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Council charges for leaseholders

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Thursday 19 February 2004 10.38am
naughty jonathan k!!! I had to drag myself to type that post. Actually I had my laptop in bed with me. Okay, I'm lieing now.

But not to get off the point, I received a renewal of membership for LAS2000 with their newlsetter today -- will post edited snippets of useful information once I've read it
Thursday 19 February 2004 3.53pm
Slight digression……
On Sunday 15th Feb, ITV filmed a sequence of a forthcoming drama in one of the flats on the Whites Grounds Estate & in the arches in front. All residents were prepared for this as we were informed by letter beforehand.
When the crew & their facilities arrived early Sunday morning (2 large trucks, 2 large transit vans & a few cars) they parked up in the estate car park, set up & started filming. They expected to be in the area till at least 11.30p.m.
I wouldn't say I was inconvenienced greatly, but if I & other residents wanted to drive out of the car park, it wasn't the easiest of manoeuvres due to the quantity of extra large vehicles & as the arch was closed for filming, if you wanted to go anywhere, the only route out was the longest. It was also a bit like playing musical chairs with available car park spaces on your return… Apart from that, they didn't bother me.

What I am curious about, Southwark council were probably paid quite a handsome sum of money from ITV, to use the facilities on the estate for over 12 hours.

Does this money benefit the estate where the filming went ahead - including council tenants & leaseholders?

Does any one know where this cash actually goes?

This is also not the only time filming has taken place on this estate.

Friday 20 February 2004 9.31am
I have just been informed that the leasehold management dept had a new computer system installed in December and are experiencing teething problems, hence the delay in getting service charge bills out to people. They are asking for our patience, I wonder if I can use the same tactic when they send me a huge bill and expect full payment within 5 working days?
Saturday 21 February 2004 3.31pm
Hi all again,

1. James H - thanks for setting up this section. It will be great to compare and contrast the different answers we all get form Southwark about all these issues.

2. Re: delayed bills for service charge. This happened to me, too, and the happy news is that you do NOT have to pay any bill for service charge which is sent to you 18 months or longer after the charge was 'incurred'. There is a bit of of grey area about when charges are incurred by the council, although in the case of major works (Section 20) bills, it was when the contractors first got a payment from the council. In the case of regular, annual service charges, the council seem to be able to claim that they incur the cost at the start of each council tax year (April 1st), or at the start of each quarter, depending on the situation.

Anyhoo, I've had a couple of disuptes about this in the past, and my experiences were these:

a) Regular, Annual service charge. When we took over our lease back in October 1999, we got charged for the October quarter and January Quarter (i.e. Oct-Dec, Jan-Mar). All well and good. We paid.
However, at the start of the new year, our names mysteriously vanished from the computer. We got no invoices for the entire year form April 2000-March 2001. As I was new to this whole game, I didn't really notice that we weren't getting these invoices. The next quarter, April 2001, we started getting the invoices again, and hence we paid them. Later on, in July 2002, we got a big debit on our service charge account, i.e. a year's worth of service charge for 2000-2001. As this was some 27 months after the time we should have paid, I thought it was a bit off, and emailed LEASE for some advice. They told me all about the 18 month rule, so I refused to pay. In the end, there was some haggling about which quarterly payments in the 2000-2001 year fell foul of the 18 month rule, but they let me off paying the first two, and if I had pressed the case, I might have been able to get off the third one as well, but didn't think I had much of a chance with it, so I accepted paying the last 6 months' worth.

Interestingly, when I first talked to the Leasehold Management Unit about it, they said their advice was that they had seven years to get around to invoicing me, contrary to what LEASE had told me. I had a meeting with one of the LMU officers, and he agreed to check with the Council solicitors about it, and sure enough we got the credit on our account a couple of months later.

b) Major works service charges. We got the final invoice last year (2003) for some external decorations that had been done to the estate in 1997/98. I said that this invoice was well and truly out of the 18 month period, and suggested they should send me a credit note for the invoice. Well, as it turns out, there is a rule regarding major works which states that it they do not issue the invoice within 18 months, they can cover themselves by sending out a letter along the lines of 'There will be a bill along at some point, but we haven't prepared it just yet'. They need to send this letter out within the 18 month period, and if they do so, they then have - wait for it - 10 YEARS to get around to sending you an invoice!

I didn't have any record of such a letter (all this would have happened before we bought the property), but they sent me a copy from their file, so I had to accept that they had sent it after all. I'm still, however, saying they didn't do the consultation properly, but that's a different issue.

