Labour's attempts to ensure a fair repayment scheme for Barnet Homes' leaseholders facing thousands of pounds in major works bills were defeated last night after Conservative councillors refused to support it at last night's Full Council meeting.
Barnet's Labour councillors forced a vote on a secret report blocked by Conservative Housing Boss Cllr Tom Davey which proposed helping leaseholders in financial difficulty by allowing them more time to repay major works bills of up to £35,000.
The secret report was obtained by West Hendon Labour councillor Adam Langleben through a Freedom of Information request and shows the concessions Barnet Homes were planning to give their 4,124 leaseholders.
Residents facing major works costs of between £3,001 and £5,000 would have seen an extension of interest free repayments from 24 months to 36 months. Those facing bills between £7,501 and £15,000 would have their interest free repayment period extended from 24 months to 48 months.
Leaseholders living on regeneration estates such as the West Hendon estate have been facing bills of up to £10,000 for works which have a life expectancy of 25 years but due to scheduled demolition these leaseholders would only see up to five or six years’ worth of usage. Barnet Homes had proposed to alter the repayment schedule for works on the West Hendon estate to recognise the full 25 years’ worth of usage. When leaseholders are forced to leave their properties because of demolition, the debt would be cleared and they would only pay pro rata for the period they benefited from the works. This was originally proposed to Barnet Council and Barnet Homes by Andrew Dismore AM in early 2014.
The proposed concessions followed intensive campaigning from the West Hendon Labour councillors and the leaseholders affected.
At the Housing Committee meeting on 27 October, Conservative Chair Cllr Tom Davey confirmed that he had seen the report and that he had personally blocked it from coming to the committee. Cllr Davey refused to give a reason as to why he had blocked the report but was absolutely clear that his decision was final and it would not be coming back to the committee.
Cllr Langleben who submitted the motion calling for a fairer repayment scheme said: "Expecting people to pay hundreds of pounds a month on top of their other bills is unfair and completely unreasonable.
"This is such an important issue locally and its important people who just about manage to pay their bills aren't forced into debt by Barnet.
"Many of these residents were sold a Thatcherite dream, now this Conservative Council have voted to sell them down the river."
A copy of Cllr Langleben's Speech:
Thank you Mr Mayor and Chag Sameach, Happy Chanukah to you and all members.
Mr Mayor, I hope the all members received my email from earlier today with an attached copy of the report which at first according to Cllr Davey at the 27th October Housing Committee never existed.
Then he tried to shift the blame onto Barnet Homes and then eventually revealed he may have seen something.
Well Mr Mayor... A pesky Freedom of Information request told me it did exist and the four thousand plus leaseholders across Barnet deserve that this be voted on openly, not rejected behind closed doors as Barnet's biggest landlord Cllr Davey wanted.
Whilst on this point, one has to question what the point of a Committee system is if Committee chairs can act like tin pot dictators and remove items from agreed work programmes. But I digress...
The proposal I have brought before us tonight affects thousands of our residents in every ward.
The report consists of two parts:
One is of special interest to leaseholders living on the West Hendon estate who are having their homes bulldozed within a matter of months in some cases and being presented will bills of up to £10,000 and being offered a poor deal on the terms of the repayment schedule.
The second is about understanding that our leaseholders like many others are facing increasing financial burdens in these tough times. The report proposed an extension of the interest free period for the more expensive maintenance works.
According to my freedom of information request, these proposals were signed off by every relevant commissioner and officer at the Council and Barnet Homes right until the Friday prior to the 17th October where in a call over meeting it was withdrawn.
A resident on the Fairway in Hale ward facing a huge leaseholder bill of over £8000 wrote to me today. On the repayment plan he has he said:
"If this was expected to be paid back over the course of a year it would be £666 per month! In our case, this is more than we pay for our mortgage and food bills per month combined. There is simply no way we can make payments of that scale."
He went on to say:
"While we do not dispute the need for the work, or the need to pay, we feel 1 or even 2 years is a completely unreasonable amount of time to pay back that amount of money."
Another Hale resident wrote to me stating:
"From our perspective we are working people with a young family who can't afford to pay this bill over 24 months. Matthew Offord did tell us it was the pay off for buying a discounted flat but we are the third family to live in this flat and like most of neighbours certainly have not benefited from any council discount, we paid full market value."
This is such a issue locally and its important people who just about manage to pay their bills aren't forced into debt by Barnet"
Many of these residents were sold a Thatcher's dream, now this Conservative Council have seemed so keen to sell them down the river.
If members are curious as to how many leaseholders are affected in their own wards I would point them to the bottom of page 23 of questions to the Leader. Members in Hale, Brunswick Park and Mill Hill may wish to think very carefully before voting.
Mr Mayor, I have too much to say but will end by saying that this proposal is a fair repayment and is a compassionate response to this very specific cost of living issue. I urge all members to vote for this motion.
A copy of Cllr Langleben's Business Item can be found here: http://barnet.moderngov.co.uk/documents/s19890/Councillor%20Adam%20Langleben%20-%20A%20fair%20repayment%20scheme%20for%20Barnet%20Homes%20leaseholders.pdf
The Housing Committee met on 27th October 2014 and footage of Cllr Langleben asking the Chair about this secret paper can be found here at approx. 1:48: http://www.barnetbugle.com/journal/2014/10/28/video-housing-committee-27-october-2014.html
The secret report which never made it to the Housing Committee can be found at http://www.andrewdismore.org.uk/home/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/leaseholder-repayments.pdf
The press release sent out by Andrew Dismore on 28 October can be found here: http://www.dismore4hendon.co.uk/dismore_condemns_barnet_conservatives_betrayal_over_10_000_bills_for_west_hendon_leaseholders
Background to the story can be found at http://www.times-series.co.uk/news/11045090._Scandalous____Barnet_Homes_forces_neighbours_to_pay___10_000_of_repairs_on_flats_earmarked_for_demolition/ and at http://www.finchley-today.co.uk/news.cfm?id=6989&searchWord=leaseholders&searchYear=2014
For further details please contact:
To contact the Barnet Labour Group: 020 8359 2568