The so-called Florrie’s Law introduces a new £15,000 cap on repair bills for local authority leaseholders and will come into force this week.
Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles vowed to introduce the cap after a 93-year-old constituent was landed with a £50,000 bill by her local authority for roof repairs.
Newham Council based its fee on a guess because it had not conducted a proper survey on the first-floor flat. It later emerged the roof would have lasted another 40 years and the work was unnecessary.
The family of Florence Bourne say she “died of shame” because she had never been in debt in her life and simply could not afford to pay the bill for work on her Brentwood home.
Another “victim” is Farieda Chandoo – an NHS secretary and former nanny to George Osborne – who challenged a £40,000 repair bill from Southwark Council in south London.
She thought the quality of the work – which she showed LKP / Campaign against retirement leasehold exploitation – was appalling.
Two court cases later, she faces total bills – including Southwark’s legal costs – of more than £100,000. Her full story, including video interview, can be found here
Mr Pickles ordered officials at the Department for Communities and Local Government to review legislation governing council house repairs after Florence’s plight was brought to his attention.
Now new directions are being issued to councils and housing associations which will force them to limit the amount they can charge for future major repair, maintenance, or improvement works when they are wholly or partly funded by the government.
Outside London the maximum level will be levied at £10,000 in any five-year period, with a cap of £15,000 for the capital.
Authorities will bear the outstanding costs of work themselves.
Mr Pickles said:
“I was appalled at Florence’s treatment and was determined that no other leaseholder should ever have to endure the stress and hardship she experienced in the final weeks of her life.
“Florence served her country as a WAAF in the Second World War, raised a loving family and believed in paying her way, so to be faced with this excessive fee was more than she could stand.”
Charging excessive amounts for council house repairs not only targets some of the most vulnerable people in society, it can amount to a failure in a local authority’s duty of care.
Under Florrie’s Law local authorities will no longer be able to levy huge bills for future government funded repair work on people who simply have little or no hope of meeting their demands.
The family of Mrs Bourne, a grandmother of 7, described the pensioner as having “old school morality” that disapproved of living in debt.
Her son, Roy Bourne, of Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, said his mother lost weight because she worried about meeting the bill and sobbed at the thought of saddling her family with the debt.
Mrs Bourne died following a heart attack she suffered when she was startled by the sound of falling roof tiles onto her balcony during the proven unnecessary works on the roof.
A leasehold valuation tribunal found last year that Newham Council had not commissioned a proper survey of the flat. An independent surveyor commissioned after Mrs Bourne’s death found the roof would have lasted another 40 years.