in the real world. My bill would legislate for computer says no to be overruled when reality says yes.

New laws are needed to protect small businesses borrowers too. You'd think that when they are making loan payments, they are untouchable. Yet it's all too easy to seize on a technical loan condition breach. Plenty of perfectly viable, successful businesses are wrongly ended this way. My bill would prevent a business being bankrupted by the banks if it is up to date with payments. It would also create a new Financial Services Tribunal – so small businesses that can't afford sky-high legal fees can fight back in these matters.

Legislation is also required to stop mortgages being sold off to vulture funds by the Treasury. These funds are unable to offer cheaper rates – and they are too often ruthless with homeowners and small business borrowers alike. No sales should be permitted without proper protection for borrowers.

We all know that capitalism is vital to the success of our economy – and a cornerstone of our way of life. Yet it must be tempered by responsibility and fairness. We want those who work hard to be rewarded. Yet we cannot allow people being taken unfair advantage of. That is why we need to forge a new covenant – to deliver greater fairness for borrowers and set the mortgage prisoners free.

If you have been affected by these problems, please get in touch. I want to hear your story and will do my best to help.

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10 MAY 2019

Community hub set for Deal train station

A community hub with a kitchen is set to be installed at Deal train station as part of efforts to tackle antisocial behaviour. The news follows a recent campaign by myself and Helen Charlton's volunteer groups Deal Station Gardeners and the Clean-up Crew.

Alongside commitments to install platform shelters and resurface the footbridge, Southeastern has refurbished redundant station buildings. A senior officer from British Transport Police has also been allocated specifically to the Deal area for the first time.

Elsewhere in the station, dehumidifiers have been installed to address damp which closed the toilets. They are expected to be re-opened soon. But recently installed bin covers have been vandalised – although Southeastern said the antisocial behaviour problems "appear to be improving".

I'm pleased rail bosses are stepping up to get our train stations back on track. Residents should be able to enjoy using these areas. We fought hard to get the High Speed service sweeping into the town all day, every day, but investment in the station itself was long overdue.

We also need to see the police continue to have a stronger presence there, so our station is a nicer place for everyone for years to come.

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09 MAY 2019

A record of action and a promise of more

The local election campaign trail was a great opportunity to chat to people about what matters to them. Unsurprisingly, there was a sense of deep frustration over Brexit and a strong desire to get on with it – deal or no deal. We need to leave the EU and move on.

Yet the election also produced a hugely impressive set of results. An increased majority was a real testament to the hard work, teamwork and dedication of our local team. So much progress has been made locally in recent years. We've been working tirelessly to bring more jobs and money to our corner of Kent.

Back in 2010 things looked bleak. Unemployment locally had rocketed 50% in the Great Recession. Yet there are now 7,700 more people in work in Dover and Deal, while there has been more than £500 million of investment.

Nearly a year ago the new £50 million St James development opened. Where Burlington House once scarred the skyline, there now stands a brand-new multiplex cinema, shops and restaurants. Meanwhile the new leisure centre is a packed-out, massive success.

The £250 million Western Docks Revival is also well underway. I was lucky enough to walk along the new pier which opened recently. It will be a great asset for our community in the years to come.

In Deal, the town's pier is undergoing its most comprehensive refurbishment with £500,000 of investment and £600,000 more to follow. The new Deal Pier Kitchen draws hundreds of visitors who can at last truly enjoy this iconic landmark. The long-awaited Regent cinema plans are progressing.

Big companies have set up shop in our district too. Multipanel UK relocated its manufacturing operation from China to Eythorne in 2014. Last year I visited their 24/7 operation, producing more than 500,000 square metres of aluminium composite panels a month. Bosses told me they have been so successful that they hope to open new production lines – and hire up to 100 more staff.

All this investment has been delivered with the lowest council tax in east Kent. This is what a strong vision and teamwork can achieve – real investment, excellent services and great value for money.

We've been able to deliver more jobs and money by getting the nation's finances back in order. Unemployment is at a record low. We've also cared for the least well off by taking more than five million people out of paying income tax altogether. And over the past year wages have been rising well above inflation.

Much has been done. Yet there is much more to do. We need more investment in our roads, including a dualled A2 and lorry parks. We must focus like a laser beam on our high streets. We must strive for stronger borders.

And we want to get on with leaving the European Union. An incredibly bright future lies ahead – for this country and for our area. Let's keep working together to deliver it.

