Thanet Star

Thanet Council spend without limit - OAP has to find £16,000 to cover it.

Thanet District Council have forced a disabled OAP to increase her mortgage by £16,000 just to pay for work to the outside of her flat that they claimed were "essential services".

Dorothy Hacking, of Harbour towers was told by Thanet District Council was rightly panic-stricken when TDC told her that they would be billing her for more than £16,000 for external overcladding to Harbour Towers, in Ramsgate. Mrs Hacking who is 91 years old and extremely frail owns the leasehold of her former council property. Mrs Hacking was told that she would have to pay her share of the costs, whether she wanted the work carried out or not.

I was petrified that if I did not pay up, I would be evicted, said Mrs Hacking, who, aside from suffering deafness and failing eye sight, also suffers from a broken back. She is now paying an extra £112 a month out of her very small income to cover the council bill even though she needs to money to live on.

The worse part, for me, is all evidence suggests that the work carried out may not have been essential at all but may have been optional. Yet TDC carried out the work without consulting the residents of the tower block many of whom are elderly. Read on for the full horrifying story.

Mrs Hacking asked the Department of Work and Pensions if they would help her but apparently they are not allowed to be that helpful. We can only confirm the help once you have taken out your loan and you have made an application to increase your Pension Credit, the Department of Work and Pensions said. Mrs Hacking felt she had no choice to approach her building society and was successful in borrowing the £16,000 demanded by the council.

Given her age Mrs Hacking, who is dependant on her Pension Credits, was lucky to get the loan. I dread to think what Thanet District Council would have done otherwise. Actually I think I know - take her to court and then invade the 91 year olds home with some bully boys (under the title of bailiff) and take whatever they can find of value - like her ancient TV set, for example.

According to my calculations Harbour Towers (which has 6 flats per floor and 8 floors) I make the cost of the building £96,000 per floor or £768,000 in total to clad. Or so you would think. However, each flat was billed a different amount for the work carried out even though every flat has identical external wall facing. The truth is that Mrs Hacking Bill was one of the highest in the block.

According to my sources Thanet District Council use a rateable value system to charge residents of the flats according to how much the flat is worth. So if you invest your life savings for a better more economical place to live TDC could very well reward you by making sure you pay more of your neighbours costs. Cheers buddy.

According to Thanet District Council these "essential works" are required to comply with the Home Energy Conservation Act 1996 which requires local authorities to reduce CO2 emissions by 30% with 10 years. So TDC were just doing their job, right?

Wrong! A DWP tribunal found that even though the cladding works improved the insulation on the property, there is no evidence that these works were needed to maintain the fitness of the dwelling. In other words these works were not essential at all.

£16,000 from an OAP for non essential works! How generous of Thanet District Council's housing maintenance team. (When I say generous I mean, of course, stone cold heartless).

But TDC have the law on their side they are technically correct.

Under their agreements with Thanet District Council, leaseholders in council blocks are responsible to pay what is called the "variable annual service charge", which can included larger sums for “major works”. This service charge is uncapped meaning that the council are free to spend as much money as they want and there is nothing that can be done about it.

(side note) Or is there? I'm no legal expert but British Contract Law has a section to it about unfair contract terms. A contract that is found to be unfair can be invalidated and the obligations mitigated. I am not a solicitor but I can and do read books on all sorts of subject. I would recommend to anyone bled dry under such an agreement that they seek out a legal adviser and ask about this. Back to our story...

It's not the first time that Mrs Hacking has been shafted by Thanet District Council's fine print. Mrs Hacking was forced to raise £6,500 by mortgage in 2000 for two large services bills from TDC, one of which was for replacement windows at such a price that were she permitted to have the work done privately it would have been significantly cheaper. TDC did not allow this.

But it was the 2007 bill for overcladding that has been the highest so far. The side effect of this is that is has (rightly) frightened away any potential buyers of flats within the block such that with both falling property prices and an unstoppable supply of large bills Thanet District Council are forcing elderly home owners like Mrs Hacking into Negative Equity on a property that is a large hot potato - hold on to it too long and you get burned badly.

Worse yet there are more major works still to come. TDC was to replace all the foul pipes in the block and no doubt Mrs Hacking will be forced to pay the most for it. Even though TDCs action have left the property unsaleable. What "nice" guys.

Yes this story has gotten to me. I feel angry at the way this council appears to treat vulnerable people. Not that TDC don't, largely, just make me mad any way. Come on David Green, Simon Moores, Iris Johnstone, Roger Gale, Ken Living Stone and the rest of you - don't just sit there attacking each other on line - go and do something important this week.

If readers feel the same fury I do then you are going to love the "kind hearted" nature of the council who offered Mrs Hacking "easy terms to pay". Initially, Thanet District Council offered me the opportunity to pay her large bill over ten months! Mrs Hacking said. I can just imagine them saying to her: "Just dish up £1,600 a month out of your pension, love, and you can keep your TV, dear."

After she had made arrangements with the building society, the Leaseholders Association negotiated a possible interest-free payment period of five years. While nice this would still have been £267 a month that Mrs Hacking could not afford if she was to have basics like food and heating. This would still have been unmanageable, said Mrs Hacking, who has one of the highest bills in the block, in view of the 2008 bill for £869.47 and future bills due during that same period which could also run into several thousands.

