Leaseholders accuse Brighton and Hove council of scam over charges

Posted On 21 Sep 2016 at 5:36 pm

Leaseholders have accused Brighton and Hove City Council of using unnecessary major works to scam money from residents.

The claim was made as a petition was presented to the council’s Housing and New Homes Committee this afternoon (Wednesday 21 September).

A leaseholder, Dave Croydon, said: “People feel they’re being scammed by a body they thought they could trust.”

He cited a tribunal case brought against another council for a similar approach to the subject and said that leaseholders had been awarded a 75 per cent rebate on the cost.

The petition was headed “Justice for leaseholders” and was started by David Green. Mr Croydon presented it to the committee at Hove Town Hall.

The petition said: “We the undersigned petition Brighton and Hove City Council to review the contractual relationship, and implementation of contracts, between the council and those who have leased property from the council under right to buy legislation.

“In particular we request that a comprehensive and public investigation be held into

  • The accuracy and validity of annual service charges, cyclical repairs and redecoration
  • The charges for major works, in particular the recent citywide cladding programme, wholesale roof and window replacement and the repair, refurbishment and replacement of lifts. We request that any investigatory body includes experts independent of the council and that the terms of reference include
  • The necessity of work carried out
  • The validity of the consultation process, particularly with but not confined to leaseholders
  • Value for money, the tendering process and actual costs
  • The standard of the work carried out”

Mr Croydon said: “Around 220 people have signed this petition despite the fact we have no access to the database of approximately 2,300 council leaseholders.

“I get several hundred emails every month about the subjects contained in this petition.

“The works referred to actually affect everyone dependent on the services paid for by the Housing Revenue Account managed by the council.

“People feel they’re being scammed by a body they thought they could trust.

“A leaseholder arrived at a tribunal recently only to be faced by two solicitors, a barrister, a surveyor and a council officer. If a leaseholder is in the wrong, why such a brutal show of force?

“And the cost for all these people – several thousand pounds – was then added to the leaseholder’s bill.

“Over the past couple of years the head of audit has been replaced, the head of housing arrested and sacked and a temporary head of housing recruited and replaced.

Housing GV

“Do you know that the temporary head came from a borough where exactly the same works were done as are being done in Brighton?

“At tribunal the leaseholders were awarded a 75 per cent rebate because the works being done were deemed unnecessary.

“What a waste! What has changed? Well, now we have a so-called independent surveyor – a surveyor appointed by Mears – who says that pretty much everything has come to the end of its useful life.”

Mears is the council’s main housing maintenance and repairs contractor.

Mr Croydon said: “Asset management? I don’t think so. One size does not fit all. It is pure laziness and it is unprofessional to say so.

“I do know that some councillors are concerned about this. I had an interesting email exchange with Joe Miller on the subject. I have spoken on several occasions to David Gibson and Jackie O’Quinn.

“I have also seen Mary Mears and Alan Robins speaking on the subject at various meetings.

“This is not a party issue. It affects everyone who depends on the Housing Revenue Account.

“Poor management of this money is a loss to them and, ultimately, to the town.”

Councillor Anne Meadows

Councillor Anne Meadows

Councillor Anne Meadows, who chairs the council’s Housing and New Homes Committee, said: “The council understands the implications to leaseholders when high-cost major works are proposed.

“We do not undertake these lightly but we have legal obligations to keep our buildings in repair.

“To help leaseholders who have difficulty with payment, we offer a number of options we believe are helpful to resident leaseholders.

“The petition asks the council to review the contracts and contractual relationship it has with leaseholders.

“Each leaseholder has a contract with the council through their lease. The leases are agreed by both parties on purchase of the property and we are confident that we are acting in line with our obligations under those leases.

“We do take into consideration the financial impact on leaseholders before authorising work while ensuring our properties are maintained.

“With regard to high-cost major works such as cladding, roof and window replacement carried out at some properties, leaseholders are protected in law that

  • The costs have been reasonably incurred
  • The works are carried out to a reasonable standard
  • The consultation regulations are complied with
  • The lease allows the costs to be passed on in the service charge

“The council has a three-stage leaseholders disputes procedure in order to try to resolve matters between the two parties in the first instance.

“In addition, leaseholders have the legal right to seek a determination at the first-tier tribunal if they believe any of these protections apply to particular service charge costs that have been demanded.

“In relation to the request that experts independent of the council are instructed, we would very much recommend that it is in the interests of any leaseholders who challenge service charges to take their own legal and professional structural surveying advice in order to evidence their case.

“This is a matter for leaseholders themselves, as the council already takes its own legal and structural surveying advice in managing our buildings and is confident that we are managing our buildings, our tenancies and leases properly and in line with our various obligations.

“The council’s Internal Audit Team provides independent objective assurance of the council’s risk management, internal controls and governance processes.

“Each year the Internal Audit Team designs and delivers a programme of work focused on the key risks for the council.

