Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Edinburgh Council denies 'bullying' tactics to recover repair debt

Dalkeith Road

Edinburgh Property owners have accused the council of using bullying tactics to recover debt linked to a scheme they have admitted to mismanaging.

Almost £3m has still to be collected under the controversial system of statutory notices.

The system allowed City of Edinburgh Council to arrange essential repairs on shared tenements before billing the owners once the work was completed.

A number of owners argue repairs they have been charged for were unnecessary.

Some claim officials repeatedly brushed aside their concerns before threatening them with legal action.

Property scandal

Ian Millar, who received a writ for £24,500, told BBC Scotland "I think their [City of Edinburgh Council] tactic very much is to bully people into paying.

"It seems to have worked. A lot of people have just paid to get rid of it."

However, the council insists its approach has been reasonable and difficult cases, including Mr Millar's, have been reviewed independently, objectively and consistently.

The scandal surrounding the property conservation department, which oversaw the common repairs service, first emerged in 2011 when hundreds of Edinburgh residents complained of overcharging and poor workmanship.

Police were called in to investigate allegations of fraud and while no-one faced criminal charges a number of employees were dismissed as the council admitted the service had been mismanaged.

The local authority, which has been forced to write off almost £14m to date because of the scandal, asked Deloitte to review hundreds of outstanding cases, including the block of flats on Dalkeith Road where Mr Millar lives.

City of Edinburgh Council said it was an independent, thorough and consistent process.

Image caption Ian Millar, who received a writ for £24,500

Then last January, a letter arrived with a writ for £24,500

Mr Millar said: "It's terrifying. I didn't even have a lawyer before and to suddenly receive a writ for £24,500, which is a very large sum of money for me.

"It was frightening and I had no choice but to fight it."

The council eventually settled with Ian Millar out of court for around a fifth of what they had demanded.

According to the legislation underpinning statutory notices the council is obliged to bill each owner for an equal share but payment is a different story.

Image caption Rainer Thonnes was one of three neighbours to pay the full amount, almost £20,000 more than the cheapest settlement

Rainer Thonnes was one of three neighbours to pay the full amount, almost £20,000 more than the cheapest settlement.

"I'm at a loss to understand what makes them think that they can do this. What makes them think that this is fair.

"I was basically very worried, having sleepless nights. I felt that the only way to stop that was just to pay up and hope to get some of it back later by whatever means."

Edinburgh Council said private settlements were based entirely on individual circumstances and are no reflection on the original invoice.

A spokesman said: "In line with the relevant legislation, all owners are billed for the same amount and any outstanding debt is pursued according to the council's debt policy.

"We have made considerable progress in resolving the problems associated with the former property conservation service, billing owners where reasonable to do so and recovering significant debt (£17m) on behalf of the Edinburgh tax payer."

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