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Pickles vows council repairs cap after 93-year-old 'dies of shame'

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Pickles vows council repairs cap after 93-year-old 'dies of shame'

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Published by Jon Land for 24dash.com in Local Government and also in Central Government, Communities, Housing, Regulation

Pickles vows council repairs cap after 93-year-old 'dies of shame' Pickles vows council repairs cap after 93-year-old 'dies of shame'

Communities secretary Eric Pickles has vowed to introduce a cap on the amount councils can charge for repairs after a 93-year-old leaseholder "died of shame" when she was landed with a £50,000 bill.

Newham Council presented elderly Florence Bourne with the hefty charge for repairs to her roof.

However, it later transpired that not only did the bungling council fail to conduct a proper survey on Mrs Bourne's property, basing the massive fee on a guess, it turned out the work was completely unnecessary anyway and the roof would have lasted for another 40 years.

Mrs Bourne's family has said that the huge bill led to her "dying of shame", explaining that she had never been in debt in her life and simply could not afford to pay for the work on her Brentwood home.

Pickles has now ordered staff at the Department for Communities and Local Government to review legislation governing council house repairs, as he seeks to bring about 'Florrie's Law'.

Local authorities and housing associations are currently being issued with new DCLG directions which will force them to limit the amount they can charge leaseholders for future major repair, maintenance, or improvement works when they are wholly or partly funded by the government.

Outside London, the maximum level will be capped at £10,000 in any five-year period, with a cap of £15,000 in the capital.

Authorities will bear the outstanding costs of work themselves.

Mrs Bourne, a grandmother of seven, has been described by her family as having “old school morality” that disapproved of living in debt.

Her son, Roy Bourne, said his mother lost weight because she worried about meeting the bill and sobbed at the thought of saddling her family with the debt.

Mrs Bourne suffered a heart attack after she was startled by the sound of falling roof tiles onto her balcony during the council's pointless roof works. She died three days later in hospital.

A leasehold valuation tribunal found last year that Newham Council had not commissioned a proper survey of the flat. An independent surveyor commissioned after Mrs Bourne’s death found the roof would have lasted another 40 years.

Pickles said: "I was appalled at Florence’s treatment and was determined that no other leaseholder should ever have to endure the stress and hardship she experienced in the final weeks of her life.

"Florence served her country as a WAAF in the Second World War, raised a loving family and believed in paying her way, so to be faced with this excessive fee was more than she could stand.

"Charging excessive amounts for council house repairs not only targets some of the most vulnerable people in society, it can amount to a failure in a local authority’s duty of care.

"Under ‘Florrie’s Law’ authorities will no longer be able to levy huge bills for future government funded repair work on people who simply have little or no hope of meeting their demands."

A spokesperson for Newham Council said: “The work carried out on this particular estate in Brentwood was carried out by a previous management organisation. We have since brought council housing stock back under our control. Our leasehold services have been reviewed and robust new systems introduced.

"We will continue to do everything we can to improve living conditions for both tenants and leaseholders.”

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