As opposition spokesperson on housing, I attended the Haringey Leaseholders Assoociation AGM last Thursday.
When the Chair Sue Brown opened the meeting, there was, unsurprisingly, a lot of talk about the digital aerials fiasco I gave the background to in my last post. The HLA's agreed motion called for an individual opt-out, block-by-block consultation and a cap at the London average, which must be retrospective.
For me, the two parts of that which will make the biggest difference to leaseholders are the opt-out and the cap - but as Haringey are now offering block-by-block consultation, that is of course an avenue worth trying too.
Labour Cabinet Member for Housing Cllr Bevan was not there, but was certainly mentioned - especially in discussion of his hazy recollection of the vote taken at the HLA meeting in February (see my last post).
Another big issue was raised too though, which I have not yet looked at myself since taking over as housing spokesperson in May. Leaseholders used to be charged for work (not just aerials, all sorts of building work) in arrears - I heard that it's not so long ago since the bills came in after completion of work and there was a two-year interest-free period on top of that.
Now leaseholders are billed in advance of the work being done. There is a three-year interest free period - although this does not compare well with neighbouring borough Islington where leaseholders have a five-year interest-free period. Bear in mind that these bills can easily be five figures and leaseholders cannot be expected to find, say, £20,000 lying down the back of the sofa.
The HLA passed a motion calling for Haringey's leaseholders to be given a five-year interest-free period to match that offered by Islington and for the interest-free period to be available for part of the bill, even if the leaseholder cannot pay the full bill in the three/five-year period. Let me explain that one - it is simple, but difficult to get across without an example:
Under the current system of three years interest-free, a leaseholder gets a bill for £20,000. They can afford to pay £5,000 a year, so it will take them four years to pay off. As this is longer than the offered interest-free period, they cannot take advantage of that and will pay interest on the full amount. What the HLA are asking for, is that the first three years payments (totalling £15,000) be accepted on an interest-free basis and the leaseholder only pays interest on the remaining £5,000 (not the whole £20,000) which will be paid back after the interest-free period is over.
These both sound like fair requests, which would make life a little easier for leaseholders - especially in these difficult economic times. We, as a Lib Dem group, do need to look into the costings and practicalities before we can commit to implementing them if we take control of Haringey at the local elections next May. A leaseholder at the AGM whose name I did not catch suggested the HLA finding out how much money the Council had made by switching leaseholder bills from arrears to advance. An excellent idea and one I will take up myself too.
I had talked to our local Hornsey and Wood Green Lib Dem MP Lynne Featherstone before the HLA meeting, as I knew she had been doing work on leaseholder issues across Haringey - including, but not only, the digital aerials saga. Lynne has been so concerned by the various individual problems with works and billing that different leaseholders have raised with her that as well as helping each individual case she has taken action at a higher level too.
Lynne has asked the Council's auditors to look at how Haringey charges leaseholders - to get to some answers on procurement and value-for-money, as well as the accuracy and fairness of leaseholders bills.
There's much more to come on this over the next few weeks and months I'm sure - watch this space...