North Southwark and Bermondsey MP Simon Hughes has introduced a private member's bill in the House of Commons to give more rights to leaseholders who have bought former council houses.
The Leasehold Reform Bill, piloted by Simon Hughes and co-sponsored by 11 other MPs, was began its second reading in the Commons on Friday afternoon.
The Commons debate comes in the week that Simon Hughes celebrates 25 years as MP for North Southwark and Bermondsey. It is the first time in that quarter of a century that he has succeeded in the parliamentary ballot to win the opportunity to introduce a private member's bill.
The main proposals in the bill are to:
• make sure leaseholders can only be hit for £250 a month for service charges
• set up a system for councils to buy back a percentage of the property where the residential leaseholder needs help to meet costs and service charges
• allow all leaseholders to set up an individual sinking fund with their council to help finance capital works
• give leaseholders the chance to have their plans for works implemented when at least a quarter propose a plan which then gains majority support
• give leaseholders and councils the option of resolving disputes through local arbitration rather than nationally
Although unlikely to become law, in Southwark alone this bill would potentially affect more than 13,000 households.
"Since Mrs Thatcher introduced the Right to Buy in the early eighties, tens of thousands of families have ended up as leaseholders of local councils up and down the land," says Simon Hughes. "25 years later, council leaseholders are still struggling for a fair deal.
"My bill is a response to the continuing concerns of young and old houseowners alike who struggle to pay the bills and feel they have too little say over their homes.
"I hope the government will make a positive response to this serious attempt to produce a better deal for council leaseholders."
During the debate the Bermondsey MP cited a number of local examples of the huge charges faced by leaseholders of Southwark Council and City of London Corporation properties.
"The force of the Bill's potential implications was brought home to me most when, some time ago, a pensioner couple who had just managed to get some money together to buy a very small City of London corporation flat on the well-maintained Avondale Square estate on the Old Kent Road came to me with a bill of £27,000. They probably did not have even £1,000 savings, let alone £27,000. Eventually, after long negotiations, we managed to get it down to about £11,000, but even so, that was the charge they had to pay."
Speaking after Friday's debate Simon Hughes said: "This was a good start for a very important Bill which will improve the lot of tens of thousands of leaseholders. I am grateful for the support already received. I have agreed to have discussions with colleagues to try to get agreement on the way forward before the Bill comes back on June 13th.
"In the meantime, I shall be putting amendments to the Housing and Regeneration Bill on leaseholder issues when this government Bill comes back to the Commons in a few weeks time. One way or another I am sure that we can make progress for leaseholders in the near future if the government is willing to play ball."