Too poor to pay to play...?


It would be easy to brand this article as another example of the harsh inequalities and divisions in society while others may see the arrangements as a pragmatic attempt to link the benefit of a communal facility to the obligation to pay for it.  The response probably depends on personal perspective and the reality seems to be buried in details that the journalist has not disclosed.

What is important is to consider the principles behind the provision of shared facilities in a situation such as this.

1. It is possible for planning permissions and related planning agreements to require that all communal areas are made available to all residents equally

2. The areas identified in the article are within the parts of the development which clearly fall into the service charge regime so maintenance costs will be paid by the residents and not through council tax

3. Service charge contributions required from owners of affordable homes that are rented are generally capped so any excess would have to be deducted from the rents that can be charged, which are themselves capped.  In contrast private sector owners have to pay what is "reasonable" and there is no similar financial limit on what can be demanded from them

So there is a difference in legislative treatment between private sector owners and those in the affordable homes.  To demand that private sector owners pay more than their affordably homed neighbours for the same benefit amounts to a tax on ownership.

We could as a society decide that this is an appropriate step to take.  We have after all decided that developers should be required to provide affordable housing so why not extend this to equal treatment on facilities?

But if we are going to make that decision we should be clear about what we are doing and why and make sure that the legislative background supports it.

As the law stands is it "reasonable" to require private sector owners to top up an estate maintenance fund to make up for the financial cap on some contributions?  If it isn't "reasonable" (and this is a very real question because that is the legal test) then it would be unlawful to require those payments, there would then be a perpetual shortfall in the service charge contributions and eventually the whole process would go bust - which serves no one's interests.

That may be why the planning agreement did not have greater detail as to what range and type of facilities had to be provided for each group of owners.  To do so may have been invalid to the extent that it would have required contributions in excess of what legislation permits.

Indignation at the outcome here is understandable.  It clearly has the appearance of economic segregation and instinctively it feels inherently unjust but the questions to be answered to find a solution are far more complex than journalists would care to admit and may even require a change in legislation.

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Too poor to play: children in social housing blocked from communal playground In a move reminiscent of the ‘poor doors’ scandal, a London developer has segregated play areas for richer and poorer residents
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