27 January 2012

Leaseholder charging in Southwark - draft report published

Some months ago I posted on the leaseholder charging scrutiny which would be carried out by the Housing Scrutiny Committee.  Since then lots of hard work has gone into unpicking all of the issues surrounding leaseholder charges and we've just published the draft report.   You can see it here.

The report will be discussed by the sub-committee at next Monday's meeting and so there will be changes and additions following that discussion.  However, the central arguments and recommendations of the report are in place and will be of interest to leaseholders in Southwark who want to see a Labour council responding to their concerns.

Our aim from the outset has been make recommendations which would improve the process of leaseholder charging for the benefit of all residents of the borough. We've had excellent co-operation and engagement from council officers, the cabinet member and leaseholder representatives.

There are a number of recommendations, below are just some which are worth noting:

1. The council should offer leaseholders the option of a fixed service charge which incorporates both the annual services charge and major works service charges.

2. Full details of how the actual service charge is calculated should be provided on-line, rather than waiting for individual requests for this information.

3. Steps should be taken to make available on-line details of major works and annual service charges relating to individual leaseholders. Leaseholders would then be able to see an ongoing calculation of the charges being levied and to hold the council and its contractors to account for works which are being charged for. Leaseholders should be issued with details of an individual account to which they can log-on and see details of the annual and major works service charge calculations to which they are subject.

4. Improvements need to be made in cross-departmental working. Works needs to continue to be done in getting officers in the wider Housing Department to work more closely with officers in HO &TMI, and vice versa.

5. Given the consensus that there is a clear lack of appreciation of leaseholder issues by housing management staff. The sub-committee wishes to suggest two possible options which could be considered as ways of rectifying this problem.

a) Expand the remit and function of Home Ownership Division to take on a more general housing management role and activities to cover these issues; OR

b) Have a dedicated leaseholder officer based in each of the other housing management services who may or may not come under the  Home Ownership Division but will have to liaise and report to it.

As I say, we're still only at the draft stage, so I'd be very interested to hear from leaseholders or anyone else  if they have comments on the draft.

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