Our downsizing dream RUINED ... by soaring service charges no one warned us about

Our downsizing dream RUINED ... by soaring service charges no one warned us about

Retired engineer Walter Wright and his wife Peggy thought they had found the perfect place to downsize.

The three-bedroom detached home was only a couple of years old and would need less upkeep than their bungalow, which had a very large garden.

When they purchased the £ 269,000 property in Chudleigh, Devon, in August 2015, the Wrights were told they would pay a small 'estate management' fee twice a year.

Price hike: Walter and Peggy have paid more than £ 200 this year for the upkeep of the estate they live on in Chudleigh, Devon

Price hike: Walter and Peggy have paid more than £ 200 this year for the upkeep of the estate they live on in Chudleigh, Devon

Price hike: Walter and Peggy have paid more than £ 200 this year for the upkeep of the estate they live on in Chudleigh, Devon

This was to cover the cost of maintaining the grass, trees and two small play parks on the estate.

But, since then, the fee has risen by almost 70 per cent. They paid £ 90.68 for the first five months.

For the six months to July, they were charged £ 152.98. Even worse, the Wrights have discovered that there is no such thing as high management, Meadfleet, can hike the fees.

Walter, 87, says: 'We knew that they would be affordable. There was no increase in the pipeline.

'Meadfleet does not even look after the roads and footpaths, there is a lot of grass and mow and one of the play areas has just a single set of swings.'

Experts say management companies are increasingly using service charges as a 'money-making venture'.

Flat owners have paid these charges for years, but it's much less common for house owners to have to pay them.

Experts warn that these high fees could be the next leasehold scandal, which has seen homeowners held hostage by eye-watering ground rent charges. They are cash-strapped local authorities often can not afford to pay.

Sebastian O'Kelly, of the campaign group the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership, explains Sebastian O'Kelly, who is responsible for the development of its roads and public areas. In return, the housebuilder would typically fund a project in the local area, seeking as paying for road improvements.

But developers now fear that the local councils are about to give them off, saying Mr O'Kelly.

They also have a money-making opportunity, as they can.

What's more, while leaseholders have the right to claim charges at a tribunal, they also have no way of claiming their fees.

Labor MP Clive Betts, chairman of the Housing, Communities and Local Government select committee, says he has received numerous complaints about new building estates from constituents in Sheffield, South Yorkshire.

The three-bedroom detached home was only a couple of years old and was worth £ 269,000

The three-bedroom detached home was only a couple of years old and was worth £ 269,000

The three-bedroom detached home was only a couple of years old and was worth £ 269,000

He says: 'Some companies appear to have been using management fees as a money-making venture. And there is little people can do about the situation at present. '

Back in Chudleigh, Walter is not the only resident who is annoyed by the rise at Meadfleet's charges. In a spreadsheet sent to the estate's 45 freehold homeowners with their most recent management bill, Meadfleet said it had spent more than £ 4,500 between February and July.

£ 324.50 a month. £ 324.50 a month. This is a £ 324.50 total cost of ownership.

But, when Money Mail visited the estate, we found uncut grass, unkempt hedges and paths on which the gravel had been washed away, leaving mud and stones.

One resident says her management charges rose from £ 75 for the initial five-month period after she was moved in 2013 to more than £ 150 for the six months to July.

Another resident says: 'There is no quality control on the work carried out. We asked Meadfleet if we could sit down and put our point across the street.

However, the company effectively tells us that it is not interested. Some people protested by holding their fees and Meadfleet passed this on to a debt recovery agency. '

Paula Higgins, of the campaign group HomeOwners Alliance, says: "Meadfleet's managing director Paul Miller, says the company visits the estate in Chudleigh 26 times a year to 'maintain the standard of the estate'.

He adds: 'Because of its location, it can be difficult to get contractors.

The real problem is that local councils will not accept [verges, trees and play areas] into their management. Local Authorities are ducking responsibility.

We sometimes give people the opportunity to make payments at a lesser value or defer payments. '

Mr Miller says Walter's first bill appeared unusually low because it only covered five months, whereas the subsequent ones have been for six months.

Mr Miller says RPI inflation over the past three years, the rise in the charge is equivalent to 28.5 per cent.

The Government says it is looking at reform of estate charges. Minister's plan to bring in legislation so they can not be timetable has been set.

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