Stamford Hill leaseholders facing mammoth repair bill liken their treatment to Post Office scandal

A group of leaseholders on Stamford Hill Estate. Photograph: Maya Sall

Leaseholders at Stamford Hill Estate have compared their treatment at the hands of Southern Housing to the Post Office scandal.

It comes after the housing association told the residents that the estate has no sinking fund – an account that contains money put aside to pay for works and repairs.

The leaseholders are facing a bill of up to £35,000 each for roof fixes on the estate, and this week had a second meeting with a representative from Southern.

The residents say they should not be liable for the brunt of the costs, which they believe are due to historic neglect and mismanagement of the building.

Southern told the Citizen that no sinking fund was set up because “we have no record of leaseholders having asked us to create a sinking fund”.

However, the Citizen has seen letters to Southern from residents and meeting minutes written by one of the housing association’s own staff members that contain evidence of leaseholders requesting such a fund.

In one response to a leaseholder’s email, Southern wrote: “Your property does not have a sink fund and as that needs to be worked into the lease, it will not be possible to just start one.”

It goes on to advise the resident that “if you wanted to save some money for unexpected costs, you could start a savings account with your bank”.

“Their approach of saying that no-one asked them is reminiscent of the Post Office scandal,” said Kim Coleman, a leaseholder on the estate.

“When the first subpostmaster complained to the Post Office that he had been wrongly accused of fraud because the Horizon computer system was malfunctioning, they said that it couldn’t be true because no-one else had mentioned it.

“In fact, dozens of people had already raised the alarm.

“So, this is the Post Office defence, which, quite apart from being a lie, is not, of course, a defence at all.”

A spokesperson for Southern told the Citizen: “It’s not common for sinking funds to be created for estates like Stamford Hill where most residents rent their homes from us.”

“The general service charge for Stamford Hill, in common with all other estates, is used for the day-to-day maintenance and upkeep of the estate and block,” they added.

Leaseholders were notified on 8 March of the roof costs, and the consultation period ended on 8 April.

Talking about Monday’s meeting, Coleman said: “Southern took us through a similar presentation to last time, explaining how they plan to review costs incurred throughout the project and offer to provide us with a monthly breakdown of costs throughout the project.

“The fundamental issue remains the same – residents have not been consulted in any meaningful sense. They have rather been notified of a scheme of major works that will cost them tens of thousands of pounds each, and which now looks set to begin within two weeks.”

Following the meeting, leaseholders have requested to see the surveyor reports that recommend a full roof replacement and asked for assurance that Chas Berger [the construction company] had no part in recommending works of that scale.

They also requested that Southern “pause the planned works so that we can feed into plans, tender any required works competitively, and work towards a more manageable repayment plan that doesn’t devastate leaseholders’ finances”.

Coleman said: “Southern’s representatives claimed that they were unable to make any decisions, but that our concerns would be passed on.”

Leaseholders also told the Citizen that Southern was unable to provide residents with reassurance that no further major works are planned for the estate.

In a statement to the Citizen, Southern Housing said: “Our comprehensive investigations on the Stamford Hill Estate have shown it’s essential we complete a full roof replacement.

“We understand the significant costs involved may be difficult news for the affected leaseholders and we’re continuing to work closely with our residents to address their concerns.

“Following an initial meeting in March, we’ve met with residents again this week to answer their questions.”

Diane Abbott, MP for Hackney North and Stamford Hill, has been in contact with Southern Housing.

In recent email correspondence, Os Osman, director of home ownership at Southern, told Abbott: “I’m sorry and acknowledge how difficult it must be for most leaseholders to hear about the high cost of the extensive works needed to their blocks.

“This is why we provided much more than the minimum information needed under Section 20 of the Landlord Leasehold Act 1985.

“Currently it is still our intention to proceed with the works we have consulted the leaseholders on using the contractor we proposed.”

“This is important as we do not believe it is possible to continue to carry out repairs as these do not address the underlying issues with the roofs which are primarily age-related,” the email continued.

After being shown the email, leaseholders replied to Abbott, saying: “There is a suggestion that we leaseholders are living in la la land by not having up to £35,000 each available to give to them.

“This amount is way above the average lifetime savings in the UK. Southern Housing are the freeholders.

“It is they who are in la la land thinking that it is realistic that leaseholders would have this sum available, or be easily able to pay it off in 10 years.”

They added: “This is a once-in-every-hundred-or-so-years cost. We are prepared for cyclical work costs but this is taking it too far.

“It is Southern who should understand their own responsibilities as freeholder and plan for these occurrences much better.”