Waltham Forest Council facing legal battle with former housing maintenance company over fire doors

Waltham Forest Council is suing its former housing maintenance company for installing almost 300 allegedly sub-par fire doors.

The council and Osborne Property Services, who maintained the borough’s 12,500 council homes between 2012 and 2019, are suing each other in a multi-million pound dispute over costs.

In May 2021, Osborne filed a legal claim that the council owes it for £9.5million for repairs and maintenance it carried out to council housing, court documents obtained by the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) have revealed.

Waltham Forest is counter-suing Osborne, claiming the housing company owes it £2.2m in overpayments and damages for installing fire doors which “failed to meet the requisite fire performance standards”.

The council claims tests to 223 Manse doors, which it was promised would resist flames for at least 60 minutes, found they lasted only 31 to 45 minutes.

It also claims a further 75 doors failed to meet even the legally required 30-minute fire rating, while 123 window and fire stops did not have the “required certification”.

The council concludes with a warning: “[Waltham Forest] is currently investigating a further 5,850 fire doors. Insofar as these are found to be defective, [Waltham Forest] may seek to amend its claim in due course.”

Osborne denies any failures, saying it “exercised reasonable skill and care in the choice of supplier and/or in the selection of doors”.

The company adds: “Alternatively, [Waltham Forest] has not provided any particulars of how Osborne is said to have breached this contractual standard.”

Osborne’s basis for claiming it is still owed £9.5m of a total £104m bill is that, in 2012, the council agreed a change in pricing through its arms-length management company Ascham Homes.

It argues Waltham Forest “adopted an inconsistent and invalid approach” to prices for repairing or renovating council tenants’ kitchens and bathrooms, erecting scaffolding or carrying out asbestos surveys.

Waltham Forest says its then-client representative Ann Lucas, who agreed price changes in 2013, had “no authority to vary the contract” and was “not capable” under the original agreement.

A trial date has been set for May 2023.

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Josh Mellor

Local Democracy Reporter