People’s Audit Three – Housing
“LAMBETH SELLING OFF PROPERTY OUTSIDE RIGHT TO BUY”
The Lambeth Labour party was elected to the council in 2014 with a pledge to build 1,000 council homes.
The 2015/16 accounts show that council housing stock actually reduced by 410 units in the year.40 Some of this was due to Right To Buy, but not all. Statistics released by the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) reveal that only 171 properties were sold through Right to Buy in the relevant period.
It is evident that the council is selling off property outside of Right to Buy.
Given that Lambeth council spent over £26,000,000 on temporary accommodation in 2014/2015 alone it surely makes no financial sense, in the middle of a housing crisis, to be selling off council houses for short term gain when such properties could be used to house people who are currently in temporary accommodation.
Nor does it make any financial sense that Lambeth have hundreds of empty council houses. The latest DCLG statistics show that there are 291 empty council properties in Lambeth, equating to a loss of £2.9M per year in rent, the second highest loss of council rent in London.
This figure would however be dwarfed by the amount of money it costs to put someone in temporary accommodation instead of housing them.
“DESPITE THE INFORMATION COMMISSIONER ORDERING LAMBETH TO PROVIDE LEASEHOLDERS WITH COPIES OF VALIDATION SURVEYS, LAMBETH HAVE FAILED TO DO SO. “WE ARE CONCERNED THAT THEY MAY NEVER HAVE BEEN CARRIED OUT.”
A significant proportion of the residents on an estate are leaseholders who are required to pay a proportion of the cost of major works carried out by Lambeth, says the report.
The Peoples’ Audit have seen several examples of Lambeth trying to over-charge residents for these works, in one case by over 350 per cent.
Leaseholders on the estate therefore took a very close interest in the work, knowing that they could be faced with a large bill at the end.
Before the works were carried out, the leaseholders appointed an independent surveyor at their own expense to check the scope of work that Lambeth was proposing.
The survey was carried out to one block, with the expectation that its findings would be applied to the rest of the estate. The survey revealed that the quantity of work scoped out by Lambeth was grossly over-estimated.
As a result of the independent survey the extent of brickwork repairs to the block was reduced from £12,149 to £1,475 and concrete repairs were reduced from £21,063 to £12,498.44.
Leaseholders expected Lambeth to take the findings of this survey and carry out further surveys on the other blocks on the estate to validate the works proposed.
Despite the Information Commissioner ordering Lambeth to provide leaseholders with copies of these validation surveys, Lambeth have failed to do so. We are concerned that they may never have been carried out.
Looking at the final accounts for the works on the estate confirms this view. Almost without exception the quantity of brickwork repairs for the remaining blocks is considerably higher than those identified on the initial survey block.
More worryingly, a closer examination of the final accounts reveals that many of the blocks have an identical number of concrete repairs carried out on them, which is highly improbable.
We viewed the site records of the concrete repair subcontractor for three of the 16 blocks, which revealed that the amount of repairs on their records were considerably less than those that had been paid by Lambeth.
In all three instances the number of repairs carried out was less than 50pc of the amount paid, a potential over-payment in the order of £10,000. BOLD Given that the total bill on the estate for concrete repairs was £142,000, there is the potential for a huge over-payment here.
“CRESSINGHAM ESTATE RESIDENTS ASKED FOR HISTORIC REPAIRS DATA FOR THE ESTATE. “THIS HAS NEVER BEEN PROVIDED”
Leaseholders from the Cressingham Gardens estate met with the Peoples’ Audit and carried out a detailed review of their service charge statements, where they identified £43,000 of contested items for a single year.
The leaseholders walked the estate and spoke with residents to confirm if work had been completed and discovered:
Claims for works that had clearly not been carried out BOLD
Claims for repairs where no location was identified making it impossible for them to be verified. Repeat instances of the same repair
Instances of overcharging
Charges for works which should be covered by Lambeth’s insurance BOLD
A meeting was held on the estate with Lambeth in February 2016. Within 20 minutes of walking the estate over £5,000 worth of items were identified as being incorrect.
Unfortunately the meeting was cut short so only a fraction of the contested repairs were investigated.
In light of the severity of the issues a request was made to the Head of Lambeth’s Home Ownership services and Lambeth’s Area Asset Manager, for the historic repairs data for the estate. This has never been provided.
COSTS OF £1,000 DIFFERENCE
The Peoples’ Audit have viewed the contracts for Lambeth’s Decent Homes contracts which show the price for a kitchen replacement to be in the order of £2-3,000 per kitchen.
Yet Lambeth are reporting that they are paying on average £4,000 per kitchen with no adequate explanation as to why.
If this lack of diligence is extrapolated over Lambeth’s property portfolio the amount being over-paid could be astronomical. (Source: Lambeth Peoples’ Audit report).