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.
“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, 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.”