A group of local residents who lease their homes from Lambeth council have accused it of attempting to charge them “massively inflated” bills for overdue maintenance.
Their charge follows yesterday’s (6 June) BBC Politics London programme (report starts at 12” 30’) in which other Lambeth residents made similar accusations.
Owners of 12 leasehold homes in Knatchbull Road, Myatts Fields, say they are facing individual bills of up to £66,000 for works, while independent surveyors they engaged estimate they should be one fifth of this.
And they point out that the council has done no basic upkeep work on the properties for 15 years.
They also say that the council’s charges include some for work on non-existent areas of the building involved.
The Knatchbull Road leaseholders include families with young children, retired people, and a resident in her nineties.
They add that ongoing delays are leading to increasing disrepair in the properties.
They say notices they received from the council follow six years of uncertainty and two abandoned major works projects in 2015 and 2019.
One resident said that they had taken part in at least 10 meeting with the council but that “at the most important time during this consultation period, officers and your consultant cancelled our regular meeting and refused to engage with us”.
They said that no-one working for the council had wondered whether a bill of more than £100,000 was value for money for basic maintenance on a regular street property.
In a detailed letter to the council, the resident said that it had insisted on using a surveyors’ report that included work on a non-existent internal staircase and was mainly conducted by drone.
By contrast the resident’s own thorough surveyors’ report said the works should cost less than a quarter of the council report.
The resident also charged that the council had said that a bid for the work by a contractor nominated by the leaseholders was “non-compliant” after initially saying that it was compliant.
Leaseholders were also refused access by the council to this contractor’s tender, and the council would not explain why the tender was non-compliant.
The council’s favoured tender, the resident said, included 84 working days on a space three by one and a half metres in size and scaffolding up for six months. The leaseholders say similar work on a nearby property took four weeks.
The leaseholders’ summarised complaints include:
- Specifications drawn up without surveyors visiting the properties and including communal areas which do not exist and works already carried out. “The council has made clear that errors will not be rectified at this stage, and yet insists there will be no further consultation with residents at later stages,” the residents say.
- All but two contractors bidding for the works – including the residents’ nominated contractor – were disqualified from the process without explanation.
- The schedule of works leaves residents facing months of disruption for what should be straightforward works, with excessive scaffolding erected for months and drawn-out works inflating costs unnecessarily.
“The situation is taking a huge toll on us all,” said one resident. “We’re experiencing terrible levels of anxiety and disruption to our home lives, and facing the very real prospect that these bills could mean people losing their homes.
“In the meantime, neighbours – both leaseholders and tenants, some of them elderly – are living with draughty windows and unresolved damp issues.
“If costs on one street are being inflated to levels so far above reasonable market rates, we’re flabbergasted by the waste of public money that must be taking place across Lambeth as a whole.”
They say that Lambeth council’s status as a local authority freeholder gives it greater powers to disregard the views of leaseholders, than if it were a private sector landlord.
The leaseholders say that these are typical example of costs:
- Lambeth council estimate for works for one property: £116,270
- Leaseholder share (including Lambeth 10% management fee) £66,109
- Independent expert surveyor estimate: £20,544
- Potential saving for this property £95,726
They say that extrapolating these figures to the 12 properties in the scheme implies wastage of over £1m which will have to be covered jointly by leaseholders and council tax payers.
Speaking on the BBC programme, local MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy (Lab, Streatham) said the council’s contractors were “disgraceful” and should be moved.
A Lambeth leaseholder herself, the MP said another major problem is a lack of central government funding.
“We know that, through the past decade of austerity, our council’s funding had been cut right down to the bone,” she said.
She added that Labour, as opposed to Conservative, councils have suffered more cuts.
A Lambeth council spokesperson said: “There is a comprehensive, multi-faceted and detailed infrastructure in place both internally at the council and externally at the independent cost-consultants that ensures the management and auditing of these contracts.”
They said that: “All housing maintenance works in the borough are carried at fixed rates and in line within a tight legal framework covering tendering, tender review and transparency.
The council said it is “always ready and willing” to engage in constructive dialogue with residents who feel their property may have been neglected.
It said all its major works are competitively tendered and most are carried out under fixed-price agreements awarded under EU tendering rules and evaluated by panels including two resident representatives.
Independent third-party cost consultants are responsible for validating works, controlling costs and administering the contracts, the council said.
It also employs its own in-house project managers and quantity surveyors to “double and triple check” works, costs and progress.