Hut owners 'paid no rent for five years'

BEACH hut owners in Southwold have been left facing hefty bills after the cash-strapped local council did not collect land rental fees from them for the past five years.

BEACH hut owners in Southwold have been left facing hefty bills after the cash-strapped local council did not collect land rental fees from them for the past five years.

Now Waveney District Council, which lets out 248 beach hut plots along the town's seafront, needs to come up with a way to get back the unpaid money, which is thought to total about �500,000.

In 2004, the council told the beach hut owners that their agreements would be changed from annual licences to long-term leases. Although there were some negotiations at the time, nothing was ever formalised and it is only in the past few weeks - five years after the new contracts were proposed - that letters have been sent out telling people that they are in arrears of up to �3,000 each.

Hut owner Jack Storer said: “We were given notice that from 2004 we could either accept the new system or take our huts off the beach but, until recently, we had not heard one more word from the council about it.


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“We hadn't paid one penny of rent, and then in mid-April this year, some of us received a letter from the council which listed all the arrears that we owe. It presented me with a bill for nearly �3,000.”

Earlier this year, the council announced that it is facing financial difficulties after being ordered to repay nearly �9m in government benefit subsidies and it also has to find up to �3.4m for repairs to Southwold harbour.

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Mr Storer, 91, said: “I know that the council is hopelessly in debt, and yet for five years, not one penny of rent has been collected.”

Southwold Beach Hut Owners' Association chairman Slim Dinsdale, who has recently been working with Waveney to come up with a solution, said: “In essence the idea was for a change from a licence to a lease. Unfortunately, it has taken a very, very long time to get to the point where both sides have a lease which they are happy to live with.

“We're in the process of finalising the leases with the council and sorting out a timescale for repayments because, obviously, it is a large sum of money.”

A spokesman for Waveney District Council said that a new lease has now been agreed. She said: “Since 2004, Waveney District Council has been in negotiations with the Southwold Beach Hut Owners' Association to change an annual licence to a long-term lease. All debt was tied in with these negotiations and appropriate accruals have been made in the council's accounts.

“As part of the negotiations, it has also been agreed that the payment of arrears can be determined on an individual basis, after negotiation with individual owners.”

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