Worried pensioners facing court action over council upgrade bills

Home owners who bought ex-council houses are living in fear of being dragged to court as they face bills of up to £15,000 for improvement work.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 3rd August 2017, 10:09 am
Updated Tuesday, 12th September 2017, 12:07 pm
Ex-council house owners James and Morag Tulloch and John Jackson with one of the bills. Picture: Michael Gillen
Ex-council house owners James and Morag Tulloch and John Jackson with one of the bills. Picture: Michael Gillen

A number of residents who own their flats in High Street, Bonnybridge have been hit with massive demands from Falkirk Council, which is in the process of upgrading its council house stock in a £24 million investment project across the district.

The majority of the works include new roof coverings, roughcasting and insulation that will help tenants and owners reduce household bills through improved energy efficiency.

The council say shared costs is standard practice and insist the work is necessary to meet Scottish Housing Quality Standards.

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Falkirk Council is investing in refurbishing council houses but owners have to pay for upgrades in shared properties. Picture: Michael Gillen

The owners – among them pensioners living on state pension – say they cannot afford the costs, which they believe are too high compared to other properties.

The residents are liable for costs of improvements under agreements in their missives for shared properties like flats, but they claim the council has failed to take their situations into account and is railroading in the works without proper consultation.

If they do not pay for the cost of the improvements they could wind up in court, a situation 77-year-old Morag Tulloch, whose husband Jimmy (82) suffers from Alzheimer’s, says has them “desperately worried”.

Morag, who has lived in her home since they were built nearly 50 years ago and has owned her home for 13 years, said: “This is placing a huge strain on us.

Falkirk Council is investing in refurbishing council houses but owners have to pay for upgrades in shared properties. Picture: Michael Gillen

“We’ve told the council we simply cannot afford this, but all they have done is advise there are ‘other options’ and don’t tell us what those other options are. They said a payment would cost £250 a month, but where are we going to find this kind of money?

“No alternative has been offered and they have basically ignored us. We are desperately worried about this because we could end up in court.”

Una Fargie (74), who has owned her home with husband George for 24 years, is also unhappy at the council’s approach and the consultation process.

She said: “At first they sent the wrong letter out to people then took months to tell us that. I sent them a letter in January and I’m still waiting on a reply to it.

“Most of the times we’ve contacted them we haven’t had any sort of reply and they were very unhelpful to say the least when I eventually managed to get a meeting with someone from the council.

“They do not seem the least bit interested in our welfare. All they say is if we don’t pay we’ll have to ‘seek legal advice’.”

Father-of-three Andrew Nicholson (said: “Some owners voted for the improvements, but those of us who couldn’t afford it are now facing court action because the council won’t listen or be reasonable with us.

“There seems to be a huge discrepancy between our costs and those of other owners in the same position and they are being asked to contribute a fraction of what we are being asked for.”

Councillor Billy Buchanan has also criticised the council for declining offers of mediation put forward by him and says any work, which started three months ago on the flats, shouldn’t have went ahead.

He said: “I invited the council along to a meeting with residents to see if we could sort through their concerns, but no one came.

“What should have happened was the council speaking to residents and only when an agreement had been reached should the work have started.

“We got one resident to tender for quotes, but the council responded that they were not credible.

“To me, because of the consternation and concern this all caused, especially for the more elderly people, the council should have took up my proposal to get everyone together and explain the situation and see how they could help and sort through this.

“The council may be right legally, but they are being inconsiderate in respect of the individual cases.”

The council says it is willing to discuss individual circumstances with owners and has highlighted the benefits the works will bring to all residents.

A council spokesperson said: “Our staff are empathetic to the situation and are willing to meet with anyone who has concerns to fully explore the options and assistance available to them.

“As each individual’s circumstances are specific to them, we would encourage individuals to discuss these concerns on a confidential one to one basis. We would also encourage them to seek their own financial advice, reflective of their specific needs.

“We have a requirement to ensure our properties are maintained and meet Scottish Housing Quality Standards. Upgrading works of this nature will also improve the living environment for all residents in the area and enhance the overall value of the properties concerned.

“If we do not do this work we would be failing everyone involved.

“All works are undertaken in full compliance with appropriate building regulations and health and safety legislation and are subject to ongoing testing to ensure value for money.”