Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Council demands housing repair bills 'must' be paid

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Media captionEdinburgh City Council publishes a report into how it handles housing repairs after a scandal led to 18 members of staff being suspended

Edinburgh City Council will continue to demand payment from hundreds of cases which claim to be part of a council housing repair fraud, it has confirmed.

Homeowners will still be asked to settle their bills despite 513 disputes over alleged bribery, overcharging, and unnecessary and poor quality work.

About 18 council staff have been suspended since the allegations were made almost a year ago.

It follows a report which recommends each case is reviewed individually.

The interim report is due to be considered by councillors next week.

The council has pledged to clear up the complaints within 18 months.

An Edinburgh City Council spokesman said: "Where work carried out under the statutory notice system has already been invoiced, or is complete and about to be invoiced, we will continue to seek to recover the costs.

"This approach will apply to all works whether under investigation following a complaint or not.

"We are satisfied that, although the initial investigations indicate that some works should be looked at in more detail, it is proportionate overall for us to continue seeking costs.

"However, we will address the issue on a case-by-case basis, and will consider if any exceptional circumstances apply."

Final bill

The report comes after the council investigated a sample of 33 properties, covering a range of works, building types and contractors.

On the basis of those checks, it found that all the complaints which had been received should be investigated.

Under the statutory notice system, Edinburgh City Council can intervene to organise repair work on private properties when the owners of shared buildings cannot reach agreement.

It is the only city in the UK where council surveyors can arrange the work through approved contractors and recoup the cash from owners.

The local authority also receives 15% of the final bill.

The value of statutory notices issued by council surveyors has increased dramatically in recent years, from £9.2m in 2005 to more than £30m in 2010.

Edinburgh City Council has received 513 complaints over statutory housing repairs in the capital about concerns with costs, workmanship, unnecessary work, poor communication and poor management.

The allegations made against Edinburgh City Council staff have led to all non-emergency work being stopped pending two investigations.

An independent investigation by Deloitte, ordered by the council, is currently under way.

And the fraud unit at Lothian and Borders Police is also investigating the council's property conservation department, which deals with statutory notices.

The council's latest report into the statutory notice repairs process recommends creating a dedicated team of surveyors and a review panel to resolve outstanding complaints.

Public's confidence

The council said "where appropriate", disciplinary hearings would be held, but investigations were continuing.

Phil Wheeler, Edinburgh City Council's convener of the finance and resources committee, said: "Carrying out further investigations is a welcome proposal and I hope it underlines to the public how seriously the council is taking this issue.

"However, we also need to look again at introducing arrangements to ensure essential work is carried out appropriately.

"The city needs housing of an excellent standard, and we also need to see that the public and our built heritage are safeguarded."

Mark Turley, director of services for communities, added: "This is a thorough and painstaking investigation.

"We will review the specific circumstances of all complaints and try to remedy these.

"The approach we are taking aims to be open and inclusive, which is essential for both resolving the issues raised and moving the service forward in a way that regains the public's confidence."

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