Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Al The Plumber

My plumber, Al, came round today to look at the leak. I've known him for several years and although he's not cheap you can trust him to do a guaranteed 100% professional job. In my experience cut-price plumbers are a false economy; I've had to pay Al to fix bad work by other plumbers on more than one occasion.

Anyway, Al confirmed what I already knew. The valve on the right hand side pipe is leaking. He offered to fix it there and then for £300. I was really tempted, but I couldn't say yes. Apart from the council's involvement, there are two other leaseholders who pay a percentage of communal repair costs for the building so, overall, little likelihood I'd get the 50% back for non-pre-approved-by-council repairs.

I've drafted a response to the Notice of Intention to Carry Out Works,  but next on my council To Do/Attack list is writing to the Chief Executive, Gerald Jones. This is the man.

It was the only photo I could find. He has a remarkably low media profile, given his position. You can find out considerably more about me via Google than about Mr Jones, whose only claim to fame is being one of the UK's highest paid local authority chief executives. In 2007 it was widely reported that his salary was £227,424 per annum. I don't at all begrudge him the money - he no doubt does a good job generally since our council tax is one of the lowest in the UK - but my attitude may well change, and swiftly, if he can't sort out the mess created by Ms Parris and Mr Crawley. Sackings would be good but I know that's pure fantasy - you have to be Sharon Shoesmith to get fired by a council for incompetence these days. 

Incidentally, I've just noticed there's a spooky resemblance between Jill Pay, (underling of Incompetence Today's unofficial blog mascot  Michael Martin, The Speaker) and Ms Shoesmith.  0_0

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

* * * * *

Here's my latest letter to Mr Crawley. It'll go in tomorrow's post. The idea is to force Mr Crawley to address the matter of the existence of Ms Parris and her role in the drama. I have created a poll in the sidebar in which I invite blog readers to guess whether or not Mr Crawley will refer or allude to Ms Parris in his reply. It'll take about three weeks for Mr Crawley to respond, so the deadline for votes is Sunday 15th March.

Dear Mr Crawley

Further to your letter dated 13th February, I write with regard to the matter of the roof ridge repointing separately as this is now the subject of a court claim.

Although I have repeatedly informed you that Ms Parris verbally instructed me to arrange to carry out the repair, and promised to later arrange a refund of my neighbouring leaseholders' share of these communal maintenance works, you have apparently neglected to ask Ms Parris about this discussion.

Therefore, please would you provide me with a written statement from Ms Parris. The statement should include her account of the following:
  • The discussion regarding roof repointing, which took place at 10.30am on 10th May 2006 when she visited my property accompanied by a council technician.
  • Confirmation that, in the following months,  she received or did not receive letters from me relating to the refund.
  • In the event that she is able to confirm receipt of these letters, an explanation of the subsequent loss of these letters and her failure to reply to them.
In addition, please provide the name of the technician and a written statement from him giving his own account of the discussion regarding roof repointing.

Yours sincerely


Sunday, 22 February 2009

* * * * *

Mr Crawley has now sent a Notice of Intention to Carry Out Works, received yesterday.

The estimate for the repair is  £755.78 (I am expected to pay 50%). The breakdown includes an optimistic £126.54 "Minor Works Commissioning Fee" - they'll be lucky -  and, my favourite: "Cost for turning off and turning on mains water supply to block x1hr @ £22.22/hr = £22.22." I'm surprised there isn't a costing for walking to and from the van. 

The notice informs me:
"The investigations have revealed that there are one or more leaks under the communal entrance to the property. In order to resolve the problem it will be necessary to excavate two holes, repair and reinstate all groundwork and timbers (skirting and floorboards). As we are unable to establish the exact location of the leaks without excavating through the floor we are only able to estimate the total costs of repair. Therefore, the costs provided represent our best estimate at this time. It is quite possible that the costs of repair could rise."
In short, the contractors' expert investigations apparently didn't reveal that the leak is coming from the valve of the water pipe, which they would have seen if they'd looked at the visible portion of the water pipe. Dear God, the relentless dimwittery is really beginning to grind me down. 

I am invited to make "written observations in relation to the proposed works". I'll be doing this after I get my own plumber round to give an independent report, as I doubt Mr Crawley will be willing to take my word for it. 

