Consumer watchdogs across Europe are stepping up investigations into how to help hundreds of British and Irish citizens allegedly duped into buying expensive French properties. This follows a call for action from the British MEP, Vicky Ford, who chairs the European Parliament's Internal Market and Consumer Protection committee. Mrs Ford had been contacted by many distressed constituents from her own parliamentary region of the East of England. More than 300 Irish people also claim to have been missold similar leaseback properties with the promise of guaranteed rental income. A petition on change.org has amassed over 1,300 signatures challenging the potential unfair practices of French leaseback schemes.
The leaseback model, in which the purchaser acquires the freehold rights along with limited use of the property and a rental return for the remainder of the year, gained popularity before the financial crash.
"I understand that these schemes have become controversial with a number of leaseback owners throughout Europe and many of the purchasers of such properties take the view that they have been misled and have not been protected as consumers", says Mrs Ford, who represents the British Conservatives.
Mrs Ford raised these problems as a matter of urgency with Commissioner Věra Jourová, Commissioner for Consumers, and asked for an investigation as to whether the leaseback schemes are in contravention of EU law. The Commissioner has now asked national consumer organisations to look into the complaints.
Mrs Ford explained, "The purchasers tell me they believe the properties were mis-sold and advertised in a way as to mislead consumers; that the properties were vastly over-valued and that mortgages were extended to purchasers for sums reflective of this over-valuation. The purchasers involved say they received no protection or advice from lending institutions in relation to these leaseback purchases."
I have have been asked what happens to my MEP role if I am elected to Westminster this June.
In 2002 a decision was taken by the national governments of the EU countries that said being an MEP and a member of a national parliament is incompatible. Therefore one person cannot hold both the position of MEP and MP at the same time.
Therefore if I am elected as MP, I will automatically cease to be an MEP. There will not be a by-election for the MEP role as, due to the proportional representation electoral process, it will pass on to one of my East of England Conservative colleagues from the last European elections.
We are about to commence complex negotiations with the EU on our exit. Having represented the East of England for the past eight years I can see how important the outcome of these negotiations will be for the jobs and security of local people.
It is important to have people with frontline experience of European negotiations in the Westminster Parliament. If elected I will bring unique, current and experience of European negotiations back to Westminster in order to support Theresa May and the strong and stable team she leads.
The European Parliament's Internal Market and Consumer Affairs Committee yesterday voted to accept the 'Collaborative Economy' report after several months of negotiations and discussions. MEPs backed amendments to support innovation and give consumers choice in the market place.
Internal Market Committee Chairman Vicky Ford MEP (Conservative, East of England) said, "It is important to continue to support innovation which encourages entrepreneurs such as those who helped create Airbnb and BlaBlaCar. The collaborative economy has brought increased choice for consumers and the vote helps to ensure that those choices will not be restricted and the collaborative, or gig, economy is given space to flourish.
"It is important to recognise that changes have had an impact on traditional operators and therefore workers' rights and consumer protection issues need to be considered. However, there is already a lot of regulation that affects operators in the collaborative economy, instead of re-writing the complete rule book we need to make sure the one we have already it is for purpose."
'If we want digital giants to grow in Europe, we need to make sure we do not put a handbreak on innovation. As a result of the vote we are encouraging entrepreneurs and peer-to-peer platforms involved in diverse forms of the gig economy, including new ideas such as car sharing, co-boating and even co-cooking."
I am sorry to hear that Sir Alan Haselhurst MP has decided to follow Sir Eric Pickles MP and Sir Simon Burns MP and will also be standing down from Parliament at the forthcoming General Election.
Between them they have served the people of Essex for over ninety years. Their knowledge and experience will be greatly missed.
I know that they will support their successors in their respective constituencies with wise council and that this will enable a smooth transition.
In the past month I have been knocking on doors and talking to people in Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Suffolk with our Conservative candidates for County Council elections. I have been in areas that have previously seen a strong vote for Labour, Liberal Democrats and UKIP.
On the doorsteps there is massive support from voters for Theresa May. A General Election result with a significant majority will allow her to lead with increased certainty. This will strengthen her negotiation position in the important discussions ahead and deliver the best outcomes for the UK.
