During our mobile surgery last weekend on Oglander, Bellenden, Muschamp and Marsden Roads we picked up a number of cases from council leaseholders who were baffled by some of the service charges they have been asked to pay. For instance, the owners of a ground floor flat on Oglander Road were being asked to pay for "Estate Lighting" and "Estate Electrical Repairs" in their latest service charge bills - despite the fact that they live in a house which has 2 flats with no obvious lighting or repairs issues in the past year.
Another leaseholder was frustrated at the difficulty involved in establishing that they were getting genuine value for money when repairs and safety checks were being undertaken on common parts of her home.
Some of the apparent anomalies in leaseholder service charge bills are due to the specific natures of the leases which the original owners entered into when they first exercised their Right to Buy; taking on the liability for the proportion of communal repairs of blocks and estates some distance from their own homes. These can only be remedied by unravelling all of the many and varied leases which Southwark has with its' 16,000 leaseholders - but it is now probably a task which it is worth undertaking so that these anomalies are removed.
But we also need to think about how leaseholders are represented within the council - and ensuring that they genuinely have a champion who will look after their interests against what can sometimes seem like the "council machine". We are looking at how an effectively independent leaseholder management company might do this in future.
Let me know your thoughts, and also if you have any leaseholder queries you would like to raise.