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New law which caps the amount councils can charge leaseholders for repairs to their homes comes 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.
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 5 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’ 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.
Increasing support for leaseholders
In addition to capping the amount leaseholders will pay, councils bidding for next year’s decent homes funding will also be required to make clear what help is available, including loans and deferred payment options, will have to offer affordable repayment terms and publish details of how they award contracts for the major works on their websites.
But with an estimated 4 million residential properties in England subject to a long lease, Mr Pickles has also asked officials in his department to examine what further support can be offered to other leaseholders.
Already, plans are in place to require managing agents to belong to a redress scheme so leaseholders have somewhere to go if they get a raw deal. But ministers will also look to address:
- providing access to summaries of the determination of tribunal cases so people have a better understanding of the outcome
- making it easier to get recognition of a tenants’ association
- increasing awareness of what being a leaseholder means before people buy leasehold properties
- gaining information on absentee leaseholders, especially where owners wish to buy the freehold
- ensuring landlords provide a realistic valuation of the price a leaseholder would have to pay to buy the freehold or extend their lease
- the specific issue of transfer (exit) fee covenants particularly found in the retirement leasehold sector by referring the matter to the Law Commission
The outcome of the consultation on protecting local authority leaseholders from unreasonable charges can be viewed on the website.
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