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07 MAY 2019

Presenting a Bill to free the mortgage prisoners

I proposed a new law to free mortgage prisoners trapped in expensive deals today.

I introduced the Banking (Consumer and Small Business Protection) Bill in a Ten-Minute Rule motion in the House of Commons. It aims to help up to 200,000 mortgage prisoners across the UK impacted by affordability tests brought in after the financial crash.

In many cases they stipulate homeowners can't afford to pay less than they are currently paying – while others had their mortgages sold off to unregulated "vulture funds". The new laws would exempt reliable borrowers from the affordability tests payments – and ban the Treasury and lenders from selling mortgage deals to unregulated funds.

It's time to set the mortgage prisoners free. Every one of these 200,000 families affected has a story of how they have struggled to get by. Struggled to meet expensive payments to keep a roof over their heads.

It's insulting for them to be told they cannot afford to pay less. The Government should be lending a helping hand, not a tin ear. Capitalism is vital to the success of our economy and a cornerstone of our way of life.

Yet we know that it must be tempered by responsibility and fairness. We want people who work hard to be able to enjoy success. Yet we will not tolerate people being taken advantage of.

The Banking (Consumer and Small Business Protection) Bill also aims to protect small business borrowers and create a new Financial Services Tribunal.

Currently business loans above £25,000 are unregulated. The bill would ban the practise of seizing on technical loan condition breaches where borrowers are up to date with payments.

Meanwhile a new Financial Services Tribunal would allow small businesses to take on big banks. Currently many are too big to use the Financial Ombudsman Service, but too small to be able to afford expensive court battles.

Small businesses are the lifeblood and job creators of our economy. Every time a small business closes, part of our economy dies. We need to see them treated fairly so they focus on doing what they do best – creating jobs and making our country stronger and more successful.

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01 MAY 2019

Calling on the PM to back our campaign for better postnatal care

Prime Minister Theresa May was asked to back the campaign for better postnatal care in Kent as part of World Maternal Mental Health Week. I raised the case of Rebecca Kruza during Prime Minister's Questions today.

Rebecca took her own life in 2017 while suffering from postnatal depression, with the coroner saying more deaths could occur unless action is taken. In the House of Commons today, I asked Theresa May: "In 2017 my constituent Rebecca Kruza had her whole life ahead of her when she took her own life while suffering from postnatal depression.

"Her baby boy will now grow up without a mother. And many mothers returning to work struggle with their mental health while seeking to balance the demands of work and parenting.

"Today is World Maternal Mental Health Day. Does the PM agree that there needs to be stronger support for mothers returning to work and will she back the campaign by Rebecca's family for more specialist mother and baby units across the country?"

Prime Minister Theresa May responded: "Can I first of all thank my Honourable Friend for raising a very important issue. And secondly send condolences to the family of his constituent, particularly that young son who will be growing up without his mother.

"It's this issue of postnatal depression – that issue of people returning to work as well and balancing those childcare and work responsibilities – is an important one.

"We are looking at a new returners programme to help those who are returning to the workplace. I know my Honourable Friend the minister responsible for mental health is also doing some very good work looking at this whole question of mental health provision particularly for mothers with young babies.

"This is an area – it's right for my Honourable Friend to have raised it – it's one the Government is looking at in a number of ways.

"And we will aim to ensure that nobody else suffers in the way that his constituent and her family did."

Following Rebecca's death, Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust was ordered to produce a Regulation 28 Report to explain how it will improve postnatal support. It followed the death of Rebecca Kruza, 39, from Folkestone, who took her own life at her mother's home in Alkham in June 2017.Following a traumatic labour and breastfeeding difficulties due to her baby's tongue tie and colic, Rebecca became sleep deprived before being diagnosed with postnatal depression. At her inquest Coroner Alan Blundson initially ruled the suicide could not have been prevented, but then ordered the Regulation 28 Report to Prevent Future Deaths.

Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust has responded pointing to an eight-bed Mother and Baby Unit in Dartford which opened last year.

But Rebecca's mother Lyn Richardson and sister Kate Kruza say more units and wider support are needed – because the new unit serves a population of 4.5 million across Kent, Sussex and Surrey. In the absence of beds, the alternative means sectioning to a Kent hospital psychiatric unit and forced separation from the baby until a bed becomes available.

Lyn and Kate are working with me to increase provision.

