A Blackpool cabbie today told how he has run up a £4,500 bill in a victorious four-year legal battle with resort housing chiefs to challenge “ludicrous” increases in charges for leaseholders.
But Ian Morris, 60, says his fight, which will see hundreds of residents get a rebate on their bills, was worth “every penny” to stand up for a matter of principle. Mr Morris first launched legal action against Blackpool Coastal Housing (BCH) in 2011 after administration charges at his block of flats jumped from £65 to £195 in a single year – a threefold increase.
People might think I am crazy to have spent £4,500 getting £40 off a bill, but sometimes you have to stand up for your rights.
And this month, it was finally ruled that the fees should be reduced by £40, backdated each year to 2011/12.
He said the battle – which has also cost BCH £22,479 in legal costs – was one he was “determined” to win.
It means around 334 other residents in the town will also get a rebate. It will cost BCH just over £13,000 in refunds for 2011/12, with further refunds yet to be calculated.
Mr Morris, of Molyneux Drive, South Shore, added: “I could not understand why there was such an increase in the charges and what they were doing for the money.
“People might think I am crazy to have spent £4,500 getting £40 off a bill, but sometimes you have to stand up for your rights.”
“I was told the increase was four things like anti-social behaviour teams, but I’m a council tax payer as well so doesn’t that money go towards paying for stuff like that?
“It was a ludicrous increase to impose in just one year to the next - it felt like robbery and I was determined to fight it.
He launched his campaign in 2011 when the administration fees for the management of his block of flats was increased from £65 a year to £195 by BCH.
This was on top of the £230 he was already paying for services including insurance, groundworks, communal lights and TV aerials.
He bought his council property in 2002 under the ‘right to buy’ scheme on a 125 year lease.
He and another leaseholder successfully challenged the increase in the charge after going to a leaseholders valuation tribunal and the fee was reduced to £50.
But BCH appealed to an Upper Tribunal where a judge re-evaluated the original sum of £195 and reduced it to £155 instead.
Mr Morris appealed to the High Court but his appeal was dismissed. However the £40 reduction will still apply.
He said: “It has taken me four-and-a-half years and reams of paperwork, but I think I would do it again.
“I started this because I wanted to champion a cause and not be treated with contempt and when I went to the High Court I did it right and hired a QC.
“When I went to the initial tribunal which reduced the charge to £50, there were three people who came to my house and looked all round it before setting the figure of £50.
“And then one judge changed it to £155.
“But if I had won it would have set a precedent and opened the floodgates.”
Leaseholders will receive their £40 reduction for 2011/12 in April, with further rebates for 2012/13 and 2014/15 due to be calculated and repaid in September.
The bill for 2014/15 will then be charged at £155.
John Donnellon, chief executive of Blackpool Coastal Housing, which was set up by Blackpool Council to manage its stock of more than 5,000 homes, said: “As a company, we take no pleasure in increasing the charges we make to our tenants and leaseholders - quite the opposite.
“We recognise the difficult financial climate that people in Blackpool are facing and, in turn, recognise that we must do all we can to help people to deal with that.
“However, as a publicly funded company, it is right that we should be able to charge leaseholders a fee for our services which meets the cost of providing them.
“The Court of Appeal found that this was a fair amount to cover the management of the leaseholder scheme and we accept their ruling.”
BCH said the management administration fee helped pay for the running of the leaseholder scheme including staffing, sending documents out including invoices and statements and keeping leaseholders informed.
The charges had not been property reviewed since they were first introduced in 1983.
BCH said it had been right to appeal the decision of the leaseholders valuation tribunal because the legal costs were less than the amount it would have lost had the charges remained at £50 a year.