On Monday 15 October 2018, we hosted a roundtable event in Parliament with leaseholders. The purpose was to give the Members of the Committee the opportunity to hear directly from leaseholders about their experiences. The event was attended by 50 leaseholders who submitted written evidence to our inquiry. Those who participated reflected the diverse experiences from across the country in both houses and flats.
The roundtable was structured around three questions. The discussion on each table was moderated by a Member of the Committee. At the end of the event, one leaseholder from each of the tables presented a summary of their discussions to the entire room.
The questions asked were as follows:
What are the main issues you have faced as leaseholders?
Escalating service charges and onerous ground rents were the most frequently cited concerns. Participants told us about large one-off bills for major works and high service charges, often without readily available and transparent accounting from those charging the fees. Many participants argued that the current leasehold system unfairly disadvantaged leaseholders and failed to provide adequate recourse against developers, freeholders, and management companies.
We heard that the First-Tier Tribunal process was expensive, time-consuming and emotionally draining, leaving a strong disincentive to pursue legal disputes. Some leaseholders told us that, at the time of purchase, they were unaware of what it meant to buy a ‘leasehold’ property, and some mentioned that solicitors neglected to inform them of terms relating to doubling ground rents and permission fees. Some participants felt that developer-recommended solicitors created a conflict of interest. Others reported that they were given verbal assurances during the sales process that they would be able to purchase the freeholds to their properties after two years, but ultimately found that they were not able to do so at the price that had been agreed.
What support have you received?
Some leaseholders reported that they were only able to turn to their personal networks for support (e.g. immediate family, friends, and online forums). Many had reached out to their MPs and local Councillors, but said there was often very little that elected representatives could do for them. The Leasehold Advisory Service (LEASE) was criticised by several participants. Most regarded the legal advice they had received to be insufficient. Legal advice from private lawyers was too expensive. Leaseholders from properties owned by the National Trust argued that many solicitors did not seem to understand the legal exemptions associated with the National Trust and other inalienable land.
What more should the Government do to support existing leaseholders?
At the end of the session, we asked the participants what they wanted us to recommend in our report. The most widely advocated recommendation was for the Government to “abolish leasehold”. Other suggestions included: a simplified and more affordable enfranchisement process; compensation for leaseholders affected by onerous terms; removal of exemptions on National Trust and other inalienable land; and stronger regulation of managing agents to prevent the imposition of high and opaque one-off bills and service charges.
384 A summary is provided below of themes raised by leaseholders in response to the questions posed, although it is not an exhaustive list of all the issues raised.
Published: 19 March 2019