Havant sends Portsmouth council a bill for £2m over disability home improvements

A ROW has erupted between two councils amid claims Portsmouth owes Havant more than £2m.

Thursday, 21st July 2016, 6:06 am
Updated Thursday, 25th August 2016, 6:10 pm
The cost of home improvements - including stairlifts - is at the centre of a £2m row between two councils

A letter was sent from leaders at Havant Borough Council to Portsmouth City Council asking for the huge sum.

It stems from money spent on upgrades to hundreds of homes across Leigh Park, where Portsmouth owns much of the social housing.

Over the past 40 years Havant has paid out millions on adaptations to homes – such as stairlifts, ramps and shower units – to allow disabled people to live independently. People are able to claim the Disability Facility Grant from the authority they pay their taxes to.

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Eight years ago it was flagged up that Havant was actually paying out on adaptations to city council-owned homes in Leigh Park.

Officials at Havant now claim that Portsmouth, as the landlord, should have paid for these upgrades.

It is understood Havant officials calculated that Portsmouth owed Havant around £10m over the 40 years.

However, about £2m is now being asked for.

A spokeswoman for Havant said negotiations were under way between the authorities’ legal teams.

David Keast, a councillor for Cowplain, first flagged up the discrepancy several years ago.

At the time the council was getting about £600,000 from the government to cover disability adaptations, but a further £400,000 was being paid for from Havant’s own coffers.

He said: ‘As I understand it, Havant has put a claim in against Portsmouth and as far as I’m aware they have taken counsel’s opinion and they accept the claim is justified.’

Cllr Keast said he understood that Portsmouth had not replied to Havant’s letter.

Cllr Terry Hart, who represents West Leigh, said: ‘The notion was that when people move out or die then Portsmouth takes out the stairlift and puts it in storage for Portsmouth City Council. They take the apparatus because technically it’s theirs.’

But Cllr Hart said it was his personal view that it was a ‘nonsense’ that Havant would ask money from Portsmouth.

‘Where do you draw the line?,’ he said.

‘Do we say that Guinness Hermitage (housing association) should be paying back to the council?

‘It’s my honest opinion that if they live in Havant and pay their council tax to Havant they should have the facilities grant given to them.’

He said Havant was trying to claw back money as it looks to plug a £1.5m deficit by 2020.

Last year the leader, Cllr Mike Cheshire, wrote to Simon Hayes, the former police and crime commissioner, asking if he could help fund the CCTV system, but Mr Hayes told him there were no funds.

Last month the council agreed to scrap its CCTV system to save £154,000 a year.

Cllr Donna Jones, leader of Portsmouth, said there was ‘no bad feeling’.

Cllr Steve Wemyss, who heads housing in Portsmouth, said: ‘It’s not exactly as Havant Borough Council claims.

‘They are trying to have their cake and eat it basically.’

He said that Portsmouth would not be paying the £2m to Havant.

He added: ‘The long and short of it is it’s circular money. If there’s a shortfall on anyone’s side, it should have been raised long, long ago.’

He said Havant had not replied to a letter from Portsmouth explaining their stance.

Cllr Cheshire, Havant’s leader, said: ‘Residents applied for Disabled Facilities Grants and we have enabled that work to happen so that their homes have been improved.

‘The money spent is all public and it has been used to benefit Havant residents. Some of the homes are owned by the city council so we need to ensure the accounting process reflects this.’

David Carpenter, an expert in ethics and public policy, from the faculty of humanities and social sciences at the University of Portsmouth, said: ‘There’s an argument to say these adaptations reduce the value of the property.

‘I would be inclined to fall down on Portsmouth’s side on the simple ground that it’s not about the property, it’s about the person in the property.’