My partner and I own a flat in a semi-detached house in London. Southwark council is the freeholder.
In 2016 it informed us of planned works – although the building is in good condition – and requested £5,450 upfront. I was obliged to take out a loan to pay it. The owner of the other flat in the house was presented with a similar bill, taking the total for our small building to £11,000.
However, the works were undertaken by a subcontractor and involved repainting a small landing, the front door, several windows, and repointing a small area of wall. This was completed by March 2017.
I pointed out that the money we had paid in advance far exceeded the work that was done, and I was told this would be rectified shortly.
I repeatedly asked for a breakdown of the work but this was not provided and we have still not received a costed bill.
I continue to struggle with the debt, and am concerned that the longer it takes to resolve, the harder it will be to correct any inaccuracies.
Given how quickly councils are to fine residents for late payments, this seems a staggering injustice. Even if the works did somehow amount to over £11,000, you should have been shown exactly what you were paying for.
The response from Southwark Council is not reassuring. “The final bill is taking more time than we would like to finalise, and I apologise for that,” says Councillor Kieron Williams, cabinet member for housing management and modernisation. “Leaseholders are always billed, as standard practice, based on an estimate of what works are likely to cost. Following that, the actual bill is adjusted to the true costs once they have all completed, and any overpayment is refunded.
“Leaseholders’ works contracts usually include a large number of properties in order to achieve economy of scale. As these works could include hundreds of other properties, any dispute can take time to fully iron out.”
You might well ask why, if leaseholders are charged for repairs to their specific property, rather than a percentage of the renovation costs of the entire estate, they can’t be given an itemised bill when their works are complete.
The council explains that overheads have to be factored in and apportioned among leaseholders, and they aren’t known until the entire project is finished and approved. This means residents could be waiting for years to get a refund – or a shock bill for thousands if their bill was underestimated.
Since writing, you have received a summary of works which you say is inaccurate – and a demand for an extra £445. As you feared, you’ve been told that since so much time has elapsed, inaccuracies can’t be proven, but the council has agreed to suspend the extra bill until it has inspected the building.