Yes you heard the lady right. This year it looks like they are going to slap some OAPs for more money in the hope that they are too ill to vote come the elections. However, I'm banking on the fact that normally unresponsive councillors of Ramsgate might be a little more talkative once Thanet Star readers get the story.

If you own a blog please feel free to cite extensively from this article if you wish - I feel that this is a story that needs to be told. TDC can not be given cart blanch to help themselves to as much money as they wish from Thanet's poorer residents. This uncapped annual service charge exists nowhere else at all and is not even close to normal. It's a lazy blank check and TDC are cashing it to ease their massive over spend on the Marks and Spensor building. Governments may run at deficit - local authorities should not.

Mrs Hacking's daughter said, I think it is disgusting that a disabled 91 year old should be faced with this kind of fear and worry when the council insists on doing work over which she has no control, supposedly to line up with one set of government legislation, while another set of government legislation means that there is no help available to cover the costs. My mother is now stretched to financial limit, worrying about putting the heating on in case she can't pay the bills, and with no idea what she can do if she receives another big bill for services from Thanet District Council.

In these days of falling house prices, how many leaseholders could be pushed into negative equity by councils who present massive charges year after year? Surely there should be a legal limit to how much councils are allowed to charge in any given period of time to protect vulnerable home-owners?

I would never advise anyone buy their Council flat. It's a millstone round your neck.

Thanet Star had been sitting on this story for a little while mainly because I was struggling to find the best way to tell this story. I'd had the press release a while and had yet to do anything with it. The Gazette ran this story as the front page item just recently on the day that Mrs Hacking passed away. read the story on this is Kent. She was my grandmother.

If this story has made you feel cross with our local council show your support by saying so in the comments below. You do not need to give your name and your email address will not be shared. I would prefer little or no profanities if at all possible.

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Public Comments

This Normal comment was left by Kate [score: 0]:

I'm really sorry to hear you have lost your grandmother. My sympathies to you and your family.

I can see why you are so angry! No one should have the right to put such a vulnerable person under so much stress. And even if their actions were legal, they were morally very wrong indeed.
13/01/2009 12:09:15

This Normal comment was left by Adem [score: 0]:

First off Matt, I'm sorry for your loss.

Secondly I can't believe (well I can actually) that TDC could do this and I really don't know what to say. I'll be pointing my readers over here and getting this more coverage.

It's a story that needs to be told.
13/01/2009 12:44:13

This Normal comment was left by Matt B [score: 0]:

Thanks for your comment Kate. There needs to be some form of limit or control over local authority spending. I'm not talking about the largely toothless LGO here...
13/01/2009 12:49:35

This Normal comment was left by Matt B [score: 0]:

Thanks for that Adem. It would be nice to see a little justice in Thanet in 2009.
13/01/2009 12:50:20

This Normal comment was left by Michael Child [score: 0]:

Matt first my sincere condolences, I think this shows that there should be some provision in place when the council and other government departments deal with the elderly and or infirm. It seems to me highly likely that this would have been covered by her pension credit, I urge you to get onto your MP with a view to trying to stop this sort of thing happening to other people. It is no use having a comprehensive benefit system if it isn’t humanely administered.
13/01/2009 14:42:33

This Normal comment was left by Matt B [score: 0]:

Thanks Michael. Hopefully something can be done because it is surely needed.
13/01/2009 23:04:37

This Normal comment was left by Matt B [score: 0]:

BBC South East covered the story this evening. I understand that TDC have been speaking to a lot of reporters recently too.
14/01/2009 20:52:44

This Normal comment was left by Shaz Brown [score: 0]:

Hi Bruv!

Lv it! Good work on covering the story for our Nanny and can I add my Thanx 2 those sending their sympathies and comments?

But just to say, for a factual update, the department of work and pensions should cover the costs. This is right. But they did not cover the costs because they said it wasn't essential work that was done on the property. So the council said it was essential work and must be paid, no question. The government department said that it wasn't and so they would not help. Good to know that Thanet Council is so in keeping with the Government!

There is one other, recently retired gentleman in the block of flats who has been paying the £17,000 he owes in regular instalments. They have recently threatend him with losing his lease if he doesn't pay higher instalments in the five years interest free they were, so generously given. This is what our nanny was afraid of and, God rest her lovely soul, it's a good job she isn't around to hear it.

The point is that TDC can just keep on adding as many charges as they like for as long as they like. If Nanny was still with us, what would have been the chances, at 92, of her being able to borrow even more to cover the ever increasing costs? Where would this have left her then? And the reality is, one way or another our family is left with the bill. I'm glad it is not for nanny to worry about any more.