Friday, 20 February 2009

* * * * *

I was looking through my Wandsworth paperwork today when I discovered a useful piece of evidence. Back in 2007, I wrote on one occasion to the Finance Department to chase the overdue refund, since I wasn't getting anywhere with Ms Parris. And I've found the reply, from Ms Kenny, Assistant Property Accountant, which contains this perfectly phrased paragraph:
"I have sent a copy of your letter, along with a further copy of the invoice for £250 for repointing of the roof, to Ms Parris, as this is a matter for the Housing Department. I have asked for her to reply to you direct on this issue and to send me a copy for information."
So, I now have hard evidence that Ms Parris received at least one of my letters requesting the refund, and failed to reply to it. If Wandsworth's defence is that they didn't agree to or authorize the repointing, or know anything about it until recently, (as Mr Crawley appears to be arguing), then this letter helps to undermine that defence. 

I also have copies of the letters I sent to Ms Parris. While I cannot prove she received all of them, I am confident that a judge would take the view that my letters were posted and delivered, just as the one to the Finance Department was, and do not comprise an elaborate fraud conducted over a three year period in order to obtain £125 by deception. 

BTW, a gold star for Ms Kenny, who I've dealt with a few times on service charge matters. She's always been really helpful and efficient. I like her even more now. 

Thursday, 19 February 2009

So. Mr Crawley's letter...

First, the refund. I notice he pointedly fails to mention Ms Parris yet again. (In four letters, he hasn't once mentioned her name). The implication has to be that he hasn't actually asked her about the roof ridge repointing (as I helpfully suggested). Unbelievable and utterly inexplicable. Why wouldn't he ask her? Ms Parris still works there and although this entire business concerns her actions, Mr Crawley has apparently decided not to discuss it with her. The whole thing is getting really quite bizarre. 

I'm going to ask him to provide statements from Ms Parris and the council technician (who I presume they can locate by the novel method of asking Ms Parris). If he fails to provide the statements, then that's evidence of a sort. Fortunately, small claims don't require the kind of proof required in the higher courts, the 'beyond all reasonable doubt' stuff.

I suppose there's a chance - in the unlikely event that Ms Parris does provide a statement - that Ms Parris might lie, though again this seems improbable as firstly, there's no motive, and secondly, they'd need to get the technician to lie too. It's hard to imagine them all conspiring to this extent, and potentially putting their jobs at risk if the fraud were to be exposed, all for £125 of council money.

I suppose I could also call Ms Parris as a witness. Though I'm sure she can't be compelled to attend, if she doesn't then that's another point in my favour. I need to find out the name of the council technician who came with her on the site visit.

As for the leak. I made this face 0_0 when I read the bit about excavating the area. WTF?! I've no idea why Newpoint think there's more than one leak. All that's there to be seen is a section of the water pipes (the valves are accessed via a very small cupboard door) and the damp walls on either side. As it's three years since the leak was noticed and reported, this is ample time for the damp to have spread. My point is, I can't see what possible evidence there is to suggest something other than a single long-term unrepaired leak. And in what way is repairing a leak a job of an "unusual nature".

Again, we seem to be slipping into a parallel council-funded universe in which common sense and logic has no bearing.

Lastly, landlord's consent. I can't believe he repeated his sodding bulleted list again. That's the fourth time now. Although a faint glimmer of flexibility and reasonableness creeps into the paragraph about the Deed of Variation in Mr Crawley's use of the word "may" - probably unwittingly - I'm totally unconvinced. "Keen to address"...yeah, right. And I don't call three years ago "recently". The time has come to go to the Chief Executive. I've been putting it off, partly because it's hard to know where on earth to begin. 

The other thing that bugs me is there is no need whatsoever, nor any legal basis, for any of the documentation requested. It's completely pointless, especially when the works were supervized and approved by the Freeholder's own Building Control service. They're acting like I built a mega Tesco in the back garden instead of just putting in a small roof terrace and a new kitchen.

I think after I get confirmation from Wandsworth that they're disputing my claim, I may contact the local paper.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Finally! A reply from Mr Crawley! I must have missed it amongst all the junk mail in the hall this morning. I am going to quote it here in all its jawdropping entirety. I'll comment on it later (or tomorrow) when I'm over the blind rage. 

EDIT: I really want that cat in the photo.

* * * * *

Dear Miss *Trufax*

I am writing with regard to your letter received on 30th January 2009 concerning your property. 