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25 APR 2019

Time for real investment in our roads

Steel barriers in the middle of the carriageway. Thousands of cones weaving one way then the other. Speeds limited to 50mph. This is today's reality of the main route to the Channel Ports. The M20 has become the nation's slowest motorway.

Residents are furious – and rightly so. Operation Stack's replacement scheme Operation Brock started on March 25. This contraflow system between Junctions 8 and 9 London-bound was intended to allow traffic to flow in both directions should there be delays at Eurotunnel or the Port of Dover.

That was the intention. The reality has been yet another large section of the M20 with a reduced speed limit, joining most of the rest of the motorway where traffic flows at a snail's pace. Junction 10 has a 50mph limit because of roadworks to complete the new Junction 10A. Meanwhile Junctions 3 to 5 is being changed to become a so called "smart motorway". Both projects aren't due to be completed until 2020.

In the meantime, Kent drivers face long delays. And a speeding ticket if they even just slightly exceed the limit. With the new revenue-raising average speed cameras, motorists need to be sure to keep to a crawl for miles at a time. Maybe that's fine for those with expensive cars with cruise control, but it's not so easy for everyone else.

Yet again, this underlines why we need more investment in Kent's roads. Not Brock. Nor smart motorways. We need serious investment in wider roads and more capacity. Starting with dualling the A2. By 2030, freight traffic at Dover is projected to rise by 40%. A single carriageway A2 is simply inadequate.

There needs to be investment in off-motorway lorry parking too. Lorry parking that the Department for Transport was meant to build long ago. Kent MPs spent a long time convincing the Department for Transport to provide money for the Stanford lorry park – now we need to get that important project back on track.

Investment in our roads has been put off by successive governments. It is needed now more than ever. That's why I will continue to work with my fellow Kent MP to make the case to secure the investment we need. I recently led a call by all of East Kent's MPs and council leaders for the A2 dualling to be urgently taken forward. I am meeting the roads minister again in the coming weeks to press our case.

Real investment in Kent's roads is long overdue. Better roads to the Channel Ports is not simply a priority for our community – it is a national priority too. A smoother flow across the English Channel with fewer delays will benefit our trade and our economy. That's why I am fighting tirelessly to ensure we get a better deal – with more investment in our roads. 

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25 APR 2019

Major investment announced for Dover Castle

A total of £26 million will be invested in Dover Castle over the next ten years in a bid to attract "hundreds of thousands more visitors" to the site. Up to £10 million is set to be spent in the next four years on a major programme of works, English Heritage has confirmed.

It includes investment in car parking, new visitor experiences, extensive conservation work and improved family facilities. English Heritage's Head of Historic Properties Neil McCollum met Dover and Deal MP Charlie Elphicke to explain the works.

Dover Castle is incredibly important to our community – a stunning piece of history that residents and visitors can enjoy. It was a real pleasure to be shown the exciting new plans including a major injection of funding. With the new shopping centre, the new leisure centre and the new seafront, it's another sign Dover is finally getting the investment it deserves.

Dover Castle is the largest castle in England and was founded in the 11th century. Some buildings even date back to the Roman era. Today visitors can climb the Great Tower to meet medieval characters, or even delve deep within Dover's White Cliffs to the Secret Wartime Tunnels, where key operations like the Dunkirk evacuation were masterminded.

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18 APR 2019

Roads to prosperity

Stronger transport links are central to delivering more jobs and money for our area. That's why I work hard to deliver road and rail improvements.

So far it's made a real difference. We fought a long battle to get the High Speed train sweeping into Deal all day, every day. This has boosted the local economy. More people than ever now commute to work and it's so much easier for tourists to visit.

This is a far cry from how things were. The previous Government had refused to extend the High Speed service to Deal, describing it as a village. Yet by working together, finally in August 2011 fast trains finally started running to Deal, Walmer and Martin Mill as a peak commuting service. This cut journey times to London by half an hour. It was an incredible success.

The next step was to extend it again – this time to an all-day service. Another campaign saw Transport Ministers announce the move from January 2015.

This background is important – because the pace of positive change to Deal's economy has increased alongside. Better transport links is one of the reasons our area has attracted more than £500 million of investment in recent years, including 7,700 extra local jobs. Having fought so hard for these successes, it's vital we build on them.

That's why I have held urgent talks with rail minister Andrew Jones after it emerged the number of direct High Speed trains between Deal and London could reduce in future. The Minister was left in no doubt about my strength of feeling on this issue – and I hope that we will now see action.