But nevertheless, all the while we don't pay the capital off of the morgage that she took out for this horrendous bill, the interest accrues. The hope is to sell the poperty, but who would want a financial burden like this? If the costs were kept to a minimum such as £800 a year, it would not be ideal, but it would be sellable.but who would want a debt that could go up by huge chunks such as £16,000 at any given moment and for any number of times? Certainly not a 90 year old woman, or a recently retired man! And it's sad because nanny really did not want to leave us a financial burden. She only bought the flat in the first place to leave her children a heritage...and she was not envisioning a heritage of debt! She was very careful with her money for years so that she could always pay her mortgage, hoping that we would not have a financial burden when she died. She knew that money was difficult for our mum, raising four of us on her own and she wanted us to be worry free. In 1992 she only owed £4,000 on her mortgage. She was nearly there! She was so close to paying it off completley! She may have made it before she died if she did not have to remortgage to the tune of £16,000!...And the only reason they gave her a remortgage at 90? Because she had an extra regular income because she was SEVERELY DISABLED and registered as so. She had a broken back and that is how she could afford to pay their bill. Money that should have been to assist her was spent on repayments and as such, she simply had to forget about the dream of leaving her children a financial blessing instead of a burden and take the mortgage they offered her at 90 years old!.... Good one Thanet Council! I'm really glad that they can all afford to pay their mortgages without any worries and that if they spend their life working towards being debt free, they can be assured it will not be whipped from them at the eleventh hour,...but the rest of us have got to live with the sins of the Thanet Council against our forefathers and grandmothers! For a council that deals with an area packed with so many types of vulnerable people, they seem to have very little idea about how to treat us.

Sad and angry does not cover it.
15/01/2009 00:21:43

This Normal comment was left by Matt B [score: 0]:

Did you also notice how they presented their actions on the local BBC news segment. Talk about lie through their teeth.

The TDC spokesman said that they had "consulted" with the residents but actually they wrote to them and told them what would happen. As for "happy" to have the work carried out then "yeah, sure" if complain bitterly from the start is happy.

I remember once more why I have such a heavy dislike for TDC.

Thanks for the update Sis.
15/01/2009 11:41:41

This Normal comment was left by Shaz Brown [score: 0]:

Yeah I know! Mum was well anoid about that! The residents being 'happy' was a blatent lie...old Zita Wiltshire has not helped herself in that capacity.Cllrs lieing just stirs up more anomosity...adding fuel to are already raging fire!
15/01/2009 15:48:56

This Normal comment was left by Rick [score: 0]:

I am sorry for your loss Matt.

My first reaction (have not researched) is that maybe should have not taken out loan, designated all property as not hers to head off distraint and forced TDC on to the Courts and offered an attachment of benefits order to pay off the CCJ. Freeze the interest. Then the District Judge would tell TDC how much they could have every week. £12 max I think deducted at source by DWP.

Awful situation. To think that Dickens would still have plenty to write about if he were alive today.

I will send a donation to Pilgrims Hospice (my Thanet charity of choice) in your Nan's memory Matt. Give it a couple of weeks and then if you want the card which will accompany it should be with the chaplain (is it still the excellent man Revd Stu Piper)

Feeling bad about baiting you on poverty issues of late Matt (even though I am right)
15/01/2009 20:51:11

This Normal comment was left by Rick [score: 0]:

Dedication donation is in post Matt. I asked the chaplain in a note to hold on to card and receipt should you want to collect them

Best wishes Retired Rick

PS Read Ken Gregory's site and maybe visit the Hastings Bizz Fizz site (linkie on Ken's blog) ? ? Great scheme. way to go to address poverty.
16/01/2009 19:58:56

This Normal comment was left by Matt B [score: 0]:

I appreciate the sentiment Rick. I'll let the rest of my family know on Sunday.
17/01/2009 13:47:45

This Normal comment was left by Cath [score: 0]:

Hi Matt,

I am sorry for your loss. I have been following this story from Australia, and interested to know as your nan was the first? to have the works enforced, who after her and surely they will be placed under same strain. Is there a Thanet action support group for the elderly?

I have not seen any news update or critique of Thanet Council action, or their change of policy to stop the fascist behaviour.

Also it has been widely reported that your nan was stressed out and that this was a major contributing factor to her passing, is this correct?
04/02/2009 12:09:14

This Normal comment was left by Matt B [score: 0]:

Hello Cath, all owners in the tower block were charged large sums for the work although My Nan's was one of the largest sums charged.

As to her passing the Daily Mail tried to make it sound like the Council killed her which is taking things a bit far. I've been trying to find the time to address these issues but it seems that the wake of the passing of a loved one is actually quite time consuming.

My sister has written a post that is pending and I have in draft form one that should set the record straight on a few points.

The best I can say is - watch this space.
11/02/2009 08:10:04

This Normal comment was left by cath [score: 0]:

Hi Matt,

Thanks for responding, as I am still interested in this case and the plight of the rest of the block and all other OAP in your area, as this will be precedent for rest of UK and who knows US, Canada, NZ and Australia. These crazy AGENDA 21 items are happening the world over.
18/02/2009 12:06:38

This Normal comment was left by Matt B [score: 0]:

I will endeavour to keep the world up to date. Cath - keep an eye on the site as I am sure there will be more to say. Mostly what remains unsaid is out of fairness to others but there is more to the story than publicly mentioned so far.
19/02/2009 17:35:54
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