1) I appreciate your position with regard to the alterations that you have undertaken. I also apologize for any letters that you sent that have not been responded to. Nevertheless, it appears that we are both keen to address the issue of consent for the alterations that have been undertaken. As previously stated we would normally require the following documents and as the work took place as recently as 2006 I would hope that you would be able to provide them.
  • Details of the contractors that undertook the work
  • Contractors Health and Safety Statement
  • Contractors Public Liability Insurance (must be in excess of £5 million)
  • Specification of what works were carried out, illustrating how the property looked before and what it now looks like
  • Method statement explaining how the works were undertaken
We may be able to process a Deed of Variation to alter the terms of your lease without all of the above information. However, in order to do so it will be necessary for one of our Building Maintenance Surveyors to inspect the work that has been carried out. Please contact me on [telephone number] so that we can arrange an appropriate time for them to visit.

2) I have discussed the issue of the roof repointing with the Area Housing Manager. Unfortunately, in order for us to provide you with the refund that you are requesting we would require evidence that you consulted with us, and obtained our agreement, prior to arranging for the works to be undertaken. You have been unable to provide, and I have been unable to locate, any evidence to indicate that we agreed to contribute towards the roof works. Therefore, I am unable to provide you with a refund.

3) I visited the property on Monday 24th November 2008 with Steve Brophy, Senior Building Maintenance Inspector, and our plumbing contractors, Newpoint. Newpoint then provided us with a report and a quote for the proposed works. Unfortunately the nature of the problem means that only when the area is excavated will we be able to accurately assess the cost of repair. Newpoint believe that there are two leaks in the area concerned but they are not able to establish their exact location. The anticipated cost of the works is also greater than the limit at which we are obliged to consult with leaseholders within your block. Therefore, I will shortly be sending out consultation letters to all the leaseholders within the block giving an estimated cost of the works that are required. As soon as this consultation period has finished, one month after the date of the letter, we will be able to arrange for the works to be completed. I apologize for the delays in undertaking this work but I hope you can appreciate that these are largely due to their unusual nature.

If you have any questions, or wish to discuss any of the above matters, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Yours sincerely,

Mr Crawley

* * * * *

Total number of letters written to Wandsworth Council: 13

Number of years since I first reported the mains water leak to Ms Parris: 2.83

Number of years since I sent Ms Parris the receipt for the roof repair and requested the refund: 2.42

Number of years since I sent Ms Parris the Building Control Completion Certificate which she told me was all that was necessary to gain landlord's consent for the alterations: 1.33

Number of months since Mr Crawley's first letter: 6

Number of issues resolved: 0

Number of days since Mr Crawley received my last letter: 20

Saturday, 14 February 2009

* * * * *

I have received a Notice of Issue (Form N205) from the Court, which says:

Your claim was issued on the 13th February 2009.
The court sent it to the defendant by first class post on the 13th February 2009 and it will be deemed to be served on the 18th February 2009.
The defendant has until the 4th March 2009 to reply.

The defendant may
  • Pay you your total claim.
  • File an acknowledgment of service. This will allow the defendant 28 days from the date of service of your particulars of claim to file a defence or contest the court's jurisdiction.
  • Dispute the whole claim. The court will send you a copy of the defence.
  • Admit that all the money is owed. The defendant will send you a completed admission form and you may ask the court to enter judgment.
  • Admit that only part of your claim is owed. The court will send you a copy of the reply form and you will have to decide what to do next.
  • Not reply at all. You may ask the court to enter judgment.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

I Initiate Court Claim Against Wandsworth Council

* * * * *

The deadline has passed. No cheque, and no reply from Mr Crawley since his acknowledgment dated 30 January 2009. So today I initiated a claim via HMCS's Money Claim Online. The total value of my claim, including £125 for the repair, £100 for time-wasting, £24.06 interest on the £125, and £25 court fee, is £274.06.

The next stage is acknowledgment of my online claim. 

PROTIP: When filling in the online Particulars of Claim form, it specifies no more than 24 lines and 1080 characters. However, it doesn't mean normal A4 page-width lines; it means lines the width of the  text entry box, which is about 2 inches wide, but misleadingly stretchable. When drafting a claim in a Word doc, reduce the margins to the same width as the online text box. If you paste the text with normal page-width margins, you'll get repeated error messages (which don't tell you what you're doing wrong)  like I did until I figured it out.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Mr Crawley Acknowledges My Letter

Quick update. Mr Crawley has acknowledged my letter of 27th January 2009, in a letter dated 30th January. This is good because it is proof he has received notice of my intention to initiate legal proceedings if Wandsworth fail to pay up, and I need that proof if I submit a claim to the Small Claims Court.

The deadline for payment is end of play on Tuesday 10th February.