I also called on him to invest more in local stations. Led by Helen Charlton's volunteer groups Deal Station Gardeners and the Clean-up Crew, Deal station has been much more cared for recently. More investment is planned with a new deck and steps, while major improvements to the footbridge at Dover Priory are also in the pipeline. To address antisocial behaviour, a senior officer from British Transport Police has been allocated to Deal for the first time.

Our area deserves the best possible transport links. We've achieved a lot on rail. Yet our roads need investment too. We need to see the A2 dualled all the way to the port. We need a better road between Dover and Deal – because the A258 is so overcrowded and dangerous. And we need to see the M20 lorry parks that have long been promised finally delivered.

These schemes are vital to unlocking our area's potential. Because prosperity comes down a train line and a dual carriageway. Transport investment pays for itself and boosts economies in communities like ours.

We need to keep up the momentum – so we continue to speed along the road to greater prosperity in the years to come.

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17 APR 2019

M20 is now the nation's slowest motorway

The M20 has become the slowest motorway in the UK and residents across Kent are furious.

Steel barriers were put up between Junctions 8 and 9 London-bound, so traffic can flow in both directions when there are delays at the Channel ports. But it means another large section of the M20 has a reduced speed limit.

Junction 10 currently has a 50mph limit because of roadworks to complete the new Junction 10A, while Junctions 3 to 5 has one during upgrades to become a "smart motorway". Both projects are due to be completed in 2020.

In recent days a decision had been made to "deactivate" Operation Brock by returning the 70mph limit on the three coastbound lanes. But the steel barriers on the London-bound side, including the 50mph limit, will remain in place.

Residents are furious. Operation Brock is not a solution. It means yet another section of our motorway has a reduced speed limit. The M20 now has to be the slowest motorway in the country. The most frustrating part is there are solutions and they are simple. We need long-term investment – in things like lorry parks and a dualled A2. This had been needed for years. If we just got on with it, we wouldn't need these bizarre, go-slow traffic schemes.

In recent weeks I arranged for a joint letter from all east Kent MPs and council leaders to ministers at the Department for Transport. It urged them to release funding for a feasibility study to dual the A2 to the Port of Dover, and for the scheme to be included in the next Road Investment Strategy. I am due to have talks with roads minister in the coming weeks.

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15 APR 2019

Working to improve postnatal care in Kent

I am working to improve postnatal care in Kent.  A coroner has said deaths could occur unless action is taken - following the suicide of a mother whose family are my constituents. 

Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust was ordered to produce a Regulation 28 Report to explain how it will improve postnatal support. It followed the death of Rebecca Kruza, 39, from Folkestone, who took her own life at her mother's home in Alkham in June 2017.

Following a traumatic labour and breastfeeding difficulties due to her baby's tongue tie and colic, Rebecca became sleep deprived before being diagnosed with postnatal depression. At her inquest Coroner Alan Blundson initially ruled the suicide could not have been prevented, but then ordered the Regulation 28 Report to Prevent Future Deaths.

Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust has responded pointing to an eight-bed Mother and Baby Unit in Dartford which opened last year. But Rebecca's mother Lyn Richardson and sister Kate Kruza say more units and wider support are needed – because the new unit serves a population of 4.5 million across Kent, Sussex and Surrey. In the absence of beds, the alternative means sectioning to a Kent hospital psychiatric unit and forced separation from the baby until a bed becomes available.

Mental health treatment is improving but we can do more – particularly for new mothers who are under extra pressure in lots of ways. I am backing Lyn and Kates's campaign for better provision. I have contacted the chief executive of the trust and I hope we can all work on this together.

Rebecca's mother Lyn Richardson, who has fought to get the coroner to order the report, was the person who discovered her daughter in June 2017 – while holding her baby. Lyn feels a lack of professional communication, information sharing, safeguarding and risky assessment and follow procedures have been identified as responsible for failures."

Lyn added the family was also passionate about providing local Early Help and Mother and Baby Respite Homes for mild to moderate forms of postnatal depression. She feels it will prevent unnecessary escalation to severe mental health and avoid the need for psychiatric interventions and hospitalisation.

The family are carrying out a survey called "What Mums Need" to identify required improvements in perinatal mental health support Information can be found at the Facebook page "Everglow the Rebecca Kruza Foundation" where people can also donate.

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Charlie Elphicke

Here you can read about local news matters and what I've been up to. You can make comments too. I'd welcome your feedback, so please do feel free to comment!

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