The increased discount under the right to buy for council tenants represents a fantastic boost to home ownership. It is one of the most important, albeit unrecognised, reforms of the coalition government. However, the difficulty with buying flats is that the break from municipal serfdom is not complete. The shift is from being a Council tenant to a Council leaseholder. You are still to some extent beholden to the housing officer – in some ways with the disadvantage of having established your status as a class enemy.
Few Council leaseholders can have faced greater discrimination than those in Islington.
This is clearly a concern ffor the Housing Minister Grant Shapps who has vowed to “name, shame and embarrass” the culprits after seeing evidence that Islington Council had overcharged leaseholders on the Tremlett Grove Estate by over £1 million.
24Dash.com says of the Channel 4 Dispatches investigation:
One of the leaseholders on the block who fought the charges had her flat bought for her by her daughter through the Right to Buy (RTB) in 2001. Two years ago the council – the freeholder – decided to do work on the block and she was hit with a bill of over £28,000.
However, leaseholder’s challenging Islington’s legal team at the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal (LVT) found the council had based the cost of the work on the condition of the worst blocks on the estate.
Patricia Napier, a Pro Bono legal advisor, told the programme: “What they had done is surveyed the worst of the blocks on the estate and based their decision to replace all of the roofs and all of the windows on that building, which is shocking.”
In total, it was found that the council’s spend on the estate was £1 million too high, with the £111,112 and £149,543 charged for the replacement roof and windows cut to £25,000 and £10,000 respectively.
What if you are a tenant on the Tremlett Grove Estate wondering whether or not to exercise the right to buy, now perhaps something financially viable with the enhanced discount? The evidence of your next door neighbour, a leaseholder, would hardly encourage you. The Decent Homes programme saw the most exorbitant demands placed on leaseholders with a disgraceful lack of accountability.
So there needs to be proper protection for leaseholders in the future if more will join their number and help achieve the mixed and stable communities on our estates that politicians talk about.
Councils should face the most draconian penalties for making excess charges. The bills should be simpler and more transparent as well as lower. It should be made easier for clusters of leaseholders to take over their blocks from the local council and achieve better management at lower cost.
Right to buy discounts are not enough. Residents on estates need to be convinced that home ownership means liberation, not further punishment.