Islington council is to overhaul how leaseholders are charged for repair works after being forced to write off more than £300,000 following successful appeals against overcharging – with the prospect of another £429,000 still to be paid out.
The major climbdown was announced at Tuesday night’s Audit Committee meeting, when chairman Labour councillor Phil Kelly admitted there had been “mistakes” and welcomed a new era of “understanding and communication” between leaseholders and council officials.
It follows last year’s extraordinary victory for seven leaseholders who live at Tremlett Grove, Archway, who had their bills reduced by 60 per cent, from £28,000 to £12,000 for roof work, which a tribunal ruled was not necessary.
The council had to write off £100,000 for the appeal and later an additional £200,000 after extending the reduction to leaseholders from the two other blocks on the estate who had not taken part in the tribunal.
And it is being claimed by magazine Inside Housing that the council could lose at least another £429,000 in a series of four leasehold valuation tribunals that are due to go ahead later this year – equivalent to roughly 5 per cent of its total estimated annual income from leaseholder service charges. Rather than simply presenting leaseholders with a bill and refusing to discuss it, as is the current practice, housing officers will now “talk” to residents and seek to avoid protracted disputes.
Cllr Kelly added: “The council has learned lessons, and the issue will now be addressed in a new way in the hope that everyone involved, residents and the council, gets real value for money.”
Dr Brian Potter, chairman of the Islington Leaseholders Association, said he welcomed the council’s attempt to appear fair but suspected it may not always be in the leaseholders’ best interests.
“My biggest worry is that leaseholders will be cajoled into agreeing to bills with council officials and thus forfeiting their rights to go to arbitration at tribunal and possibly win real reductions,” he added.
Officers admitted at the meeting that although they have attended meetings of the Leaseholders Association they had never consulted with Dr Potter and would now do so.