Monopoly Money?

Great news of a successful case in the Dundee Sheriff’s court (same as small claims in rest of UK) – the Sheriff found an illegal monopoly and was able to strike out the burdens because under Scottish Law you cannot create a monopoly in the title deeds.  You might say how does this help everyone else?  Well…

The most common feature of the way the private estate model is being implemented is that home owners have no choice of provider. They are also very often being exploited, so there are grounds for a legal challenge under UK wide competition law.  The more legal experts who back up what we know to be happening to us, the better.

It may be a very good time to launch a mass reporting campaign to the Competition and Markets Authority, who are a bit like Action Fraud in that they monitor activity but don’t take up individual small cases.  We will shortly be developing a template to help members join in this action. Remember challenges over PPI initially and successfully took this route.

If you want to read the Sheriff’s verdict, here it is:
Continue reading “Monopoly Money?”

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A Rent Charge Victim’s View

This really long post is well worth a read. It has been taken from our FaceBook group with the author’s permission.

It is both a personal journey of discovery and very informative for those new to the estate rent charge:

Some new-build estates (or newly built) will have ‘estate rentcharges’, some won’t. In my area (North East) every single new-build developer is doing them, and have been for the best part of 10+ years now.

It’s a case of something which used to have some small value in society, but now has been exploited and bastardised as a ‘legal loophole’. Traditional ‘rentcharges’, or ‘chief rents’, used to apply to some buildings (e.g. terraced houses), but they were very small, nominal charges, mostly very affordable. You could also ‘redeem’ them (get rid of them once and for all for your property) by paying a larger fee, agreed between you and the ‘rentowner’. Traditional ‘rentcharges’ were essentially banned in 1977 (Rentcharges Act 1977), and all traditional ‘rentcharges’ have to end by approx. 2035.

BUT, in 1977 they didn’t ban a different type of rentcharge called an ‘estate rentcharge’. Most of these new-build or newish houses, whether leasehold or freehold, are essentially classed as houses on a private estate, e.g. with the ‘freehold’ houses (or ‘fleecehold’) you own the house, you own the land the house is built upon, but you are still liable to pay an annual rent to the ‘rentowner’ for your house being built on a private estate, come what may.
Continue reading “A Rent Charge Victim’s View”

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We Own It!

HorNet have been in discussions with We Own It – a campaign group against privatisation of what they believe should be publicly owned and run. Their campaign is across the board, but does include parks and public green spaces. They have been made aware of the back door privatisation of public open spaces on private new build estates and are supportive of our campaign. Visit their parks page to see how they are promoting our work.

You might care to look around their site – we suspect many HorNets will be sympathetic to their general aims and would like to give them support.

Working together where our aims align will make us both more successful!

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Government – something must change!

HorNet members tirelessly take every opportunity to influence government policy. Here is a submission by a member on our behalf to the consultation on developer contributions:document image Page one

document 2
Page two

What this is saying is that there should be a drastic rethink in the way that local infrastructure provision is funded. In no other country are residential house builders expected to provide this, and the result of doing so is to reduce the quality and value for money of the houses and the of estates themselves. The builders are commercial enterprises so in order to maintain their profit margin, they skimp on overpriced homes and do not offer up estate land for adoption. They also are less willing to provide their quota of affordable homes as they are already stumping up millions for roads, schools and community facilities.

What has this got to do with estate charges?  Well, the open spaces on new build estates required by the Town and Country planning act are public areas for the benefit of the whole local community. These areas are being “provided” via section 106 agreements in the same way as other infrastructure. However ownership remains in private hands, and long term maintenance is not funded by the whole community, just the home owners on the estate. Government has sat by whilst this model has grown and done nothing to protect home owners interests. Although there is talk of estate service charge disputes  being heard by the First Tier Lands Tribunal, this has not been enacted. It is HorNet’s view that it would not be of much practical help due to the cost and stress involved in taking a case to court. The current court fee is £400, roughly equivalent to a years charges, and that’s just to get started!  If there is to be a redress scheme, it needs to be affordable and accessible to the lay person. This is something we shall be saying in response to another consultation on improving redress in housing, and the more of us who fill it in the louder our voice will be, so here is the link https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/strengthening-consumer-redress-in-housing

Please take the time to fill it in. You need only do the parts you feel are relevant, or if it is easier, just write an email to the address on the page.

