By Harry Scoffin
Coronation Street producers are giving viewers the uncomfortable truth about leasehold retirement homes with a new plot line concerning the soap’s longest-serving character.
The much-loved Ken Barlow, whose shock departure from the cobbles earlier this month had viewers in tears, has finally given in to girlfriend Claudia Colby and moved into the luxury retirement village of Still Waters.
However, it quickly emerges that life at Still Waters is far from stress-free because of rip-off leasehold charges and a vain resident – thought to be the freeholder or his proxy – who has lived there for years and is running the place as their personal fiefdom.
Last week Norris Cole, another perennial Corrie character and fellow flat lessee, told Ken that he would quickly find out that all is not what it seems at the site.
He urged the 80-year-old ex-teacher, played by actor William Roache, to consider leaving the development with him.
Norris is not the first person to warn Ken about the hidden costs of leasehold property in the retirement sector.
In February, the former Watchdog presenter Alice Beer told Corrie fans on This Morning that “there are lots of red flags to be waived” over the apartment Ken was eyeing up.
ITV’s flagship daytime show was running a feature on Ken’s plan to sell up and buy into the all-singing, all-dancing retirement village.
Ms Beer went on to alert viewers that “when you buy one of these retirement homes, it’s going to be leasehold … [and] with a leasehold property come lots and lots of charges: ground rent, service charge, maintenance charges, leasehold renewal [or extension] fees, lots and lots of fees that people don’t think are going to come up and hit them.”
It seems her advice struck a chord with Coronation Street producers, as Ken is set to become incandescent with rage over a permission fee levied for smuggling in Eccles, the border terrier he has owned since 2006.
The permission fee for keeping the pet in his plush new flat is said to be “only the tip of the iceberg” for Ken.
In episodes set to air this week, Ken will confront the untrustworthy Charles Lake, who has been “ripping off residents left, right and centre with his fines.”
It is not unusual for freeholders to levy sky-high permission fees for pet ownership.
Leasehold Knowledge Partnership has been leading the calls for strict regulation of license and permission fees, something that was backed by Parliament’s Communities Select Committee in its highly critical report on the leasehold sector last year.
The powerful cross-party group of MPs urged government to pass legislation to cap the charges because “many of the permission fees and administrative charges we have heard about are plainly excessive, exploitative and yet another example of developers and freeholders seeking to extract money from leaseholders who have very limited recourse to challenge such fees.”
This analysis has been echoed by Lord Richard Best, the property expert tasked to investigate managing agents and leasehold charges by ex-premier Theresa May in October 2018.
The independent crossbencher and former National Housing Federation boss found that “consumers rarely challenge such permission fees as the time and cost involved in litigating are nearly always disproportionately high relative to the amount in dispute.”
Lord Best advised government to set a “prescribed list” of license and permission fees. His proposed state-backed property regulator would then enforce the statutory list and constantly review it so it could be “updated periodically via a statutory instrument”.
“We believe, if such a list were implemented, the growth of unnecessary restrictive covenants for revenue raising purposes would fall away,” his working group said in the report.
MHCLG, the ministry of housing, has still not officially responded to Lord Best and colleagues, despite their final recommendations being published nearly a year ago in July 2019.
Sources close to Coronation Street have briefed The Sun newspaper to suggest still waters run deep and that Ken may find other unreasonable fees levied by Charles. Ken is expected to oust him as the “residents’ chair”.
It is not clear whether removing Charles will gift the leaseholders control over the managing agent and service charges.
Readers of LKP will have to tune in to find out.
That leasehold issues are being given an airing on the long-running soap opera of Coronation Street, whose characters are a staple part of British life, is a major boost to campaigners pushing for an end to the feudal hangover.
It could not come at a better time as the coronavirus crisis forces the nation to spend more time in their living rooms. The programme averages 6 million viewers an episode.
Coronation Street spoilers: Ken Barlow’s new retirement village is a scam reveals Norris Cole as he returns to the cobbles
CORONATION Street legends Ken Barlow and Norris Cole plan a great escape from their retirement complex as the former shop owner returns to reveal it’s a scam. Ken and Claudia got a warm welcome from fellow resident Charles Lake but Norris – who’s moved into Still Waters – drops the shock bombshell that he’s ripping everyone off.
Coronation Street spoilers: Ken Barlow furious as he discovers he is being ripped off by his retirement apartment
CORONATION Street legend Ken Barlow is furious to discover he’s being ripped off by fellow Still Waters resident Charles lake with his fines. An indignant Ken – who is played by Bill Roache on the ITV soap – then hatches a plan to stop Charles’s dodgy dealings once and for all.