To a round of applause in a packed Hemicycle in Strasbourg today East of England MEP Vicky Ford MEP hit out at "Mafia" comments made by Nigel Farage MEP.
"Calling other colleagues members of the Mafia or gangsters does not show mutual respect, it does not represent the views of the vast majority of the British people and it is not the view of the British Prime Minister who wants to remain friends, allies, and partners."
When Mr Farage took the floor, he accused MEPs of "...behaving like the Mafia", before qualifying following a rebuke from the President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani. Mr Farage went on to say, "I do understand national sensitivities, I'll change it to gangsters."
This morning MEPs had gathered in the Strasbourg Hemicycle to discuss and debate forthcoming negotiations with the United Kingdom, following the triggering of Article 50 last Wednesday.
Vicky Ford has been working with businesses and organisations across the East of England and UK since last June's vote to ensure that their views are taken into account in the forthcoming negotiations. She has backed Theresa May's call for an amicable separation and a constructive and deep future relationship between the UK and EU.
Mrs Ford sat through the three hour debate in the Parliament this morning in which over 60 MEPs spoke. She said "When negotiating a tricky separation one needs to keep calm, but when Farage spoke it was like a herd of bulls had just been driven straight through the china shop. Of course there will be times when negotiators disagree but chucking indiscriminate insults at those on the other side of the channel will not help get a good deal for the UK. It's important that people across Europe know that most Brits don't support this sort of language"
I was very inspired by my visit to three excellent local engineering firms in Kings Lynn with Sir Henry Bellingham MP; Chalcroft Construction, Shaun Hodgson Engineering Ltd and Dodman Ltd.
The skills and dedication of the people working in these businesses is deeply impressive, building on East Anglia's proud heritage of agricultural engineering. These are all represent excellent examples of British Engineering Companies - and it's important we negotiate good trade deals to allow them to continue to thrive!
New firearms legislation which imposes restrictions on the type of guns used in the Paris terrorist attacks has today been steered through the European Parliament by East Anglia MEP Vicky Ford.
Revisions to the EU's Firearms Directive mean that guns converted to fire blanks will in future be licensed under the same rules as the original live firing version. Currently these are able to be sold freely in certain European countries despite the fact that some versions are easily converted to use with live ammunition.
Other measures tighten the rules on the ownership of semi-automatic weapons fitted with high capacity magazines, require national authorities to keep details needed to trace firearms and improve information sharing between Member States.
Speaking after her report was approved by MEPs by 491 votes to 178, Mrs Ford said: "The attacks on the Charlie Hebdo headquarters and at the Bataclan theatre in Paris exposed a dangerous loophole which allowed poorly deactivated firearms, known as salute and acoustic weapons, to be freely available. A number of similar items were amongst a cache of over 30 illegal firearms found by British police on a boat in a Kent marina in August 2015. Following today's vote, this loophole will be closed.
The European Parliament has spent 18 months scrutinising the issue and Mrs Ford met organisations from the UK and across the EU, including the Countryside Alliance, British Sports Shooting Council, British Association for Shooting and Conservation, the Royal Armouries, the European Federation of Associations for Hunting and Conservation and the Nordic Hunters' Alliance. The Imperial War Museum in Duxford also hosted a meeting for Mrs Ford to meet representatives from British museums and collectors. Mrs Ford's report makes sure that museums will be able to continue to hold category A firearms with strict safety and storage requirements, as is already the case in the UK.
She said: "It has been a long and difficult process to reach a compromise which protects the public by making it more difficult for terrorists and criminals to get hold of higher capacity firearms while also safeguarding the interests of lawful sports shooters, collectors, re-enactors and other groups.
"It was not helped by the European Commission's original proposals which were very poorly drafted, contained many technical errors and would have had many disproportionate restrictions on legal owners. However, I believe we have now achieved a sensible balance."
Under the new rules, Member States will be able to authorise target shooters to possess and use higher capacity semi-automatic firearms which are otherwise restricted provided they are training for, or taking part in, competitions. The changes have been drawn up in collaboration with sport shooting organisations, including the International Practical Shooting Confederation.
