Council Presents Shepherd's Bush Flat Residents with £1million Bill

Becklow Gardens homeowner says work unnecessary and unwanted

Becklow Gardens. Picture: Google Streetview

Residents of flats in Becklow Gardens recently received a very unwelcome item in the post – a bill for £1 million.

The council was notifying them of the cost of works to be done on their block – the amount will be shared between 39 flats.

The charge was a particular shock to one of the residents Alexandra Ciupka, who had only recently purchased her flat.

The council had earlier put the work out to tender and awarded the contract to Axis Europe PLC who bid £5,980,916 for work on a group of properties including her block in Becklow Gardens. The next lowest bit was over £7 million.

The specific cost for Ms Ciupka’s block was £1,128,331 with her personal share being £27,909. She received notification earlier this month in a letter address to ‘the homeowner’.

She describes the work as unnecessary and unwanted and adds that she had no say in whether or not the building needed the work.

Nearly half the cost is to replace windows and balcony doors. Ms Ciupka says that these function perfectly and, according to her solicitor, were installed only 6 years ago. The survey she paid for at the time of the purchase did not identify any issues with the windows and she says she has spoken to 25 of her 39 neighbours who agree with her view is that the work is not needed and is too expensive. She claims many of them were unaware that they had been sent a bill for the works.

She is also querying a bill for £42,492.46 to replace the LED lighting system which she believes is excessively high as there are only 50 bulbs in the block. The latest Risk Assessment from the council dated 10/02/2022 (valid until 10/02/2025) states the existing system provides suitable coverage and there are no recorded or observable defects or other concerns with the lighting system

Ms Ciupka says, “This is just two examples of where Labour LBHF has failed to consider Value-for-Money and its residents’ ability to pay. During a cost-of-living crisis where interest rates are their highest in 40 years. LBHF are deeply out of touch if they expect the residents to pay £28k, they have even warned us that they expect payment within 21 days of invoice, and have patronisingly included a paragraph on how we should consider opening a savings account to start putting away money to pay for the works. The council are clearly not considering the best interest of their residents and are entering into unjustified contracts passing the costs onto its residents without any care for whether they can afford it.”

She wrote to the council and received a reply from Ciaran Maguire, Head of Home Ownership Services. He told her that the council had been running a consultation about the work since March of this year and had been keeping residents of the block updated about plans including sending notices about what was being planned and why it was necessary. He says that Ms Ciupka had been sent a pre-sales pack from the council via the previous property owner’s solicitor which stated that works were to be carried out shortly.

With reference to Ms Ciupka’s assertion that her windows were installed just six years ago, Mr Maguire says that he was unable to see any evidence of a FENSA certificate for the property. Even so, Ms Ciupka would still be expected to contribute towards the cost of the replacement of any other units across the block even if her own windows did not need replacing.

He added that generally the windows in the block were around 30 years old and that new high performance double glazed windows would make the block more energy efficient and reduce noise.

On the issue of light bulbs, Mr Maguire says that a new communal and emergency LED lighting system will be supplied to all common areas, including external areas, entrance, lobbies, staircase, corridors and other defined areas. The proposed upgrade of the lighting will use longer-lasting LED bulbs for both the communal and emergency lighting and will significantly lower energy consumption levels. The system will also be capable of detecting the amount of available day lighting and have remote monitoring capability. The council’s modelling suggests that the new fittings will pay for themselves within 8-14 year.

He dismisses Ms Ciupka’s suggestion that the work planned could be staggered to make it more affordable, saying that it is cheaper to parcel work together and that the council seeks to mitigate the impact on lessees through extended repayment terms and loans at reduced rates of interest. Residents will not receive a bill for the works until they are completed.

He concludes, “We are aware that we are in very challenging times and we do appreciate that the timing of the estimates could be better. However, we do have to balance that with our obligations to maintain our housing stock. Tenders do also have a finite lifespan and there is a risk that if allow this to lapse that we would have to pay an uplift or re-tender the whole contract and potentially not secure the same value. This could mean higher costs for the Council and lessees alike.”

Residents have been given until 9 January to express any concerns about the charge.

A spokesperson for Hammersmith and Fulham Council said, “The repairs at Becklow Gardens are absolutely vital to ensuring the ageing building is a decent, safe and warm place for all residents.

“We have given Ms Ciupka a lengthy description of all the works planned, with detailed reasons behind each of the repairs and why they’re necessary.

“In addition, on 8 July, we informed solicitors handling the sale of Ms Ciupka’s flat prior to its purchase by her about the ongoing consultation for these planned repair works. The pack sent to them included a copy of the consultation notice and related paperwork, explaining that the works were planned for the 2022-23 financial year.

“We would expect her solicitor to have discussed this point with her. We do this routinely to make sure a buyer is aware of the planned works, and, where works have yet to begin, there is an expectation that the valuation paid for a property will reflect both the need to carry out works to the building and the need to budget for the same.

“We’ve also given Ms Ciupka a variety of options regarding payment. We know this winter is very tough for all residents due to the cost-of-living crisis. These options include interest-free repayment plans of up to 48 months, discretionary loans of up to 120 months (with interest charged at 0.25% above the council’s own cost of borrowing), and, where all other options have been exhausted, a voluntary charge that allows a bill to be placed on the property until it is sold or transferred (subject to interest).”

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December 21, 2022