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Tenants angry at charges hike




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Council leaseholders are being told not to pay a property management charge that has risen, in some cases, by more than 5,000%, until a dispute over the increase has been resolved.

The dispute is between leaseholders and Newark and Sherwood Homes, which manages homes owned by the district council.

The MP for Sherwood, Mr Paddy Tipping, has been told a review of the £278 flat rate management charge is taking place.

Although no guarantees have been given as to whether the charge will be reduced, Mr Tipping said it would be wise to see what the outcome of the review was before paying.

Last week Mr Tipping met Newark and Sherwood Homes’ chief executive, Rebecca Rance.

Mr Tipping said Newark and Sherwood Homes no longer had a dedicated leasehold manager.

Leaseholders are angry because they feel they are being asked to pay for the position even though the previous manager was not replaced.

Mr Tipping said Newark and Sherwood Homes had changed the contract with leaseholders unilaterally and retrospectively.

“I told them it wasn’t necessarily a good idea and I thought there was the possibility of court action and solicitors becoming involved,” said Mr Tipping.

“The matter could have been handled better. The leaseholders had an implied contract with Newark and Sherwood Homes that has existed for many years.

“I think some of them are planning to go to court about this. That is not in anybody’s interests.”

The MP for Newark, Mr Patrick Mercer, said he would advise leaseholders to go to the Citizens’ Advice Bureau for help.

He said he would take up the case of any constituent who had been affected if the CAB could not provide a satisfactory outcome.

One council leaseholder says she would rather go to prison than pay the increased management charge.

Mrs Sue Priestley (57) of Thorpe Close, Newark, is one of 141 leaseholders in homes owned by the district council who have been told to pay the charge.

Previously a 10% charge was added to any maintenance bill to cover the cost of the management of leasehold properties.

Mrs Priestley’s maintenance bill for the financial year, 2007-8 was £51.71, so under the old system she would have paid £5.17 in management costs.

The new flat-rate management charge of £278.57, which Newark and Sherwood Homes is applying retrospectively, represents a 5,288.2% increase on that.

“There is no way on this earth I am paying it,” said Mrs Priestley.

She was worried the charge could go up even more in 2009-10.

Leaseholders own only the fixtures and fittings of their homes.

Newark and Sherwood Homes maintains and repairs the buildings on behalf of the district council, which owns the structures and communal areas, including the land.

Leaseholders are billed for any work carried out on their buildings or communal areas.

Mrs Priestley said although she didn’t mind paying for maintenance work, she thoughtcouncil tenants should also pay extra to cover management costs.

“They are using the same people in the same offices but we’re paying for everything,” she said.

Mother and daughter Mrs Doreen Harris (80) and Mrs Jane Spindley (49) both own leaseholds on properties on Thorpe Close.

Mrs Harris said last year she paid about £500 for maintenance work so would have paid about £50 for management services.

Newark and Sherwood Homes’ customer services director, Mr Fin McElhinney, said they were responding to leaseholders’ concerns and hoped to come to a conclusion about the charge quickly.

Mr McElhinney said the charge was due to be paid and any changes would be dealt with at a future date.

Mr McElhinney said the charge was introduced after a recommendation by the Audit Commission.

He said there was a standard charge to ensure all leaseholders paid the same.

“Unfortunately what has happened is that some leaseholders have been subsidised over a number of years,” he said.

Mr McElhinney said there were repayment options available

He said they wanted to talk to leaseholders but, if they refused to pay, court action would be taken.

Mr McElhinney said the charges were reasonable and in line with other authorities.


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