TV aerial delay costs Havering Council

HAVERING Council paid out more than �80,000 for a report into its TV service charges which told it to get its house in order.

Officials had to stump up the cash for the additional audit by Price Waterhouse Coopers after an objection by a resident about “irrational” charging for its TV aerial service.

A separate service charge, allegedly calculated for the cost of the provision, was levied to residents for the first time in 2005/2006.

But it emerged that leaseholders were paying more than tenants after a complaint about the 2008/2009 accounts.

The resulting investigation was billed at �81,000 and suggests costing for the service is a mess, saying it is impossible to check the validity of the original service charge as no records of the decision were kept.

The council was told in no uncertain terms to clarify the service charges.

Opposition leader Cllr Clarence Barrett said: “This is an issue which has gone on for many years without a satisfactory conclusion. The council could have saved the �81,215 in audit fees by dealing with this matter properly from the outset.

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“It is only through the dogged determination of the objector that these matters have reached this stage.

“It is vital that service charges are transparent, equitable, provide value for money and follow a clear audit trail.”

Council bosses have promised a full review of the charges will be undertaken by January and will be implemented.

The report says “we have identified that the council charges tenants for 48 weeks, while leaseholders are charged for 52 weeks’ service. In our view the rationale for the decision and the basis of its application should have been documented at the point at which it was exercised”.

It says officers have suggested the council intended to apply the “same basis of charge for tenants to leaseholders,” suggesting the difference may have been due to a blunder and lack of paperwork.

At least one leaseholder has not been charged for aerial access at all, according to the audit, as a result of an error.

An investigation is under way to find if this is a wider problem, according to council management.

The auditors wrote: “We would have expected that the charging process would ensure that charges to leaseholders are the same as those charged to tenants, unless a difference in service provision exists.”

A Havering Council spokesman said: “Our auditors were legally obliged to investigate the situation. This was a very detailed case spanning a number of years which meant that it took longer for PWC to reach their conclusions.

“Their fees are set by the Audit Commission and the cost involved reflects the time that they spent investigating the case. We are currently reviewing our aerial TV charges as recommended.”

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