A tribunal undercut by settlement is good news – but a far less costly case would have been better

Shula Rich made rather a mess of the facts in her opinion piece on the independent tribunal to resolve the payment dispute between the council and leaseholders on the Bristol Estate.

The article continues the hail of misrepresentation, accusation and rumour around this case. It’s time to set the record straight.

Going to tribunal isn’t a decision we took lightly. The council was owed around £400,000 at that point and payment is now more than three years overdue.

It relates to the leaseholders’ share of costs for essential refurbishment work carried out on their blocks of flats in 2014. That came to around £28,000 each.

As with any property owner, leaseholders are required to contribute towards the upkeep of their building. We make that clear to anyone thinking of buying their council flat.

We do realise the expense can be difficult for people to fund so offer a number of payment options, including interest-free loans.

As with all the major work we need to do to our blocks, the leaseholders were fully consulted before the work began.

Most of the leaseholders in the Bristol Estate blocks have paid or made arrangements to pay the costs, but 12 disputed the service charge and have not paid their share.

We spent 18 months trying to reach agreement through our own procedures, including a dispute resolution process. When those processes proved unsuccessful, we decided the fairest option was to refer the dispute to the independent tribunal.

The approach to “reach a deal” on the first day of the tribunal came from the barrister acting for the group of leaseholders, not the council. This was the first time we were able to properly discuss settling the dispute and we welcomed the approach.

We were happy to agree a settlement which we felt was beneficial to both the public purse and the leaseholders involved. It meant the case could be dealt with quickly and kept the costs down.

Larissa Reed

We don’t yet have the final legal costs for the case but they are likely to be around £90,000 to £100,000. It is a shame we were not able to have useful discussions before incurring these costs.

The leaseholders who didn’t attend were informed by both the tribunal and by us. As a legal requirement of the process, it’s a surprising claim that no one was aware of this.

We will be happy to publish the decision of the tribunal when it arrives and all other leaseholders in the block will benefit from any reduction decided by the tribunal. We hope that will bring an end to the matter.

Larissa Reed is the executive director of neighbourhoods, communities and housing at Brighton and Hove City Council.

  1. david croydon Reply

    “It is a shame we were not able to have useful discussions before incurring these costs.”
    Yep. A real shame.

  2. saveHOVE Reply

    I wonder how Larissa Reed justifies a few terms used in this Opinion.

    How does overcladding count as “essential refurbishment” when put over totally intact brickwork that looked far better than the now-stained cladding with all its joins now showing? Hiw does it meet the definition of “upkeep”? It is a form of redevelopment work that some might argue has damaged the integrity of the buildings receiving it.

    To alleviate the plastic duvet effect, and to allow fit where extra wall depth meets windows, rather cheap UPVC dble glazed windows with trickle vents go in with it, replacing existing. And these trickle vents leak air into flats in a howling onshore or north wind when supposedly closed – making homes draughty.

    The major works rollout of these measures has been a tragic mistake ruining the appearance (and potentially the life) of buildings – the worst of which sit drably stained and increasingly slum-like in central Brighton just off Edward Street.

    Harsh judgment after the fact has been aired by councillors in Housing meetings over recent years – in one case demanding the ‘maintenance-free’ cladding of one building be painted (Cllr Joe Miller).

    And leaseholders would dispute and choke on the smooth claims about being “fully consulted”. It amounts to an empty formality with no rights. That said, maybe if leaseholders had been organised and involved and less apathetic, as a whole, at the leaseholder and planning application consultation stages they could have prevented their current disastrous problems coming down on their heads.

    Especially at the planning stage! None
    of it was possible without planning consent.

  3. Anon Reply

    Legal bill of £100,000 and probably much more??? Who is going to pay it? Larissa? Or the council tax payers? This is disgraceful.

  4. David Rumelle Reply

    It’s also a shame the article used photographs in the glorious sunshine making out that the estate is now in a good condition. It is not-the new cladding is stained,cracked and crumbling in places and in short looks tired and delapidated after less than 4 years!The newindows don t operate properly.
    we all tried to negotiate by the
    couuncils dispute process but we’re denied.The council are being extremely two faced as ever claiming Shula Rich “made a mess of things”.on the contrary -she was fighting for what is right and fare and above all the truth!!!!

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