South London residents who won thousands off council's building work bill asked to sign contracts stopping them telling neighbours
HomeHome > Blog > South London residents who won thousands off council's building work bill asked to sign contracts stopping them telling neighbours

South London residents who won thousands off council's building work bill asked to sign contracts stopping them telling neighbours

Jun 28, 2023

One leaseholder branded the council 'bullies'

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Residents who won thousands of pounds back from a council after challenging bills for works to their properties were told to sign a contract that stopped them from telling neighbours about the discounts they received. Lambeth Council asked leaseholders to sign a document which committed them to silence about the four digit reductions they were awarded for works that took place on their properties between 2017 and 2018.

One resident, who refused to sign the agreement, was threatened with having their discount withdrawn by a council officer, emails seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service [LDRS] show. The leaseholder stood their ground and was eventually given the reduction without having to sign the documents. But others reluctantly signed the agreement for fear they would lose out on thousands of pounds they were owed if they didn’t.

A condition of the council settlement agreement that residents were asked to sign reads: “The terms of this agreement are confidential to the parties and their advisers, who shall not disclose them to, or otherwise communicate them to, any third party…”

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The Leaseholders on Foxley Road and Akerman Road in Vassall and Loughborough Road in Stockwell were sent the document by the council after they successfully challenged the bills for works on their properties. Independent surveys they arranged showed the council had overestimated the cost of the works done to their homes by thousands of pounds.

None of the leaseholders the LDRS spoke to wanted their names or identifying details to be published for fear of repercussions from the council for speaking out.

One resident, who received more than £8,000 off their original £20,000 bill, said they felt exploited by the council. They said: “They [Lambeth] are bullies, particularly that threatening to withdraw the offer. It’s only people who have the strength, the time and the financial resources and the confidence to push for it that get anywhere.

“We know there are leaseholders who have paid up in full and moved. Some of them were never going to win this.They [the council] just randomly put all these charges on without being able to justify them. Just to try and bring in some money.”

They added that some of the works were of such poor quality that fresh painting on some properties bubbled up within three months of it being completed, while workers sent by the council contractors appeared unsure of what they were doing. On one occasion, a worker claimed to have painted an undercoat on a back window, but the leaseholder said they had in fact done it themselves the previous year.

Another resident, who got over 40 per cent off their original bill of over £20,000 said they signed the council’s confidentiality agreement because they were tired of fighting them.

They said: “By the time it came to that I was extremely angry. We were determined to sign it. I would rather have the money. I feel like many people felt like me. They just wanted the money and when you want the money you will sign anything at that point. We were told it would take 13 weeks [the work] but it took two years. I think people were just exhausted.”

They added that almost all the work completed on their property had to be redone, some of it three or four times because it was of such poor quality each time. “We didn’t get charged for that but what a waste of money on their part,” the resident added.

A third leaseholder who won around £4,000 off their approximately £15,000 bill said they felt the council were trying to squeeze as much money out of residents as possible, by offering them just enough discount to stop them from taking their case to a tribunal.

They said: “They [the council] calculated what it would cost us to go to tribunal and they fixed it. It was enough to make us think it would be worth settling because of the time and cost and effort to go to the tribunal. I don’t think a public body like the council should be thinking like that.”

On the refurbishment itself, they added: “The quality of the work they had delivered was appalling. We can’t have new windows or double glazing because of the building so they filled in bits of wood that had gone bad and painted over that. Within a year of them doing the work it was crumbling away again.

A Lambeth Council spokesperson said settlement agreements were used in “very specific cases” to “help the council maintain good relationships with leaseholders, reduce the burden on the court system, and avoid unnecessary costs while ensuring that we can collect any money owed.”

A spokesperson added: “We are committed to providing good quality services to our leaseholders and are committed to improvement. Under service charge laws leaseholders have the right to challenge their bill. Like all other reasonable landlords up and down the country the council will engage with its leaseholder if concerns are raised.

“Every case is different and so comparisons between individual scenarios are not necessarily valid. Where there is a dispute and legal action is likely, the council will consider mediation discussions.

“Confidentiality is one of the cornerstone principles of mediation and is a service offered nationally by both the Courts and Tribunal Services and the council to limit the time and costs of a protracted legal dispute.”

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