Agenda item - Public Involvement
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To consider the following matters raised by members of the public:
(a) Petitions: to receive any petitions presented to the full council or at the meeting itself;
(b) Written Questions: to receive any questions submitted by the due date of 12 noon on the 13 September 2018;
(c) Deputations: to receive any deputations submitted by the due date of 12 noon on the 13 September 2018.
21.1 There were no petitions.
21.2 David Croydon asked the following question:
“The council is taking 40+ leaseholders to tribunal. Some of them disputed the Major works bills for necessity and quality. The disputes process was not followed and mediation was refused.
The council’s Housing Department has a budget of some £60m+ pa. It is defending the interests of a company with some £800m+ pa income.
Sadly, the leaseholders do not have this order of resources.
Are the councillors aware of this and do they know how much is being spent on this project?”
21.3 The Chair replied as follows:
“Thank you for your question – a similar question has been asked before. To clarify, the council is not taking leaseholders to tribunal but are taking a case to tribunal - a major works project at 5 buildings on the Bristol estate. The determination of the tribunal will affect leaseholders in terms of how much they will have to pay for the works. The cost can’t be increased. The tribunal may of course reduce the costs if they see fit. The outcome will affect all leaseholders whether they are part of the case or not.
The council incurred costs of around £3 million in carrying out these external refurbishment works and leaseholders were invoiced their lease share of the costs on 30 September 2015 – the total amount billed to leaseholders was around £1 million.
Whilst the many leaseholders have paid, a number of leaseholders have withheld payment of their service charge. The council has dealt with disputes as best it could over a period of 18 months but our responses were not accepted. We decided that in order to resolve the dispute it would need to be finally decided legally. The leases of course are legal contracts.
The important point is not the council’s Housing budget, or Mears turnover. The important point is that in March 2017, £400,000 of service charge was being withheld and the council very much has a duty to resolve the matter.
The council does not believe it is possible to resolve a major works dispute of this nature by mediation where the council believes the costs to have been reasonably incurred and the works carried out to a reasonable standard while some leaseholders do not believe they should contribute at all. That is not something that can be mediated. It requires a competent body to hear the structural surveying and legal facts on each side and determine the matter.
There were two approaches the council could have taken. One was to issue proceedings against leaseholders withholding their service charge in the County Court for debt. The other was to have the matter heard at the First-tier tribunal who have been set up to determine cases of disputed service charge such as this.
The leaseholders have an expert witness to present their evidence. Their statement of case was written by a barrister. The council is duty bound to present its case in full supported by all its evidence. You asked if the councillors know of this. Yes we have been sent a couple of emails regarding this matter over the period of the last 18 months.”
21.4 As a supplementary question Mr Croydon circulated a paper to members which he stated was the start of the bundle sent from the barrister acting for the council. Mr Croydon stated that he found that mediation was something that could have been done, and would have been infinitely cheaper for everyone, and was absolutely refused after tribunal was taken. He asked if the councillors were aware of this? Did they all support this behaviour? The Chair replied that councillors were very aware of the procedures that the council as a corporate body have to follow in all legal matters. She thanked Mr Croydon for his question and did not permit him to ask individual councillors on the committee if they supported the process.
21.5 RESOLVED- That the Public question be noted.
21.6 There were no deputations.