Havant council tries to claw back millions of pounds that it spent unnecessarily on homes owned by Portsmouth council

Ratepayers in Havant could have needlessly paid out ‘as much as £12m-£14m’ on disability upgrades to homes.

By Toby Paine
Monday, 21st February 2022, 4:22 pm
Updated Monday, 21st February 2022, 4:24 pm

Havant Borough Council has spent millions on disability adaptations for properties owned by Portsmouth City Council (PCC) – when it should have been Portsmouth’s job to foot the bill.

As a housing authority, the council has a disabled facility grant (DFG) budget, partially funded by the council and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. The grant is for residents who require disability adaptations to their homes such as level-access showers or stairlifts.

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Havant's council has been unnecessarily paying out for disability improvements, including stairlifts, in homes owned by Portsmouth City Council Picture: Allan Hutchings (160433-606)

In 2014, the council realised it was spending its DFG budget mistakenly on behalf of PCC - as approximately one-third of Portsmouth’s housing is within the Havant borough.

In July 2015, the council sent a letter to PCC claiming repayment of £2,393,790.31 for adaptation works carried out between 2004 and 2015.

The letter states the claim ‘does not include DFG funding spent by HBC on adaptations to PCC properties prior to 2004 and it does not include revenue element which is the cost of providing the service - estimated to be £40,000 per annum.’

The claim was brought to attention by Councillor David Keast during Havant’s scrutiny committee on February 9. He asked whether the claim is being pursued or if it ‘died a death’.

In response, Councillor Alex Rennie, leader of the council, said: ‘It’s not died a death but the answer is that we need to pick it up and explore further as a cabinet and the finance team going forward.’

According to Cllr Keast, the issue goes back as far as the Housing Act which was passed in 1969.

He said: ‘The figures are eye-watering. The ratepayers of Havant had possibly paid out as much as £12m to £14m on behalf of Portsmouth unnecessarily, over some 45 years.’

An email sent to Cllr Keast dated January 10, 2008 by the council’s head of resources at the time detailed the sale of land at Potash Terrance, now home to a branch of Wickes.

Of the £3,126,248 the council received from the sale, £1,050,000 was used for disabled facility grants.

Cllr Keast added: ‘This is money that the borough should have been investing on behalf of Havant ratepayers for a future return.’

‘It also confirms that at least £350k was being paid out each year and it is known that the figure was £400k in the 2008 budget.

‘On July 2, 2015 Havant Borough Council, following counsel's advice, submitted a claim to Portsmouth City Council - Portsmouth immediately started paying for its own adaptations.

‘It is understood that whilst some discussion was initially held with the then Portsmouth Leader Donna Jones, and more lately with current leader Gerald Vernon Jackson, nothing has been forthcoming from Portsmouth to compensate the ratepayers of Havant Borough Council.

‘It is quite galling to see Gerald Vernon-Jackson in Havant borough at Dunsbury Hill Farm getting excited about the new Freeport when he owes so much money to Havant residents.

‘How much time do these people need? It has already been seven years.’

Ann Buckley, co-ordinator of the Havant Borough Residents Alliance said: 'It is unusual for a local authority to own homes situated in another local authority and this seemed to lead to confusion about which authority funded these disabled facilities grants.

'Havant Borough Council clearly needs to sort out if it is legally possible now to claim back any finance from Portsmouth City Council, particularly at a time when the budget is in such precarious state.'

A Portsmouth City Council spokesperson said: ‘This is an issue we're looking into carefully, with our colleagues at Havant Borough Council.’