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Problems facing freeholders on new developments

There are new problems facing freeholders. We take a closer look at the issue and learn how a new network established by homeowners is campaigning for change.

November 9, 2016

problems facing freeholders

There is a silent revolution going on in the new build market, which no one seems to know about, least of all the actual homeowners and their conveyancers. The legal term is “freeholders on private estates”. Most people know about freehold and leasehold, but this new model has crept in without democratic scrutiny or discussion and over the past 10 years or so has become the industry standard. The new problems facing freeholders are estimated to affect at least half a million homes in the UK.

What is it?

You buy a freehold house on a new build estate and are told there is a small service charge to look after the lovely green open spaces. Sounds reasonable? Yes, until the problems start – like being charged high management bills for poor service or being charged before the estate is completed. Then, you begin digging and find the devil is in the detail. The charge is bound to your property through your title deeds, so your only way out is to move and pay off the fees. If you do move, the management company is involved with the property transfer, with fees to pay and possible delays (as often happens with leasehold transactions).

If you want to dispute the fees or ask for justification for spending so much you find that, unlike leaseholders who have a tribunal, there is no alternative dispute resolution available to freeholders. Your only alternative is to fight it in court. Not many people have the resources and motivation to take this on. You have no consumer rights as the management companies are accountable to the landowner (themselves) and not you. There is no way to change the service provider and no right to manage.

So the freeholders on a private estate find they have to pay whatever charge the company decides for whatever level of service it chooses. The open space you pay for can be used and abused by the general public and yet you are still expected to pay full council tax.

Leaseholders on private new build estates sometimes suffer from the same problem. In addition, they may end up paying inflated ground rents and may find the cost of buying their freehold is unaffordable. Although they may have a right to manage their own building and internal common parts, they have no such right with regard to the management of landscape and external amenities such as play areas. They are effectively paying two different types of charge with entirely different rules.

How has this happened?

This has all come about due to negotiations between developers and planning authorities under what is known as “Section 106 agreements”. The original intention of these was to mitigate the impact of new developments on their surrounding infrastructure (roads, schools etc.) where they would otherwise not obtain planning permission. Over the years it has turned into a mechanism for councils to squeeze funding from developers in a sort of legalised bribery. Councils may think they are doing the best for their ratepayers, but in the process are selling out on the new homeowners. So much is clawed back under 106 agreements that standards of build quality are reduced to maintain profit margins and the homeowners are forced to pay for open space which is not theirs and over which they have no influence.

If you refuse to pay because you are dissatisfied, your concerns and queries will be ignored, and you may be bullied in to paying up under threat of court action.

Homeowners feel duped, ripped off and very angry at the unfair and cynical way they are being treated. HorNet is a UK wide network to campaign for change and regulation. The group agrees that the whole system is unfair and unjust to the homeowner. The bigger picture involves retention of land by investors and the back door privatisation of green open space.

If you agree the government should step in and at least put in some form of regulation and alternative dispute resolution, then please sign HorNet’s petition

If you are in a similar situation, learn more about service charges in our guide. Become a member of HomeOwners Alliance for extra support and to help us campaign for better regulation of this area. 

With thanks to HorNet for contributing to this article.

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  1. Hi Zac, please consider becoming a member, you’ll have access to our Home Helpline team and a free legal call should you need it.

    Comment by Sara Hind — July 4, 2018 @ 3:37 pm

  2. I am really stressed about the same issue, i am in the same situation now.

    I paid the agreed amount, now they’ve sent me another letter asking for more money because there is a deficit on the account. I really do not have the money to pay this bogus service charge anymore. Is there a way round this? I am absolutely fuming because they haven’t done anything on the estate that warrant the charges. This is breaking many family up. Any advice will be appreciated.

    Comment by Zac — July 2, 2018 @ 8:13 pm

  3. Hello Mike, if you wanted to consider taking out a membership with us, one of the benefits would be a free legal call.

    Comment by Sara Hind — June 27, 2018 @ 2:09 pm

  4. I am a Councillor on South Gloucestershire Council serving on one of its development control committees. I am also,a Councillor on Yate Town Council which manages play areas and open spaces in the Town.

    I and Yate Town Council believe that all the open spaces and play areas in the Town should be managed by the Town Council including the new developments. I argue for this at Development Control however the Planning Officers say that we can not impose a condition for the developers to hand them over to the Town Council – the majority accept this “advice”.

    I would be grateful if you can give me any legal advice on the issue.

    Comment by Mike Drew — June 17, 2018 @ 10:14 pm

  5. This is a HUGE scandal waiting to burst into the mainstream.

    It affects hundreds of thousands of families in the UK!

    This story WILL be even bigger than PPI when it all becomes common knowledge.

    Comment by Liv Lee — June 5, 2018 @ 1:43 pm

  6. How is it even possible and why no one is doing anything about it, not fair trapping people into unavoidable, increasing charges. People fall for small service charge at first, but in fact they are not in any way protected from increase or have no way of challenging the fee, if you are freeholder.

    Comment by Aga — October 24, 2017 @ 11:02 am

  7. Yes. This happens.

    Comment by Andrew Smith — February 3, 2017 @ 5:16 pm

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