Elmington Estate leaseholders say they are being forced to pay a ‘COVID-19 tax’ on major works after being charged for PPE, an on-site marshall to ensure social distancing, and extra hand washing facilities expected to cost more than £100,000.
One resident, who asked not to be named, said he and his partner first received notice of the extent and cost of major works required to the estate in 2019. But it was not until September 2020 that they were told homeowners could expect a flat fee of £1,000 on top of their pre-existing bill – in their case approximately £5,000 – just to cover incurred ‘COVID-19 costs’.
These include 150ml bottles of hand sanitiser for £5.50 apiece, paper coveralls for £6.50 each, and face visors costing a princely £9.95.
COVID-19 marshalls and cleaners are expected to cost £4,195 per week, with new temporary sinks and PPE storage racking up £2,760 and £400 respectively.
Staggeringly, the total COVID-19 costs of the estate-wide improvements could run to more than a £115,000 – despite largely being external.
Trying to get to the bottom of exactly what costs are being added into the budget by contractors Engie has since become a bureaucratic nightmare, with the homeowner telling the News it ‘‘blows my mind’ how confusing communication has become with Southwark Council.
He told us: “There are meant to be two parts to the work, internal and external, and the internal works have been delayed.
“It’s insane really. There is something contemptuous about it”.
He continued: “It is hard to look at major works and judge whether it is value for money on the page, but with COVID-19 costs it is easy.
“With PPE, they are already required to wear protective gear like dust makes. Are we expected to pay for their boots and gloves too?
“Why is this now a new category of cost? We were told most of the workers – working outside – were arranged in bubbles already, so why are there extra barriers being put in to distance them and even a ‘COVID marshall’?
“The barriers alone are over £700 and everyone knows the deal by now. Do they really need a marshall telling them what to do?”
Leaseholders on the estate have began the lengthy process of disputing the extra costs, saying they should be absorbed by contractors like any other business would, arguing that shops, restaurants and bars do not charge customers extra to cover PPE, screens or other equipment, so why should a profit-making contractor charge a local authority?
The News put this question to Engie, but at the time of going to press had received no response. Southwark Council has maintained that extra costs incurred due to the pandemic are leaseholders’ responsibility – and not part and parcel of running any business.
Cllr Stephanie Cryan, cabinet member for council housing, responded: “I really do sympathise with homeowners when they receive large estimates and bills and we offer them a wide range of support.
“As well as the actual works, there are a number of other costs we have to include in our contracts, which leaseholders are also responsible for contributing to the payment of.
“In this instance, we also had to split the contract, which we wrote to residents about in September last year, the cost of that step was communicated and agreed with homeowners.
“As well as this, we have had to include extra measures as we work safely around COVID-19, including security, PPE and cleaning contracts.
“We have invited residents to speak to us at any time so we can explain this further, and we continue to have an open dialogue with them to talk about what any of the costs mean.”