‘My brother-in-law moved in – then overstayed his welcome for five years’

Money Confidential
Money Confidential

They say families are like fish (they go off after three days). But when John* got the call that his brother-in-law was getting a divorce and needed somewhere to stay, there was never any question over what would happen next.

Alan* arrived with suitcases and made himself at home in the spare bedroom of their large family home in a leafy London suburb. All was well for a few weeks, which unexpectedly became a few months. And then, even more unexpectedly, the pandemic hit, scuppering any plans for Alan to relocate.

He was supposed to stay at the family home for only a few weeks, but it would be a long five years before Alan finally flew his sister’s nest. During this time, tensions grew and relationships soured.

It was agreed that Alan should pay £300 a month in rent and towards bills, but John isn’t sure whether or not he kept this up. He thinks probably not, but it was his wife who handled most of the difficult conversations about money.

Alan’s presence in the house – and his lack of financial or practical contribution – started to sour relations between John and his wife. She often felt like piggy in the middle, John says, peacekeeping between her brother and her increasingly frustrated husband.

With hindsight, John wishes he had put in place a contract for Alan to sign, to ensure he paid rent and kept to house rules, although he recognises it may have been awkward to implement.

Hear the full story in John’s own words on Katie Morley’s new podcast, Money Confidential.

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On this week’s episode of the Money Confidential podcast, I asked professional mediator Becs Dhillon what more John could have done to improve communications – and what other families facing similar situations could do.

She advised setting up carefully planned family meetings, in which every family member has a chance to say how they feel about the situation. As much as possible, she advised listening carefully to the other side’s opinions and feelings, and acknowledging the consequences of one’s own behaviours and actions, even if they were not intended.

This validation and acknowledgement of feelings is not the same as apologising for having done something wrong, she points out.

Also on the show Robert Mendick, the Telegraph’s chief reporter, chimes in with some rather unconventional advice not just for families in John’s situation but also for a young wife who isn’t sure how to handle a mother-in-law who keeps asking for money.

I’d be interested to know – do you feel an extended family member has taken advantage of your generosity? How did you handle it, and with hindsight would you have done anything differently?

You can reply to me in the comments below, or send me an email or a voice note to moneyconfidential@telegraph.co.uk with your thoughts.

I am looking for people to appear on future episodes, so if you’ve got something to get off your chest or you need some advice, send me your money dilemma by filling in my contact form below.

*Names have been changed.