In today’s Herald, a rumoured story has finally broken: Lothian and Borders Police and independent accountants are running parallel investigations into Edinburgh Council’s Property Conservation Department and the rumoured costs are confirmed to be as high as £13.5 million. But as recently as October, Edinburgh Council was still pursuing repayment of the 500+ housing repair bills under investigation. [Update: and according to an unnamed senior councillor, £13.5M could be an underestimate.]
In 2002, I was living in a small flat on Albert Street, a stair with about a dozen other households. We and our neighbours in the next stair had been issued a statutory repairs letter, and from what I could judge of the building frontage, it was justified: one of my next-door neighbours on the same landing said that repairs hadn’t been done in 20 years.
The three of us on the same landing were on pretty good terms: we agreed that it would be cheaper if everyone on the stairs could get together and agree on a builder and repair work, but that would mean one person in effect guaranteeing the whole bill, and chasing up the other occupants – and the landlords of rented flats – to pay their share.
Everyone knew – we agreed – that it was more expensive if you let the council do it. We assumed this was because the council would always charge a bit extra on the top to cover their administrative costs and the surveyor costs, and because the council wouldn’t be concerned in picking out a builder who would carry out the best work at the lowest cost: why should they, when all the costs would be passed on to us.
But the scale of the scam that has been practiced on us is unbelievable:
It will take more than two years to investigate the first 500 complaints received by the council, and for the level of overcharging to be confirmed, but provisional totals are now being considered behind closed doors, according to a senior council source.
The first “working estimate” is of an overcharge of £13.5m, based on a figure of 10% of the value of building repairs contracts since 2005.
The investigation is currently going back five years. I paid the bill for my flat in 2003, and sold it in 2004. 18 staff have been suspended from the department and five were sacked: apparently more disciplinary measures are expected, as well as criminal charges. (That’s one more sacking and 3 more suspensions since 1st December, according to the BBC’s story then.)
I now live in a colony flat, where generally, repair bills are shared between at most four households, all of us close neighbours. But thousands of people in Edinburgh live in stairs where they must rely on the council to carry out this repair work fairly, because it’s unreasonable to expect a single household to guarantee the whole cost and pursue neighbours to pay their share.
I wonder how far back the rot goes?
Update: Like the City of Edinburgh Council Statutory Notice Scam campaign group on Facebook.