WE Brits are famous for many mannerisms. Queuing nicely. Chatting about the weather. A stiff upper lip, at least until we have had a tipple or two.
But as a nation we are not known for being gullible. We are a cynical lot who can smell a con a mile off. I think this might be particularly true in the North where we famously don’t suffer fools gladly.
All this makes us extremely unlikely to take the latest booming consumer con lying down – the growth industry in ever escalating leasehold charges.
The 21st century has brought with it a whole new boom in profiteering freehold agencies, and I can’t see the public tolerating the Great British leasehold rip-off any longer.
Those of you who follow my Facebook page (do give me a ‘like’ if you have not already) will know I have got the bit between my teeth on leasehold swindles.
I have repeatedly raised the issue of unfair leasehold charges in Parliament and helped found the All-Party Parliamentary Group For Leasehold Reform to look into this murky practice properly.
It is a scandal that is at epidemic levels in our area. Sixteen of the 20 constituencies most affected by dodgy leasehold charges are in the North West, and 14 of those in Greater Manchester.
This is reflected in the number of cases appearing in my mailbox. I’m not prone to hyperbole, but some of the cases we have seen locally can only be described as legalised extortion. There is simply no relationship between the services that are being rendered and the costs being charged to consumers.
I am bombarded with emails from constituents who have been affected by the problems of ground rents and service charges.
A block of 18 flats in Hattersley were quoted £32,000 to paint their hallways by their management group. You could have painted them with gold and expected a lower quote.
Another constituent was charged £180 just to ask what it would cost to buy their freehold!
Often the bill for service charges comes with no information or breakdown, sometimes even charging for works that pre-dated that particular managing agent taking over the freehold.
I will continue to speak up for my constituents until something gets done. I
n my speech latest speech to the House of Commons on this subject, I detailed five things I would like to see happen.
1) The sale of new leaseholds has to end. More and more developers and financiers are simply seeing leasehold housing provision as an easy buck and they must be challenged on this.
2) Ground rents should be capped at a percentage of the property value. I would like to see a fair cap on ground rent for existing leaseholders – say 0.1 per cent of the property value, up to a maximum of £250 a year.
3) There should be a simple right-to-buy formula for people wishing to buy their freehold, without any additional administrative or legal costs. It should be something that can be used in every case to let people buy that freehold fairly.
4) There should be a crackdown on unfair terms and opaque costs in service charges. Money should only be exchanged for genuine goods and services, not for the housing equivalent of magic beans.
5) Ultimately, we need to make it as simple as possible to let residents take over. There are some reputable people in the industry and some people will not need this. However, the power to make decisions needs to be returned to the residents.
As shadow economic secretary, I am proud and excited that Labour has now taken on many of these points as manifesto commitments.
But I don’t want this to be a partisan issue. I want to see all parties come together and for the Government to take some decisive action on leasehold fleecing, as soon as possible.
It is time to turn lip service into law. Otherwise I think our famous British reserve my start to run low.
‘Money for nothing’ belongs to the 1980s. Homeowners will not be taken for mugs in 2019.