Public Sector Waste and the Story of the Private Landlord Energy Efficiency Loan That Wasn’t Available

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I see Philip Green, (he of the incredibly low personal tax payments, smart tax accountants and lavish Bah Mitzvahs), is doing his bit to uncover public sector waste. And good on him too – though his tax position (sorry, the tax position of his wife) isn’t going to win him any favours from the public sector drones whose performance he will be scrutinising!

Well, I have recently seen a pretty good case of public sector waste in action and I have had some rather large dollops of my valuable time wasted by a government body (or in this case, bodies.) So perhaps I should write to Mr Green and tell him?

Too Many Cooks

I use the plural, “bodies” because as usual, when you get comprehensively mucked about by the state, there is usually more than one department involved. Indeed the existence of multiple departments and no one actually taking “ownership” of something is often the cause of most major “public service” cock ups that ever hit the news – think the dreaded Police – Social Workers – Courts axis for example, in many awful child abuse cases over the years.

And sure enough there was more than one department in my case too.

The story begins when I contacted the Energy Savings Trust (EST), the government body promoting a low carbon environment. I needed a new boiler and had read that there were some grants available to private landlords for new boilers.

They told me that the qualifying criteria were low income (of my tenant) and the fact that she would need to be on certain benefits. If she met all the qualifying criteria then they would install a new boiler, the cost of which would be in the form of an interest free loan. If I applied and was successful, a charge would be put on my property which would stay on for 10 years.

If I sold the property in that time then the charge would be applied and the cost would be taken out of sale proceeds from the property. But if I didn’t sell for ten years or more, then the charge would be taken off and I would in effect have the boiler for free. As I have no intention of selling the property within 10 years, this all seemed like a good deal for me.

Well, I read the website with the details of the scheme and qualifying conditions carefully – here it is by the way: http://www.dover.gov.uk/warm_this_winter/home_improvements_for_landlord.aspx

As you can see from the URL, the site is run by Dover’s council. And I made more enquiries. The people who run the scheme for EST, a private company called CEN, who after a long wait, (and after the first sending appeared to get lost in the post), eventually sent me and my tenant a load up bumf which I read thoroughly.

Coldbusters

Two weeks later a surveyor from Coldbusters arrived at my tenant’s home to assess where the boiler would go and to take more info from her to establish she met the criteria of being on a sufficiently low income and on some sort of benefits. The tenant needed to provide the Coldbusters man with copies of her tenancy agreement and copies of bank statements showing she earned less than a certain amount. She duly did this.

I was also required to send a form, signing and agreeing to the charge to be put on the property. I did that too.

All seemed to be going well and it all seemed worth the 4 hours of my time and about 6 hours of my tenants time plus all the calls to the people at Dover, CEN and EST plus the time taken with the appointment with the Coldbusters chap .

Then the bombshell happened.

I phoned up to see how it was all going. “Oh”, said the operator. “You don’t qualify because your tenant does not have a repairing obligation for the boiler”

I pointed out that there is no assured shorthold tenancy agreement in the world (well in the UK) where the tenant is responsible for the maintenance of the boiler as the repair and maintenance of the boiler is legally always the landlord’s responsibility. (Actually, there might be in the 1% of tied cottage arrangements, but let’s not split hairs.)

“Yes there is,” said the operator.

“Er, no there isn’t” I said, pointing out that by the nature of what I do for a living, I have more than a passing acquaintance of what’s what in the world of tenancy repairing obligations. “And even if you tried to put such a clause in a tenancy agreement, that clause would be invalid.”

Sponge

But it was no good, I was speaking to a sponge of someone who is very junior in the public sector and frankly couldn’t care less.

Later, a business contact at a northern district council said he was fully aware of such schemes (which operate in lots of other areas of the UK too) and yes, lots of landlords apply and then get knocked back. Some apparently, try to cheat and try to issue a new agreement in which the tenant has responsibility for the boiler (which is of course, invalid and anyway jolly hard to get the tenant to agree to.)

Anyway, there you have it – a great deal of my tenant’s time and my time has been wasted applying for something that we could never have got in the first place.

Why of earth is this not made clear on the website or in the communications I was sent? That was my question. If it had been, it could have saved a great deal of my time and that of my tenant.

Don’t Bother

Basically you cannot get this loan if you are a private landlord – so don’t bother applying in the first place and wasting your time like I did. (You could try cheating of course by issuing a new tenancy agreement and pretending the tenant has the repair obligations but I don’t recommend that.)

I would like to hear from you if, as a private landlord, you have been messed about by state inefficiency – especially if it is to do with a similar scheme as this order viagra from canada one.

I’d be more than happy to write to Philip Green so he can peruse it on his yacht in Monaco and raise it as an example of state waste to Dave next time they meet over the canapés at Number 10.

Housing Benefit – My Warning from Back in July is Getting Attention

Still on a public sector theme, I see that in recent weeks, lots of different organisations have now picked up my observation made in my blog post way back on 1st July http://bit.ly/cFWg7D that the housing benefit rate caps will only serve to drive up rents in what are (for now) cheaper boroughs.

Note to this story: I fully expect Dover Council to amend their website to cancel the offer completely or to make it clear it is not available for 99% of private landlords. However, as of 11th October, the offer still stands and the site has not been amended.

Another note: I realise there are lots of good honest and hard working people in the public sector. And I know they get as frustrated as I do by this kind of thing.  Even more so because they see it all close up.

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One comment

  • We recently encountered a bit of public sector waste. We received two letters on the same day from the same person in different envelopes. Obviously not a huge cost but I think it reveals the kind of culture. I think it will actually get a bit worse before it gets better because people are trying to create jobs for themselves so that they don’t get made redundant in the cuts. I think the public sector could be cut quite significantly in some areas without too much of a loss in the services provided.

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