Helen hosted a visit with Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Housing, John Healey, to highlight local housing issues – including empty homes, rogue landlords, and rip-off management fees on new estates.

‘Fleecehold’ on Freehold Homes

At a public meeting at Whitworth Park Academy, Spennymoor, John met with residents from new-build estates around the constituency to hear first-hand how ‘fleecehold’ management fees affect their lives.

Homeowners shared their experiences of buying freehold homes, and then later discovering that they came with costly annual fees for site maintenance.

These fees are uncapped and completely unregulated – meaning that fees can jump up each year, with no transparency on work taking place.

One resident from Spennymoor’s Moorcroft Estate said:

“On our estate we pay £148 a year to our management company – Greenbelt. They are named in our deeds so we can’t change them. They are supposed to look after the public spaces, but when anything needs doing they charge us extra. If there is dog waste in the litter bins, that’s extra. If play equipment gets damaged, that’s extra. We have no idea what the annual fee is spent on and we don’t have the legal rights to challenge it.”

Helen introduced a Private Members Bill to tackle unfair maintenance fees in November last year, but due to the prorogation of Parliament last Tuesday, this Bill will no longer be allowed to progress through the Commons.

Helen introduces Shadow Housing Secretary, John Healey MP
Helen introduces Shadow Housing Secretary, John Healey MP

At the meeting, John said:

“Helen has done more than anyone in Parliament to lead the way on this issue. There are some obvious answers, but they require a Government with a will to make changes, to stand up to the big developers, and to fix these problems.”

The meeting concluded as Labour’s housing chief set out potential solutions that a Labour Government could bring in. He said:

“There are three areas that we need to change.

  1. We need legislation to give freehold homeowners the rights to challenge agents, to hold them to account and ensure people only pay what is reasonable.
  2. We need to get back to a model where public space is fully adopted by Councils – and not sold by developers as a cash cow to private management companies.
  3. Ultimately, we need a way for councils to step back into estates like these. We need to face down the vested interests here – all those sitting pretty with the legal powers in their hands.”
John & Pat discussing long-term housing regeneration in Dene Valley
John & Pat discussing long-term housing regeneration in Dene Valley

Labour would crack down on empty and disused homes

Earlier in the day, Helen took John to meet Chris Clark, Empty Homes Officer at Durham County Council, to demonstrate the positive work going on in Dene Valley.

The council have been bringing empty homes back into use, but could do much more if the regeneration funding had not been cut by the Conservatives.

The team visited Randolph Street in Coundon Grange. This was a street where 16 out of the 24 terraced homes were dilapidated and uninhabitable. Following intervention from Durham County Council – funded by a combination of interest-free refurbishment loans and private investment – 15 properties were put back into use last year. One more is awaiting a tenant. They also visited Edward Street – which could benefit from similar transformation if the funding was available.

Helen with John and Chris outside a property in Edward Street
Helen with John and Chris outside a property in Edward Street

Helen said:

“It was great to have John come to visit, and to be able to show him what the key housing issues are here. There’s a lot of good work going on, from putting empty homes back into use to tackling the rip-off management fees on new estates – but we are missing Government support to see these projects really take off.

“With a Labour Government we could stand up to big property developers, put an end to the stranglehold of managing agents and crack down on empty and disused homes.”

Labour-led legislation has recently been enacted by Parliament to introduce new minimum legal standards to ensure privately rented homes are fit for human habitation, are free from damp and cold, and are safe from fire.

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