This week I was delighted to speak in a Westminster Hall debate on Freehold Estate Fees – an important issue that affects many people in my constituency.
The subject of Freehold properties and their management costs is a subject in which I have had numerous constituents come to me over; this is not just small annoyances or frustrations that residents have with their property, this is people’s homes, the environment that they are living in.
All of the constituents that I have spoken to have been paying the service fees required, which can quite often be a couple of hundred pounds a year, as they agreed to do when they moved into the property without issue.
But they are paying these fees on the premise that they were paying this money to the companies whose responsibility and obligation it is to manage the environment around their properties. Paid on top of council tax, these costs often count for large portions of peoples’ incomes.
However, time and time again I have had constituents come to me asking for help with the lack of service they get for these fees and the quality of management they experience when they have reported issues they have had with the shared spaces around their properties.
One constituent I have been in contact with, who has had endless problems with the service they receive in return for their management fee, has reported waiting 6 long months for a communal light to be fixed. Even then, when something finally came to happen, it was not restored to its previous quality.
This is one of numerous examples that I could list, with the 6 month wait being the reason why this jumps out – but residents have also seen people paid to turn up and repair and maintain the property only for the vans to sit stationary all day without direction, and then to leave without having done anything at the end of the day, paid for by the funds that the residents contribute, for no return.
One suggestion, and in part criticism, that always comes up is the question why the council can’t buyout the upkeep of the areas in which this sort of activity goes on, especially given that some residents pay for the communal roads that go through their properties that can also be used by non-residents.
But for councils that have had their budgets cut by up to £250million since 2010, as is the case in Sunderland, this is simply not an option. As councils try to maintain their valuable front line services, they do not have the funds to put aside for this sort of upkeep and maintenance in addition to what they already have responsibility for.
Effective and intelligent regulation can ensure that it is not possible for developers and estate managers to take payment from residents whilst operating in a manner that is not conducive to effective management of the properties.
Quite often residents do not have any idea where their money is spent, and how decisions are made.
I look forward to hearing the government’s response to this hugely important issue.