CONCERNS about Oxford residents being billed thousands of pounds to break property covenants have sparked a review of council policy.

Oxford City Council is looking again at its policy on covenants after it was forced to pay back thousands of pounds to a resident in Sunnymead, North Oxford.

It comes after the authority demanded about £30,000 for a resident to be released from a covenant preventing his house from being extended.

After challenging the decision, the anonymous householder ended up having to pay back just £2,000.

The man is understood to have negotiated the initial figure of about £30,000 down to £10,000.

But after he complained to the Local Government Ombudsman he ended up with an £8,250 refund.

The covenant only came to light after the resident had a survey carried out which highlighted the problem in relation to an existing extension.

It was drawn up in 1933 when the council sold the land for development.

Sunnymead resident Stuart McCready, whose house is also tied by the same covenant, said: “All these houses were built as the same estate, but the city council put a covenant on it to control development.

“It has ignored this for decades.

“The principle at the nub of this is what the council’s policy should be.

“An extension does not harm the council.

“I don’t expect that they will enforce this in other cases in Sunnymead.”

Mr McCready, a Liberal Democrat city councillor who was speaking in a personal capacity, added he thought the council’s policy on covenants should be clearer.

He said if policies did not spell out the basis on which the council was entitled to impose a charge, there was nothing to guide officers on the correct way to handle any case.

The council’s asset management plan says the council will “seek to enforce such covenants where it is rational, sensible and proportional to do so”.

It adds: “Where no longer required, (the council shall) seek reasonable payment for its (the covenant’s) release or partial release where lawful to do so”.

A spokesman for the Ombudsman confirmed a complaint about the city council was brought late last year.

The council said it would be reviewing its policy and procedures for dealing with the release of covenants.

Spokesman Louisa Dean said: “Following a complaint to the Ombudsman, the city council fully cooperated with the investigation and reached a settlement with the complainant.”

She said she could not comment further for legal reasons.

  • Have you been affected by covenants? Contact reporter Damian Fantato on 01865 425429.