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