Local authority leaseholders in Southwark, south London, have won a tribunal case over major works.
It means that 134 leaseholders in the St Saviour estate, in Bermondsey, will see bills slashed from averaging £17,000 to £8,000.
The council had replaced all the front doors on the estate and carried out other works such as communal decorations and fire protection, reports Southwark News
A band of 88 leaseholders joined forces to challenge the council at a tribunal, where the bills were successfully reduced to £8,000.
The council appealed to a higher tribunal but has now lost again.
Jean Langridge, 85, who has lived on the estate for 34 years, was handed a £19,000 estimated bill for works, while resident Samantha Mitchell was given an estimate of £17,000.
Speaking to Southwark News, Samantha said:
“When I tried to talk to them [the council] right from the beginning they told us to go to the court. There was no trying to engage with us in a dialogue.
“All we wanted was a fair, transparent process and for it to be done properly.”
Welcoming the Upper Tribunal’s decision, Olayinka Mosadomi, representative for St Owen’s House, said: “We tried, on many occasions, to talk to Southwark, yet, despite their mantra of ‘securing fair value’, nothing about the way Southwark was conducting itself or treating residents was remotely fair.
“There wasn’t any proper assessment of what was really needed or a genuine desire to consult with leaseholders.
“We knew these charges were unfair and unnecessary yet the council was blasé in its decision-making and wasted public money to take us to court. This ruling is now an important lesson for this council and also many up and down the country.”
Southwark Liberal Democrat councillors have asked the council how much it has spent on fighting the St Saviour’s leaseholders in court, whether it will now be meeting the leaseholders’ costs, and when leaseholders on the estate can expect revised major works bills or to be refunded.
They have also asked about the wider implications for leaseholder bills in future major works projects.
Lib Dem councillor Damian O’Brien said: “Liberal Democrat councillors are fighting residents’ corner and will push the Labour council to get a fair deal for leaseholders on the St Saviour’s estate and all future major works schemes across the borough.”
Cllr Stephanie Cryan, Southwark Council’s cabinet member for housing, said: “The leaseholders applied to the First Tier Tribunal, which agreed with the council that most of the work was necessary but reduced the amounts for all door renewals only.
Leaseholders are billed on an estimated basis and then adjusted when the actual costs are known.
“Ultimately, if leaseholders do not pay the bills that they are responsible for, council tenants would have to make up the shortfall through their rent.”
This last point is questionable, in the view of LKP.
Is this the same Southwark Council that has just been fined 570,000 pounds over their admitted failures in the l fire at Lakanal House which resulted in 6 fatalities?
On the basis that Southwark council appears to be saying that “If leaseholders don’t pay up (even if the demands for payment are unlawful) council tenants will have their rents increased” I wonder who actually will end up paying Southwark Council’s fine?