Residents of a block of flats in Llanidloes say they are being “clobbered” with unreasonable charges for overdue refurbishments to their building.
That’s also the view of Llanidloes Councillor Gareth Morgan, who has hit out at Powys County Council (PCC) over shock bills that have landed on the doorsteps of seven residents of Hafrenydd.
The block of flats and maisonettes, on Penygreen Road, is undergoing a four-month renovation, totalling £200,000, to improve its accessibility and communal areas.
Now, the Right to Buy lessees of its seven maisonettes have been told to fork out £1,552 plus VAT towards the work, which they say is only needed due to the council’s neglect of the building over the years.
“The council has not spent much maintaining the common areas,” said Cllr Morgan.
“The common areas have been in a very poor state for some time. They are now carrying out major improvements, but the people who live there are being clobbered with service charges.”
Under Right to Buy, leaseholders are charged a proportion of any costs for repairs and improvements of their building, in this case almost £39,000. This is then split between the 25 properties in the block, though the 18 flats are not leased under Right to Buy and their residents are therefore unaffected.
The leaseholders of the maisonettes at Hafrenydd have raised concerns with PCC about the service charges, which are not set in stone and could rise even higher once the final invoice for the work is received.
Another cause for concern is the plan to demolish garages at the block, which some residents are strongly opposed to.
They have also expressed concern as they say the council has not fulfilled its legal obligations under the Service Charges (Consultation Requirements) (Wales) Regulations 2004. These set out that at least two estimates should be obtained for any work, and that the lessees are invited to nominate a contractor from whom the council should seek an estimate.
In its response, PCC explained that three contractors were approached for a quote on the work, but only one was received.
A letter to the residents from PCC said: “We have discussed the lack of response with the council’s Commercial Services team. It was agreed that in this instance it was not necessary to seek estimates from other companies, as it was felt unlikely this would provide additional estimates.”
The letter also apologised for not offering the leaseholders the chance to nominate a contractor. It said the possibility of starting the consultation again to offer this had been considered, but: “we are of the opinion that within the council’s procurement requirements we would not have been able to find a better estimate.”
This response has been criticised by Cllr Morgan, who hit back at PCC for “dismissing” the leaseholders’ concerns.
“It is virtually a £200,000 contract that is going ahead on just one tender,” he said.
“In my opinion this is totally unacceptable for a contract of this size. The excuse put forward by the council is unacceptable.
“They have literally dismissed all their observations. The lessees are entitled to be invited to get their own tender, but that invitation was not extended.”
He added: “I am pleased to see some works being carried out. These are long overdue. The block was built in 1973 and except for some works two years ago, little has been done.
“However the council’s approach has been high handed and they have chosen to ignore many of the proper consultation rules and regulations.”
A PCC spokesperson said: “Previous investment has not been possible because of funding restrictions. However, changes to funding rules by the Welsh Government have meant we are able to carry out capital improvement works.
“We understand that charging for such works will cause concern for tenants and leaseholders but we will ensure that the charges are fair, reasonable and affordable.
“We are currently seeking legal advice in light of Cllr Morgan’s concerns about the compliance with legislation.”
See full story in the County Times