Exemptions are also made for military and civil defence personnel, especially in countries such as Finland, where reservists traditionally own their firearms and keep them at home.
Museums, military re-enactors and even film companies, whose ability to possess firearms would have been compromised by the Commission's proposals, are now catered for, subject to safeguards. Historically important firearms will not be covered by new marking requirements, nor will the rules apply to antiques.
The legislation now goes to the Council for formal approval, after which Member States will have 15 months to incorporate the new rules into national law.
Mrs Ford is the UK Conservative MEP for the East of England and Chair of the European Parliament's Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee.
Note for Editors
Background on the revised Firearms Directive can be found here:
Consumer organisations in the UK and the rest of the European Union should continue to help each other post-Brexit, Conservative MEP Vicky Ford said today.
Mrs Ford, who chairs the European Parliament's Internal Market and Consumer Affairs Committee, has welcomed a report examining the potential impact of Brexit on consumers that has been published today by European Consumer Organisation BEUC and UK's Which?. It calls for decisions on issues such as safety and quality standards of household goods and products to be assessed against the impact on consumers. The two organisations want existing levels of co-operation maintained to ensure there is no erosion of consumer rights.
She said: "Currently consumer organisations and trading standards bodies all across Europe work with each other. They warn each other of dangerous products, faulty goods or scams and keep consumers informed.
"It is important that practical and pragmatic solutions are found to make sure that this vital work can continue. We hear a lot of people saying that Brexit needs to work for business but it is even more important that it works for consumers."
Mrs Ford (East of England), added: "This is an excellent piece of work. It is important that issues facing every day consumers on both sides of the Channel are put at the heart of the Brexit discussions."
Rural broadband, mobile phone contracts and calls to emergency services were on the agenda in Brussels this week. East Anglican MEP Vicky Ford brought together Executives from telecoms and media companies including BBC, BT, Vodafone, Sky, Telia and Deutsch Telekom, as well as the UK regulator, Ofcom, and representatives from European consumer groups to discuss new pan-European proposals on communications.
The group discussed the so called 'universal service obligation' which gives individuals the right to a phone service and the plans to extend this to include internet services.
Mrs Ford said, "As someone who lives in a small village I know what a struggle it can be to access modern communications when the internet service is poor, and what a difference it makes when the high speed line finally arrives. A universal service obligation will be extremely beneficial for rural areas but there are also important questions about how it is funded."
Experts at the Brussels meeting considered alternative funding mechanisms including public and private elements and contribution sharing between operators and content providers and how these could reflect different levels of service quality.
The informal roundtable also discussed the issue of consumer contracts which consumer groups say can be confusing. Questions of whether to introduce standard terms for easier comparison, maximum contract periods and rights for consumers to cancel contracts were also raised.
The group also looked at the issues relating to so-called 'over-the-top' communications services such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Skype which are not currently covered by laws on security and data privacy in the same way as traditional voice and text services.
Mrs Ford explained "These new models are very popular and easy to use. We need to make sure that the legal framework is up-to-date whilst not overburdening companies like this with masses of extra red-tape."
Before entering politics Mrs Ford was involved in raising finance for infrastructure including many of the telecoms networks that consumers across the UK and Europe continue to use today.
Mrs Ford added, "It was extremely helpful to have Ofcom with us as many of the issues that we were discussing will continue to apply in the UK after Brexit. Communications technology is advancing at an extremely rapid rate and there is a strong interest from the UK to continue to work with other countries on developing policy."
My Political Priorities
Economic Stability must come first. Without a strong economy we can not deliver a strong society. I work with businesses and consumers to keep Britain open for business, cutting red tape, boosting trade opportunities and helping to deliver jobs and growth for all.
I support Science and Research which is key to delivering better medical care and improved lifestyles for all our families.
Strong security is vital in today's uncertain world, which requires robust policing and defence and deep international relationships that we can depend on. I work with others to achieve this.
I care about the Countryside and the Environment and making sure that rural and urban communities flourish.