Hundreds attend leaseholders conference to find support and advice – as reform campaign grows

Katherine Johnston (17 October, 2019) Housing

'I regularly see the significant problems with current policy and legislation relating to leasehold properties, and the distress that this can cause to leaseholders' - MP Helen Hayes

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More than 250 Southwark homeowners attended the country’s largest ever leaseholder conference in Camberwell.

At the all-day event held on Saturday, October 5, Southwark Council’s housing chief, Cllr Kieron Williams, felt the heat as scores of leaseholders shared their stories of sub-standard improvements, spiralling major works costs, and £100 admin charges just to receive one email.

At the event, held at William Booth College and publicised by the News, an expert legal panel, including the head of the UK’s entire first-tier tribunal service, helped field any questions by homeowners left dismayed by complex property law and confused by the leasehold reforms coming into force at a snail’s pace.

As the News has reported, some have been forced to sell up or rack up tens of thousands of debt after being handed huge bills for major works on their Southwark Council freehold blocks. One case saw a homeowner told to pay an extraordinary £147,000 to the local authority.

One of the panel’s barristers, Amanda Gourlay, told the audience: “Southwark Council did not have the most wonderful history with service charge demands always being valid”, highlighting two key court cases had seen homeowners win in court over payment disputes.

In another revelation, lawyer Mairi Knowles claimed the council often failed to enter mediation over disputes where there is clear evidence the authority is in the wrong, instead allowing battles to escalate toward costly legal action rather than saving the courts as a last resort. Changing this approach is a key demand from leaseholders across the borough.

After the event, Cllr Williams thanked the organisers and said: “Lots of good questions and suggestions. A big thank you to all who helped organise it.”

Dulwich and West Norwood MP Helen Hayes, who has dedicated much of her parliamentary career to planning and housing reform, praised the organisers for bringing to light the issues faced by leasehold homeowners.

Hayes said: “In my work, I regularly see the significant problems with current policy and legislation relating to leasehold properties, and the distress that this can cause to leaseholders.

“The housing, communities and local government committee, of which I am a member, has recently made recommendations to the government on practical ways to reform leasehold, including a recommendation that commonhold should replace leasehold as the main form of tenure for flats, and the use of leasehold for houses should be banned.

“I hope that the government will engage with our report and agree to implement the select committee’s conclusions.”

An investigation into leasehold in Southwark will be published in the News in the coming weeks.

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