Special report: Parish council in Northampton takes stand against 'second tax' sent to maintenance companies

Residents of Upton Park are among those fighting against the so-called second council tax.
Residents of Upton Park are among those fighting against the so-called second council tax.

A parish council bucked a national trend this week in a fight for their future residents.

Duston Parish Council has agreed to take responsibility of all shared green spaces for 150 homes planned for the Timken Estate – by ‘buying’ it off developer David Wilson Homes for £1.

People around the town are now hoping their parishes follow suit - such as those in Upton.

People around the town are now hoping their parishes follow suit - such as those in Upton.

It sounds small – but it means these neighbourhoods cannot fall into the hands of private management companies (PMCs), like so many other new builds in Northampton.

Dozens of homeowners have told the Chronicle & Echo their bills to PMCs have become a burdensome “second council tax”. Their complaints come from estates across the town.

Homeowners say they are endlessly frustrated by rising bills, poor communication and a lack of accountability. In some cases, they simply do not understand what it is they pay for.

“At first, our annual fee was £184 a year,” says one resident who bought a home in Scholars Grange, Duston, in 2012. “I am expecting this year to be around £280.”

He and his neighbours pay PMC Chamonix Estates Ltd a combined total of £18,000 to manage a shared courtyard.

Though Chamonix says the standard charge at Scholars Grange is £230. The man in question saw charges added to his account because of late payment.

“The level of service is unacceptable,” the man continued. “I have complained time and time again about the site not being cleaned. When I withheld payment, they threatened court action and told our mortgage company. My wife thought we would lose the house. To me, this is a money-making scheme that leaves residents vulnerable. This was meant to be our forever home ... but these fees will get so high we either can’t afford to pay or be unable to sell the property.”

Duston Parish Council's stand could be the first of many.

It's chairman, John Caswell said: “Duston Parish Council is committed to the localism agenda and has been actively working with a number of organisations to see local parks and green spaces managed by the parish council.”

Director of Chamonix Estates Adrian Povey, said: “The charges since 2012 have increased at a below inflation rate from £212 to £230 in 2019 and were set out when people purchased their property. We can understand owners’ concerns that the managed areas they pay for could have been adopted by the local authority, but this was agreed between the authority and the developer at the planning stage before people purchased their property. As agents, our role is to administer the legal structure as given to us, for the benefit of all residents, including of course, making sure that everyone pays their service charge.”

But another resident says she lost the chance to sell her home in Upton because her two PMCs did not talk to her buyer’s solicitors in time. Another says his bill to another PMC jumped from £49 to £131 in his April invoice.

They are just a handful of residents who say they have had enough of uncontrolled bills and not knowing just what they are paying for.

Duston Parish Council has shown how residents can be spared from frustrating new bills from private companies.

WHAT ARE PMCs?

Private management companies have grown in recent years but have recently been criticised as a way for homeowners to be charged annual fees on houses they already own – leading to critical nicknames and being accused of charging “a second council tax”.

If a council does not adopt a new housing estate, private management companies can be contracted by housing developers to maintain shared spaces like grass, roads and courtyards.

PMCs bill homeowners for their services, alongside their normal council tax.

However, many PMCs have raised their costs in recent years – and homeowners are contractually obliged to pay. If they don’t they can be taken to court.

Criticism ranges from a lack of accountability and confusion over what residents pay for to simply that homeowners do not get value for money – especially when invoices shown to the Chron show some PMCs have doubled their bills in some cases. But between green spaces and shared land, residents can be paying two or even three PMCs at a time.

What do you think? Are you affected by bills from PMCs? Email your views to letters@northants news.co.uk

NORTHAMPTON MP WEIGHS IN ON DEBATE IN COMMONS

A Northampton MP sat on a select committee to investigate reforming leasehold laws and hold PMCs to account.

Andrew Lewer, pictured, says the report, which was published in March, could lead to creating a new ombudsmen-style role and pressing councils to adopt more new estates and avoid handing them off to PMCs.

But for homeowners already tied in to contracts with PMCs, the cost of retroactively rewriting their contracts would ‘be in the billions’ and will likely not happen.

The MP for Northampton South said: “In some cases these companies operate responibly, and in some cases it’s a disaster. This needs to be dealt with twofold. First, local authorities need to stop shrugging their shoulders and saying they don’t want to take these adoptions on. And two, there needs to be a much higher level of transparency and accountability.

“I am hopeful that the Government looks carefully at this report and act on our recommendations soon.”

A private members’ bill is also in the works to reform leasehold laws.