“In 2015 Internal Audit assessed the leasehold service charge administration as giving substantial assurance. Internal Audit concluded that

  • There are effective controls in place to ensure service charges are accurately and promptly processed.
  • There is compliance with major works legislation in relation to consulting leaseholders.
  • There are appropriate procedure notes to enable staff to undertake their tasks in a consistent manner and there are also adequate guidance notes available to leaseholders.”
  1. SamC Reply

    BHCC housing department happily pays well over the odds for many “purchases”. They pay £280/grotty bedsit/week (£14K/year) to unscrupulous private landlords for called “temporary emergency” accommodation – 340% of the Local Housing Allowance rate for the same. Some of the ongoing corruption investigations relate to this apparently. BHCC housing department is unaccountable, opaque, dreadfully managed, creative with the truth, and shamelessly waste huge amounts of taxpayers’ (and leasholders’) money. It is an open secret and no-one does anything. Good luck to the leaseholders with the petition.

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  3. woodcarver Reply

    being a leaseholder means bills have to be paid.

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  8. James Whiteing Reply

    Hi
    We have Mears in Medway
    S.20 works and the outragious costs plus a 15% management charge.
    I have summerised to the best of my abillity the following………

    I am a Owner of a 2 bedroom flat that is leasehold, with the Freeholder being Medway Council.
    The Freeholder has presented the costs to the Leaseholder in a way that is not a definite amount, and refuses to provide exact costs until after the entire work is completed.
    When questioned to obtain and provide quotations for major works including contingency sums so as to enable me to know the maximum amount required to be paid Medway Council, appear to be unwilling, this situation has prevented me from selling my flat as no prospective buyer is naturally prepared to purchase without transparency of the final costs
    In addition to which the costs that are provisionally available seem to be exorbitant and the Freeholder also adds a separate 15% management charge.
    I have lived here since September 2014. At that time the Balcony was in a state of disrepair with cracks along the base where the railings entered the floor of the Balcony.
    I considered that the state of the balcony had been neglected. The Freeholder considers the state of the balcony was due to wear and tear.
    Even a Local Councillor told me the Balcony had been like that for years and a Surveyor who viewed a photograph of the Balcony said the Balcony had been neglected. (Health and Safety ?)
    I do have photographs before the repair took place. The people who repaired the Balcony mentioned that the work had been subcontracted out to them and therefore the cost to the Leaseholder will be greater.
    The Gas meters are located at the bottom of the stairs. Inside is a card from SGN stating the Gas pipes are not electrically bonded and need to be so.
    As there is never an apparent inspection of the communal area by the Freeholder the job is still outstanding and this highlights the Balcony state of repair. As does the lighting on the communal stairs that were on 24/7 at the Leaseholders and Tenants expense until I called the Freeholder.
    To remedy the issue of the lights not switching on and off, the Freeholders people installed additional wiring and a Photo cell. Then after a month or so the Photo cell and some of the additional wiring was removed and the internal units of the light fittings that were not working properly were replaced. Additionally some wiring was altered and a cable now is clipped over a riser cover. (Health and Safety ?)
    Fire regulation S 20, work is scheduled to commence soon. Initially these extra works were identified in a statement sent to me. I contested the statement. Apparently now the gas meter covers will not be replaced. An air brick not to be included and my bathroom window is not to be replaced.
    However a gate is to be installed under the communal stairwell, and the wooden riser covers sited on the stairwell are to be replaced with riser covers made of steel.
    My front door has to be replaced with a FD 30 Front door.
    All these works to be carried out at my expense plus a 15% management charge.
    The quotes for the Fire Regulation work had to be replaced as the nominated contractor withdrew. So the procedure of nominating a Contractor had to be processed again.
    The Properties that Medway Council rent out have internal works included in the Contract offered for Contractors to quote for that includes work to the Communal areas.
    This is irrespective of the financial interest of those that are leaseholders who choose not to have internal works carried out.
    The result being that where three quotes are shown to me, the two contractors whom have been placed second and third could provide the front door to me, cheaper than the Nominated contractor whom has won the overall contract.
    Yet I am told by Medway Council the Freeholder, I am not allowed to contact either of those two contractors and the Freeholder will not disclose their contact details to me.
    I am free to find another contractor to fit the front door if I pay The Freeholder £75 and provided the Contractor I elect to fit the door conforms to the Freeholders specifications of the fitting of the door.
    I am legally advised the wording to describe the manner in which this entire business has been handled is “Willful obscurantism and professional negligence” and the issue of not conforming to the Freedom of Information Act.
    I cannot think of another description for the state of the Balcony other than willful or ignorant neglect. Surely the Freeholder must be responsible for keeping their properties in a good state of repair and has enough legislation control to ensure they abide by the legislation they have powers to impose on others and not to hide behind their own neglect when it suits them.
    By not providing a regular maintenance of their communal areas, more intensive work becomes necessary. In not regularly inspecting their communal areas the and carrying out regular maintenace, the cost to Leaseholders becomes obviously apparent.
    I have available in depth correspondence between myself, and Medway Council, that also details the financial costs.
    In these days of Austerity and the piling of personal debt onto the majority of the population, I as an individual with only a state pension as a source of income with my wife who has been a victim of Cancer, I find this entire Medway attitude towards leaseholders entirely unacceptable.
    The above is an example of general lack of due diligence and professional negligence over a number of years to maintain and manage the property to a good standard. 
     The above has constrained me from living a stress free life and caused me financial expense.  

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