Labour Councillors last night won a victory for Tower Hamlets Homes leaseholders in their ongoing battle over huge major works bills.
Appearing in front of the Labour-controlled Overview and Scrutiny Committee, Jamie Carswell, THH Director of Investment, agreed to a Labour request to conduct a review of how THH deals with leaseholders and to relaunch its relationship with them. The review will be based on one successfully undertaken by Labour-controlled Islington Council, which enabled leaseholders to feed into the shaping of works to be carried out and to be present and involved with the sign-off of works with the contractor.
The Committee also got a commitment from the Council's Head of Strategy, Regeneration and Sustainability Jackie Odonuye that a policy change to allow leaseholders longer to repay bills would be in front of Mayor Lutfur Rahman without delay. ]
Labour councillors launched a campaign in October 2014 for a ten year repayment plan to be available to leaseholders, some of whom have been faced with repaying up to £40,000 within just one year. The commitment last night to take the policy to the Mayor for a decision means that there is now a real prospect of relief for leaseholder who have been unable to pay bills - if Mayor Rahman decides to accept the Labour change.
The Committee also heard that problems at THH with the quality and speed of works were in part because of a breakdown in governance arrangements at THH. There are 5 vacant seats on the THH Board.
A petition (see notes) was presented to the Committee and members heard passionate speeches from leaseholders. THH took the Committee through a presentation and responded to a serious of questions and concerns from members.
Cllr John Pierce, of Tower Hamlets Labour Group, said:
“This is a victory for leaseholders and tenants. After efforts from Labour councillors and MPs Rushanara Ali and Jim Fitzpatrick, the Council is now discussing extending the current repayment period for major works.
As councillors, we regularly receive complaints from leaseholders about the performance and transparency of Tower Hamlets Homes. We need a fundamental change in THH’s approach to engagement with leaseholders. We heard from leaseholders at the meeting that THH was failing to properly engage and listen to leaseholders contacting them about major works planned for their buildings.
Leaseholders deserve a new deal - including an extension to the repayment period for major works from 12 months to 10 years, greater transparency on all charges and a proactive approach when engaging with leaseholders. Mayor Lutfur Rahman must act now to resolve these issues.”
Cllr Joshua Peck, Chair of the Overview & Scrutiny Committee, said:
“The THH Board is meant to have a majority of residents and independents but the Council has failed to appoint most of these, meaning that the Board is controlled by four councillors, all in the Mayor's Tower Hamlets First Party. Of 3 Independent seats and five resident seats on the Board, just one independent and two residents have been board members since the Mayor changed the terms of the previous board in December 2011, with the others remaining vacant. The Committee demanded that senior officers write to the Committee to clarify why this has been allowed to happen and when a full board will be appointed. These vacancies have surely contributed to a breakdown in the governance arrangements.”
Cllr Rachael Saunders, Leader of Tower Hamlets Labour Group, said:
“Residents are rightly concerned about the delivery of major works and the way in which Tower Hamlets Homes engages with them. The power lies with the Mayor to make improvements. Tower Hamlets Homes must improve on communications and transparency and on managing their contractors - one estate in my ward has had the scaffolding taken down, but the estate is still a mess of debris and leftover equipment. This needs to change.”