These are only my own experiences, any anyone else's dealings with the LMU are likely to be somewhat different. I kept polite at all times, tried to keep as much of the communication as possible in writing, and they responded well to this, e.g. agreeing not to move to legal proceedings until it had been sorted out. Also, I got on well with one of the guys in their debt collection office, after it turned out we were fellow Kiwis, and hence the agreement to hold off until negotiations with the LMU had concluded. Be nice to these people - their ignorance is deplorable, but down to a lack of training rather than any deliberate obstuctiveness.

Finally, if you think you have any sort of concern about a service charge bill, either regular or major works, DO NOT agree to pay even a part of it. If you do so, then you waive all your rights to contest the invoices. They can be reinstated by the LVT (Leasehold Valuation Tribunal) or County Court, but you are seriously damaging your case.

And even more finally, all of the above is probably made obsolete by the Commonhold laws that took effect as of October 31st 2003.
Saturday 21 February 2004 3.37pm
A bit OT, but I would not recommend paying your service charge or council tax by direct debit. If you end up overpaying for any reason, or they stuff up and take too much money out of your account, then you will struggle to get it back. They may of course use it to credit your account, and present you with lower payments in the future, but you will have lost any interest owing on the money, and the overpayment may cause other difficulties. I had a payment that was meant to be 168 turned into 768 by a typo! It meant I got dangerously close to going over my agreed overdraft, and getting all sorts of lovely bank charges. I asked the council to refund the extra 600 to me, but over the course of three months, it never happened, and in the end I agreed to leave it as a credit on my service charge account.

/rant :-)
Monday 23 February 2004 10.38am
James,

Sounds as if you are becoming an expert on the LMU! Thanks for your comments, it really helps those of us who have just taken on a leasehold. It is also good to know about the 18 month rule.
Tuesday 24 February 2004 3.29pm
As i said previously, i have just moved to a flat in Bermondsey, reading all of you i got a bit terrified, i hope i won't have too many problems.

One thing that seems to be annoying to me is that although i have moved to Bermondsey about 1 month ago, am still waiting for any 'welcoming' letter from Southwark Council telling me all about it, i.e. service charges, etc.

i have been looking on the internet and finally found the Housing Leaseholder Association from my block of flats so i am in touch with them (or so i think!), i have sent them like 10 emails so far but not going anywhere as yet.

i was thinking about knocking down a couple of walls in my flat to make it more 'open-plan', also do laminated flooring and double glazing... (now i think the double glazing won't be happening after reading your messages, besides i've got central heating so it is not like am cold at home but thought i would be good for security reasons and the main door and windows seems to be quite old!).

Laminated flooring is ok as well as the knocking the walls, or so they told me by email, but now someone need to come to my place to go with the plans and all that (safety reasons).

i wonder if it will worth all the trouble? every thing seems so old in my flat (light switches, etc) that it looks like i need to change everything!

and can someone tell me why people find it funny to urinate on the lifts?? is it fashionable to do so?

and why do i feel so threatened when i see an group of youths hanging around doing nothing near my block ?? or is it me ?

oh dear.. questions, questions!

x big cuddle.
Tuesday 2 March 2004 10.05am
Having posted a long mail elsewhere in this 'strand' [the one begun by JAmes516] about a private Freeholder called Susan Dixon/Buttercup Management, I'll just add one contact that I didn't notice flicking through; CARL, who have a website www.carl.org.uk and in my experience are helpful and well informed, and more so apparently on Council and Ex-C.

I would say that at least in my experience [of finally defeating and getting rid of my Freeholder] that LEASE are very good, but you really need to use them as a source of advice not THE source. There is no way of making up for informing yourself with all sources and kinds of info. and so for example posing very specific questions to LEASE who are then excellent. You know, debates in the two Houses are on the web, the Evening Standard ran big campaigns in the past and you can call them, LEASE will copy stuff, and case histories are on the web too, but at least in the private sector, the worst freeholders always aim to settle so as to avoid a pubic record. Simon Hughes was good for me too, and I still can't vote LD, so it's not that!

Also, yes, always keep tight records of everything, 'they' rarely do as thoroughly as you can because they think they're going to win.

Also, yes again use a solicitor as a tool, don't rely on them in this area [even if anyone could afford to, even if you are on Legal Aid], the law and precedents are complicated and have been constantly changing and they simply do not know the subject. It is extremely rare to find a well informed one, and the tiny handful that are are correspondingly cocky and let's say find it hard not to exploit your position -with which they are so well informed! Again, you have to know more than them if you want to win, or to defend yourself from attack.

