We just bought an ex local authority flat in the London borough of Southwark. This means that the local council are the freeholders and we are the leaseholders.
I know that dealing with councils can be a world of hurt, and that Southwark has a pretty awful reputation in this area, but I never expected the hell our first two weeks is turning into.
Things began well enough. A form from the council tax department on our first day addressed to the new owners. "Good," we thougt, "that saves a phonecall, even if there is a BOLD, CAPITALISED threat of legal action if tge form isn't returned in 21 days. A little heavy handed but heigh ho."
I've also spent the last few weeks chasing the repairs team to sort out the communal lighting, which needs a bulb changing. I finally got an answer today. It was about a completely different flat with a completely different problem, but hey, 10/10 for being able to send an email (eventually.)
what I didn't realise is how much *better* they are at sending lettters. Second class. In a postal strike. We arrived home tonight to find this cheery missive:
9th October 2009
I refer to the above matter and advise that there are substantial service charge arrears on the above-mentioned property.
Should we fail to hear from [you] within 7 days of the date of this letter [tomorrow. No, today now, fuck] the Council will commence forfeiture proceedings without further notice to you.
Home Ownership Unit
Which is why I'm awake at 4am, trying to put visions of bailiffs and barristers and locksmiths (oh my) out of my head.
"PS Welcome to Southwark. Fuck you."
[UPDATE] David has been to the council offices this morning to deal with this in his extremely reasonable middle-class way*.
The ex-owner has now cleared his arrears. However, because Southwark Home Ownership Department haven't received information from another department (the department of pointlessly holding shit up?), we don't officially live there yet as far as they are concerned. So they can't write to tell us that the account is clear, or tell us what our service charges will be.
* "I am trying to solve this with you on a person-to-person basis in an entirely reasonable way. If that fails I will, entirely reasonably, consult your management. If that fails, I will, still in an entirely reasonable manner , consult whatever ombudsmans** are relevant to the matter in hand. After that option is exhausted, I will then, in an entirely reasonable and fair way, put the matter in the hands of my lawyers."
**Ombudsmen? Only the truly middle class know - upstarts like me give ourselves away by mispronouncing these shibboleths.