Our exposé of the inequities of the leasehold–managing agent relationship in the UK on page 62 makes stark reading.
Time and again managing agents have been found to have overcharging leaseholders for routine repairs, maintenance and insurance.
And the cases that we see going to tribunal or investigated by the authorities are surely only the tip of the iceberg. I have heard of dozens of instances of people who have maxed-out in order to buy a flat and then found their finances wrecked by greedy managing agents asking over the odds for work which is either pointless or seemingly not carried out.
In fact, the higher the service charge often the shabbier the property. Yet leaseholders have next to no rights to question these charges or to easily take control of managing the property themselves.
It seems grossly unfair that someone should buy a home yet be in the position of supplicant to the managing agents. Of course there are legitimate and bona fide managing agents doing a good job and these firms should not fear – and many of them don't – a bright light being shone on this industry.
This is not the first time The Independent on Sunday has raised this issue, but at long last I feel there is just the smidgen of a chance of some action provided enough people give lawmakers a push.
There are increasingly noisy action groups involved in fighting unfair service charges and there are, even now, backbench MPs such as Sir Peter Bottomley taking up the case. What's more, we have an impending Office of Fair Trading investigation of the sector.
Mind you, why we have had to wait so long when wrongdoing has been going on for years is beyond me. However, this is better than the situation a few years ago when we first looked at this issue.
At The Independent on Sunday we are launching a campaign for greater transparency, fairness and proper redress for leaseholders. They are treated as second-class citizens in the property world and it has to stop now. So if you have a story to tell about this abuse, please get in touch; we want to hear from you. My email is at the bottom of this comment page.
Getting defensive about flooding
This rain never seems to stop and although I do think we can read too much into weather events – the 24-hour news culture helps perpetuate this – it is clear we need a step change in flood defences in this country.
When you hear of homes flooded multiple times you realise that there are now areas of the country which are in danger of becoming uninhabitable. Think of parts of the Severn estuary for instance.
Many have complaints about insurers – and I have quite a few – but in this area they have continued to cover property which frankly is a huge liability.
Of course they recoup this through premiums levied across the country – that after all is the idea of insurance, collective risk – but they have an agreement in place that they will only continue to cover these policies if the programme of flood defences is kept up. And there is a major ongoing dispute over whether enough is being spent – the insurers say not the Government says yes.
All in all, though if we want the goodwill of insurers to continue and people's homes to be protected, we are going to have to foot the bill. We must move flood defences – which also create jobs and skills – higher up the list of national priorities.
PPI car sales
The economic news of late has in the main been good. Perhaps the clearest indicator of a more buoyant Britain was the surge in car sales last year.
However, I then talked to a car dealer and he told me the 15 per cent uplift in private car sales he was seeing was almost entirely due to people making use of payment protection insurance compensation.
At some point that particular money tap will be turned off and what then for car sales?