Council leaseholders often feel they are being treated unfairly by the Labour-run Hammersmith and Fulham Council – with good reason.
Concerns are raised of excessive charges, poor service, secrecy, and bureaucratic obstruction.
The average service charges for council leaseholders in Hammersmith and Fulham is £827 a year. Some other London boroughs charge much less: in Hillingdon it is £378.73p; in Harrow it is £357.90.
Examples of outrageous costs for extra work abound. Replacing a lift in our borough costs the Council £125,000 – in Wandsworth it is £51,000. Yet our lifts frequently break down. The Council spent £5.6 million on scaffolding last year – often left up for months with no work being done.
Sometimes council leaseholders are forced to pay for “improvements” that are not wanted – such as replacing sash windows with PVC windows.
This must include a better deal for Council leaseholders with a proper Leaseholders Charter. The Council has offered a very insipid version full of meaningless promises such as to “consult”, “hold meetings”, “carry out satisfaction surveys”, “continue to develop the knowledge of our housing staff”and “ensure we charge leaseholder a reasonable cost for major works undertaken”.
We real Council leaseholders charter would include the following:
1. We will reduce leaseholder charges each year and ensure they are below the London average by 2022.
2. “Public works” costs, such as upkeep of footpaths and play areas on estates which are generally used by the public, will be charged to the General Fund and not to the Housing Revenue Account. This greater fairness will help cut service charges and improve maintenance.
2. At present it is difficult or impossible for leaseholders to check their bills are correct. We will simplify the charges and provide greater transparency. Council leaseholders will be granted full estimated costings in the “Section 125 notices” – rather than just a total figure and a vague reference to what the work is for.
3. When leaseholders own two thirds or more of the flats in a block they have a legal right to buy the freehold. We will use our discretion to lower this threshold for council properties and allow leaseholders the chance to buy the freehold in council properties where they own at least half of the flats.
4. Often those who undertake shared ownership get charged 100 per cent of the leaseholder charges. That is iniquitous. We would ensure they are only charged the proportionate sum.
5. Equal treatment. Council leaseholders must no longer be treated as second class citizens compared to council tenants. For example with the Council’s ill-judged stock transfer proposal they would have been legally obliged to give tenants a vote on the plan – but refused to guarantee this for leaseholders.
6. We will appoint an independent ombudsman to address leaseholder complaints when they are not resolved within a specific time period.
7. We will end the absurd excuse of “commercial confidentiality” used by the Council to escape scrutiny over its spending. If council leaseholders can identify areas where the Council is being ripped off they should be thanked – rather than face hostility; which happens under the current administration.
A better deal and a greater say for our leaseholders is in everyone’s interest. Tangible changes are needed to make that a reality – not just bland waffle.