Carnforth mum's anger at Lancaster City Council ignoring social housing repair work 'due to Covid-19'

A mum living in a council flat in Carnforth says the council has ignored pleas for urgent repair work 'due to Covid-19' - despite still having to pay £35 a month in service charges.

By Gayle Rouncivell
Friday, 9th October 2020, 3:30 pm
The overgrown communal footpath.
The overgrown communal footpath.

The mum, who did not wish to be named, said she pays the service charge on top of her rent for work to be carried out on the block of flats and outside area.

But she said no one from the city council has been out since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic - despite concerns being raised about various issues.

The woman, who has a seven-year-old daughter, said she has resorted to fixing dangerous wiring and leaks herself.

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The bathroom ceiling in the council flat which the tenant had to try and repair herself after it was left in this condition following the third leak in three years.

"They have not fulfilled the jobs charged for since March lockdown," said the tenant, who lives in one of four blocks of council flats on the Highfield estate.

"We have repeatedly asked that they maintain our properties in accordance with the services they charge us for but their excuse is "Covid-19".

"We have even undertaken work ourselves or paid for work from our own pockets and have not received any refund and are unlikely to.

"I have raised this issue with the council but their response is they "don't think they will offer refunds" for the six months of charges they have received and not done the work.

The overgrown communal garden.

"They have collected just over £3,300 from the four blocks of flats in service charges since March.

"How can this be acceptable? It's bad enough that this money is being taken from hard working people struggling to pay their rent in this time but they are also taking from the benefits scheme, Universal Credit claimants who get money to cover their service charges from the government and the tax payers are then not receiving what they pay for and having to fund work from their already limited funds, in essence being charged twice."

The tenant said problems include overgrown communal garden space, a lack of internal maintenance including communal areas not being cleaned and rubbish and fly-tipping not removed, a vandalised communal wash house, smoke detectors not installed correctly and a hole in the ceiling caused by a leak.

"The service charges would be fine if they actually did the work," she said. "They are taking the money but not providing the services. If they were a private landlord they wouldn't be able to get away with it."

The overgrown communal garden.

"How is Covid preventing one person from riding a lawnmower to cut the grass? Or one person from using a strimmer or a hedge cutter?

"I had live electric cables fall from the trunking on my ceiling a few months ago and had to repair that myself as the council would not perform "non-urgent repairs" to the property."

The mum said that since the Guardian had been in contact with the council, they had been in touch with her.

They had previously called at her house but without a prior appointment and she was not in.

The overgrown communal garden.

"I called them back and was promised I would be contacted by the surveyor but never was," she said. "They also sent someone to fix the loose cables three months after it had been reported and I had already undertaken repairs myself."

Coun Caroline Jackson, Lancaster City Council's cabinet member with responsibility for housing, said: “Members of our repairs and maintenance team visited the tenant to respond to reports of repairs needing to be done to the property. As the tenant was not at home at the time, calling cards were left asking the tenant to contact the council.

“We’re hoping to be in touch with the tenant soon to make arrangements for any outstanding issues at the flat to be resolved at the earliest opportunity.

“In terms of the services covered by service charges such as for cleaning of communal areas, over the course of the pandemic, the health and safety of both our staff and residents has remained of paramount important to us.

"This has meant that there have been spells when it has not been possible to provide our full range of services, though thankfully these have been minimal having put additional safety measures in place.

“As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, non-priority grass cutting and some grounds maintenance across the district has had to be reduced to allow staff to be diverted elsewhere to provide vital services to support vulnerable people. The council’s grounds maintenance service should be operating as normal soon.

“We are currently reviewing where it may be fair to reduce service charges to reflect this temporary reduction in service.”