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Judgement Day?

We have heard from our friends in the Unhappy Homeowners Against Greenbelt Group that there are two recent cases where judges at the small claims courts have been convinced by the evidence of lack of service.

They directed Greenbelt to a higher court mainly because they have understood the full picture including the fact that other home owners would then have to pay more (unless they took action to have their charges reduced).

Congratulation to the Greenbelt victims who have shown dogged persistence in successfully opposing unreasonable charges.

What does it mean for everyone else? It is a huge step away from the small claims courts being used to force payment of unreasonable or disputed charges. To defend yourself you must have good evidence.  We understand that covenants with Greenbelt do not include a rent charge, so those home owners who are subject to this beware of the right of re-entry. This disproportionate remedy is still on the statute books and means that you can have your freehold taken from you if you don’t pay up. We are fighting to have this law amended.

If it is not so easy to bully people into paying unreasonable and unjustified estate charges, the management companies will have to start to justify the costs they rack up.

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FaceBook Roundup

We now have over 3000 members!

Issues reported and discussed by members over the last month include:

  • Several prospective new build purchaser have walked away when they found out about unregulated estate maintenance charges.
  • One member reports difficulties after the builder owned management company went bust. A Carillionesque sign of things to come? Certainly a long term risk for this form of privatisation of public open spaces.
  • More and more examples are being reported of home owners being unable to find out exactly what they are paying for. Management companies simply ignore or refuse to answer requests for detailed a breakdown of costs incurred.
  • We have heard of several instances of huge obstacles being put in the way of residents who wish to manage the company themselves, even when their legal documents say they can!
  • HorNets are still working away on their MPs, highlighting the unfairness of the private estate model, and the complete lack of any effective regulatory mechanism to prevent the large and unjustified increase in charges which many face in addition to rises in council tax.
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Call To Action!

Every vote counts! Please sign this petition and get all your friends, family and neighbours to help. We know there are probably about 1 million households on private estates – so we could easily reach the target of 100,000 signatures. This important petition is asking the government to tackle the fundamental unfairness of estate dwellers funding the maintenance of public open spaces, which should be publicly owned and maintained.

link to petetion

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Private Tax Collecting?

First page imageThis thoughtful paper written for HorNet by one of its members gives new insights into the role of councils in choosing the private estate model, and more importantly, suggests other ways in which councils can fund the public open spaces we are so unfairly paying for.

This is a revised paper. The original suggested that councils had flexibility over raising funding for estate maintenance under the Localism Act, but unfortunately this is not the case. They could however use council tax to raise funds.

 

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New Housing Minister

From January 2018 we have a new housing minister, Dominic Raab. If you wish to write to him or copy him in to letters to your MP, his email is Dominic.Raab@communities.gsi.gov.uk .

These frequent changes of minister will not help campaigns for land and property reform, there must be a huge learning curve for each new incumbent. A good excuse for government inaction?

Let’s write to him anyway and highlight the problems we are having on private estates with monopoly providers.

On Friday 19th January 2018 we wrote this email on behalf of HorNet:
Continue reading “New Housing Minister”

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Happy New Year!

We predict it will be a good one for HorNet. Our group has grown in strength and depth. We now have 2500 FaceBook members, 200 on our mailing list and 227 estates representing over 42,000 households in our database.

We plan to conduct a wide ranging survey covering different groups of home owners to establish what the problems are for each group, and what they feel would be acceptable solutions. The results will be used to inform the direction of our campaign and support our arguments with data.

It will take a little time to set up properly, so please bear with us….

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