Sheffield Council spends more than £1 million fighting 'rocketing number of disrepair claims'
Sheffield Council has spent more than £1 million fighting a rocketing number of disrepair claims over the past two and a half years.
Council officers said a 322 per cent increase in cases was because of claims management companies using “aggressive marketing tactics” to target tenants during Covid-19, when government restrictions stopped all but emergency repairs work.
The costs and details of the increase were revealed through a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by the Local Democracy Reporting Service.
There were more than 680 claims made against the council since the start of the 2018/19 financial year.
The average claims per month in 2018/19 was 8.5, this has risen each year and now so far in 2021/22 the average is 31.4 per month.
In just the first five months of this financial year, there have been 157 claims lodged and if this pace continues, this year will see the highest amount yet.
The month with the most claims over the past three years was this June when 59 claims were made.
The overall costs in legal fees and damages was £1,129,218 between the start of the financial year in 2019 and August 15 this year.
Council officers said more people were trying to sue the council following a pause on all routine and planned maintenance and repairs work during the pandemic.
The service was only fully reinstated at the end of March and it still faces a backlog of thousands of jobs.
Snapshot figures shared in a recent council report showed as of the end of March, there were a total of 9,469 jobs outstanding and by the end of June this stood at 13,775 – of which 192 were classed as “urgent and emergency”.
In the report, Mark Freeth, head of the service, said: “There has been an increasing trend in disrepair claims across the social housing sector, with claims management companies turning their attention from personal injury to social housing, targeting tenants with aggressive marketing tactics and encouraging claims that are then sold onto claimant firms.
“This practice continued during lockdown, with companies pursuing tenant disrepair claims, regardless of government guidelines that only urgent property repair should take place.”
The service is working with housing and legal colleagues on preventing and reacting to disrepair claims but it has already piled additional pressure on resources.