I got a useful if general second opinion once at the free legal advice place at the east end of Lower Marsh north side. Various legal people give free advice there, and are very willing, and the person I saw called me more than once with info. they had got hold of. It was encouraging and actually helpful at a critical moment, but I don't know if it still exists.

good luck.
Tuesday 16 March 2004 12.02pm
Right, as promised, a potted version of the contents of Leasholder Association of Southwark Newsletter.

1. Premises for contact
The LAS has and is pressing the council to provide them with offices where leaseholders can contact them. Some people have access to area committees, and LAS are trying to set up Leathermarket/Library Street followed by West Walworth. It has not been possible to access all addresses of leasholders in Lthmkt / Lib St as the officer concerned is on long term sick leave.

Two major issues causing concern in the past year :

Increases in Service Charges
Section 20's

Leasehold Management Unit
Martin Green, the new manager of the Leasehold unit is sorting out the disarray that was there when he arrived. He is not afraid to confront officers and is able to advise on correct interpretation of leasehold law. He has so far been co-operative and unbiased in his dealings with LAS.
Mr Green is constructing an asset register, to include all properties (plus commercial) on each block or estate. This should enable Service Charges and Major Works Charges to be applied more fairly as all services and works beneficiaries will be billed for a fair contribution to the costs.

Disputed Outstanding Major Works Bills
Many leaseholders have received statements of account from Leasehold Management unit stating they owe a specified amount on their account. these may not be accurate as the neighbourhood offices previously dealt with these accounts. Contractors have been paid off and have left, unsatisfactory work has not been rectified and many problems not tackled at all. Often completely incorrect figures have been passed to LMU. If you are in dispute over charges or if you have paid sums not accounted for you should check your facts and figures carefully and present them to the LMU to negotiate a reasonable settlement.

Section 20's
From 1st Jan 2004 the LMU will conduct all new section 20 procedures and consultation. There are now THREE sections to these procedures so make sure you are involved and have an input.

(1) Notice of Intention
Pre Tender stage. This is a list of expected works. At this stage you can question the extent of the works and obtain clarification of why certain works are necessary. This is the time to request a copy of the Bills of Quantities and at this stage you can also nominate your own contractor. Leaseholders can collectively form a group and if they feel strongly enough, employ a consultant surveyor to advise. It is sometimes better to spend a comparatively small sum at this stage as a preventative measure, as it will be very difficult to address this when your final invoice arrives. Make sure you know exactly what you will be paying for. The possible charge for the full Bills of Quantities for an individual would be 40, with a charge of 15 per individual for the actual list of works without the preliminaries. If you are a member of LAS 2000 or have a LAS committe rep, we may be able to obtain a freee copy. These charges need to be ratified before being quoted as different neighbourhoods are asking for varying amounts. We are trying to get the council to charge the same fees borough wide.

(2) Notice of Proposal
Priced tender stage. At this stage the proposed works are in a tender budget form and costs are as constructed by the consultant. These are not the final costs. However at this stage you can still raisse objections as to the extend of the works and their costs.

After these two consultative stages, tenders will be sent to the selected contractors for competitive costing

(3)Notice of Justification - contract acceptance (with reasons why)

The new housing acts procedures on Major works came into force on 31 October 2003 and any section 20 notices served on or after that date which do not conform to these new procedures shoudl be returned to the LMU


I think I need a breather!! Actually most of this is verbatim from the newsletter, but I thought it was all important for you all to know. More later...
Tuesday 23 March 2004 6.42pm
Great to find this thread. Southwark have plonked on me a 30 day notice for nearly 18,000.

These council charges are outrageous. I believe Southwark and other councils may actually be worse than the Susan Dixons' of the private sector.

But because, I think, they do not deliberately set out to overcharge as much as they can to their leaseholders, they are getting away with murder.

I think higher charges than ever are due to the new "Partnering" system whereby all the specifications and bills for Southwark's properties are being written by one firm of surveyors for one firm of building contractors. How the costs are to be controlled under this system, I do not understand at all. More later.

But it is no good bleating on here. Everyone affected should right now

1) respond to their Notice and get the detailed specification for the work
2) be writing to their councillor, their MP and the local newspaper.
And the Evening Standard have run articles on these issues in the past and the ES is read by influential people. PS Email is not good for this type of thing. A real letter is taken more seriously.
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