Daventry residents suffer massive blow in bid for compensation from council

Residents of a number of Daventry homes are set to be sent a letter of apology after they were wrongly told their homes would be sold - but homeowners who moved house now look increasingly unlikely to be offered compensation.

Monday, 15th April 2019, 5:04 pm
Updated Monday, 15th April 2019, 5:12 pm
Residents of a number of homes in Middlemore were originally told their homes would be sold, but the council eventually reversed its decision

Residents of 32 homes in Middlemore received letters from Daventry District Council saying that their homes would be sold off, a decision confirmed by council in July 2016 at an estimated value of £6.75 million.

A number of residents decided to move out of their homes, but the decision to sell off the homes was reversed by the council more than a year later.

The council’s strategy committee has now agreed to write a ‘without prejudice’ letter of apology to all residents who were affected, but has stopped short of compensating residents who moved on.

Proposals from Labour councillor Ken Ritchie to compensate those residents was rejected at the latest strategy committee meeting on Thursday (April 11).

Councillor Ritchie said: “Residents want to know that they have a district council that’s there to show a little bit of compassion and do what it can to assist them. At these meetings they have always been told that we are listening sympathetically and that we have their best interests at heart.

“If we simply say that we are not taking any further action and it has nothing to do with us, at the best we will be seen as being disingenuous, and at worst as being totally cynical. It will damage our reputation as a council that represents its residents’ best interests.”

He proposed that original tenants who have moved home as a result of the letter sent to them on January 18, 2018 should be compensated. He said that compensation for the 12 tenants who have moved should be £2,000 each, costing the council a total of £24,000.

But council officers said that tenants took on private tenancies on terms that were ‘clearly expressed’, and reinforced in the letters each received on switching to a statutory periodic tenancy. They were told that the fact the council’s intentions subsequently changed was not unlawful or improper.

Councillor Adam Brown was part of a taskforce alongside Councillor Ritchie examining the decision to sell the houses. The only point on which they disagreed was whether to compensate the homeowners who had moved.

Councillor Brown said: “We are there to gather evidence and arrive at a sound decision to influence policy, and we have done that. When you look at the evidence, on the balance of probability the council has acted properly.

“We have not breached the threshold in order to justify compensation, but by offering an apology we are acting with humility and good manners, and acknowledging that things could have been done better.”

His stance was supported by Councillor Richard Auger, a member of the strategy group.

He added: “It was absolutely the right decision not to sell those homes. But my issue is with this compensation. Where there is genuine loss of finances, absolutely there should be compensation. Just because we made mistakes, why should that automatically result in some financial costs? That’s just ludicrous, you can’t live life like that.”

But Councillor Ritchie responded: “The people who have moved from Middlemore, it has cost them. They would not have had those costs if they hadn’t had a letter saying that their homes would be sold.”

He was supported by fellow Labour councillor Aidan Ramsey, who said: “You might say at the end of the day that we didn’t sell the houses, so they didn’t have to sell either. But when it first came forward to seemed like a sensible decision. A resident who is scared will take action to protect themselves.

“If you had moved and gone through all that stress, and then a letter arrived came from the council saying ‘sorry about that’, then I think I’d be showing it two fingers.

“The money proposed is a lot to those residents, but in the grand scheme of things it isn’t for the district council.”

There may yet be a final lifeline for Middlemore residents though, as the strategy group’s recommendations will likely need to be rubber stamped at the next full council meeting.