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Plans for a 'death tax' that would have hit grieving families with bills of up to £6,000 have been replaced with proposals for a flat fee.

Probate charges for individual executors will increase from current fees of £215 to £273, a 27 per cent jump. Professional users of the probate system, such as solicitors, will see fees rise 76 per cent from £155 to the new flat rate.

It comes after the Government dropped controversial plans that would have seen 280,000 families a year pay on a 'sliding scale' tied to the value of the deceased's estate. If instigated, 56,000 families would be left facing bills of £2,500 to £6,000 to secure probate - the term given to the legal right to a dead person's property, money and possessions. Estates valued at less than £5,000 or less will continue to be exempt from the new fee, due to be introduced early next year.

House prices have dipped for the first time in five months after the stamp duty holiday came to an end. The price of a typical home was £260,358 in June, down by 0.5 per cent compared to May, says Halifax. Although that figure was still 8.8 per cent, or £21,000. higher than a year ago, experts said it was an early sign that the market is starting to lose steam and that 'peak buyer demand' may now have passed. 

It was the first drop in prices since January and came ahead of the tapering of the stamp duty holiday from July 1st. Estate agents had predicted that price growth may stall as that deadline approached, although many remain bullish about the rest of the summer. 

The boom in prices over the past year has been fuelled by the duty holiday - which exempted homes worth £500,000 or less from tax - as well as demand from families seeking bigger homes with gardens after months of lockdowns.

Russell Galley, Halifax's managing director, said that many buyers would still pay minimal tax with the stamp duty threshold set to be £250,000 until October 1st when it will return to the normal level of £125,000. But he added: 'We would still expect annual growth to have slowed somewhat more by the end of the year, with unemployment expected to edge higher as job support measures unwind, and the peak of buyer demand now likely to have passed.'

Matt Oliver

Cities may have to ban wood burning stoves to drive down pollution, a government minister warned yesterday. The fashionable burners are said to be responsible for up to 40 per cent of fine particles known as PM2.5, the most damaging form of air pollution.

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow was asked by MPs why the government did not make them illegal in cities, while allowing them in rural areas in homes not connected to gas. 'All these things will have to come under a microscope,' she told the Environment Food and Rural affairs select committee, also suggesting that barbecues at street markets could face a ban.

Around 1.5million UK homes are thought to have wood burning stoves and Bill Parish, air pollution head at the Defra ministry told the panel: 'It's difficult I think to impose a complete ban at this point.' But he added: 'If you wanted to drive down levels of particulates in London you'd have to take more action on domestic combustion.'

The Stove Industry Alliance disputes that 40 per cent of particulates come from wood burning stoves, saying that barbecues, firepits, pizza ovens and bonfires are also to blame.

                                                                                                                                                                                 Colin Fernandez  Environment Correspondent, Daily Mail

John Lewis is considering plans to build 10,000 homes over the next decade as the high street store group looks to revive its flagging fortunes by becoming a landlord. The employee-owned group, which compromises the upmarket John Lewis department stores and the Waitrose supermarkets, is understood to have identified enough excess space on the land it owns to build at least 7,000 homes.

The properties, which will range from studio flats to four-bedroom houses, will be built on sites owned by the chain, above Waitrose supermarkets or on land next to the company's distribution centres. Tenants of a John Lewis-owned home will have the option of renting the property fully furnished with the department store's products or using their own. Some of its housing developments are expected to come with a concierge service, and many are expected to include a Waitrose convenience store as part of the development.

The first John Lewis homes are planned for south-east England but the partnership believes there are opportunities across the country, given the extent of the nationwide housing crisis as property prices spiral upwards, pushing properties out of reach of first-time buyers. If successful, it would be expanded to include further sites. John Lewis 80,000 staff, who are partners in the business, could be offered discounted rents.

It is not the chain's first foray into the housing market. John Lewis also owns most of Leckford, a village in Hampshire, where every home with a green door is a partnership property. The retailer is preparing to lodge a handful of planning applications early next year.

The move is part of the store's plan to restore its fortunes. John Lewis has had a very difficult time in recent years amid pressure on the high street from its online rivals, and tumbled to its first annual loss in 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The big shopping changes caused by the crisis prompted it to close 16 of its 50 stores and commit to spending £800million to overhaul the remaining branches, as well as improve its website and shopping app.

The fallout from the pandemic meant staff did not get a bonus for the first time since 1953 with one unlikely this year.

Roof gardens could spring up across the country as ministers prepare to tear up regulations and let homeowners build terraces on top of their houses. Senior government sources said it will be easier to get planning permission to put plants, trees and furniture on roofs.

It is believed greenery above homes is good for the environment as it promotes biodiversity and helps to insulate buildings, reducing the carbon footprint.

A No 10 spokesman said: 'It is definitely something that should be taken seriously.' Ministers added that homeowners will be actively encouraged to improve their house's biodiversity. One said: 'I would strongly support planning and building regulations being relaxed in relation to biodiversity initiatives like roof gardens.'

Currently, it is difficult to get planning permission due to considerations such as neighbour privacy. Laws allows such issues to be bypassed if there is a precedent for roof gardens or terraces in the area.

Sarah Dival, of environmental charity Hubbub, said: 'roof gardens are increase biodiversity [and] absorb pollution.'

                                                                                                                                  Daily Mail.

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