July 21, 2024

New chairman for Campaign against retirement leasehold exploitation

Sebastian O’Kelly has been appointed chairman of Campaign against retirement leasehold exploitation. In this role he replaces co-founder Melissa Briggs, who has decided to stand down owing to ill health.

As property editor of the Mail on Sunday for 10 years, Sebastian has written on leasehold issues many times and, with Melissa, he is co-director of the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership, which accredits managing agents who sign up to open accounting, straight-dealing, no stealth charges or handing contracts and commissions to sister companies.

“Melissa was the driving force of Campaign against retirement leasehold exploitation in the four years of its existence, and the most effective campaigner I came across in journalism.

“She pushed retirement leasehold up the news agenda, won extensive print and broadcast coverage, and achieved widespread support in Parliament, both in the Commons and the Lords.

“The leasehold trade bodies fell over themselves trying to catch up, promising ‘transparency’, ‘mediation’, ombudsmen – and echoed Campaign against retirement leasehold exploitation’s call for the regulation of managing agents who – uniquely – can control hundreds of thousands of pounds of leaseholders’ money without any monitoring.

“For years, the leasehold trade bodies demonstrated no serious interest in any of this, washing their hands after issuing feeble codes of practice and then remaining silent in the face of systemic leasehold abuses that have been condemned repeatedly at Leasehold Valuation Tribunals.

“The huge sums of money involved in leasehold (variously £2-3 billion a year in service charges and contingency fees, with plenty of scope for extras) ensured an industry-wide omertà, the Sicilian vow of silence.

“It is no exaggeration to say that across the country, thousands of people owe Melissa a debt of gratitude for making this campaign so effective. I will continue the campaign, that now sees well over 100,000 page views a month to the Campaign against retirement leasehold exploitation (and LKP) websites.

“It is particularly depressing to encounter sharp practice with the vulnerable in retirement developments. At this stage in people’s lives, the main battles should have been fought and pensioners might reasonably expect to live in peace and quiet. The only way effectively to fight back is to act collectively which – people being people – is often extremely difficult to achieve. Freehold owners and their managing agents have banked on this for years.

“Campaign against retirement leasehold exploitation is here to help in any way that it can, and the more people involved in it, the better.

“I firmly believe in well prepared and repeated action through Leasehold Valuation Tribunals. There are some wonderfully inspiring, successful examples on this site.

“On the other hand, I regard mediation as a weasely evasion, that shuts down a problem that may exist in a hundred other leasehold developments.

“Mediation is urged by the office-holders of LEASE, the taxpayer-funded Leasehold Advisory Service, which has an unhealthily close relationship with the commercial interests in leasehold. Predictably enough, management companies and their trade bodies embrace it as well.

“Mediation has at its heart this complicit deal: that you have found out that a company has been cheating you, but it will stop if you keep quiet about it. It helps no one else.

“An LVT victory is unarguable, likewise gets to the heart of the issue … but drives a stake right through it.”

Who is he?

Sebastian has been a national newspaper journalist for 30 years, mainly with the Telegraph and Mail titles. His campaigning journalism on property issues with the Mail on Sunday is well known.

He is married with two daughters, and is a keen rider of horses (about which he wrote a column in the Daily Telegraph for many years).

He is also the author of a bestselling biography of the Italian Second World War hero Amedeo Guillet (above, with a Spahy di Libya in Ethiopia in 1936), who led a cavalry charge against the British army on the Eritrean-Sudanese border in January 1941. Amedeo died aged 101 in 2010 and last year Sebastian and Mary Soames, Winston Churchill’s surviving child, gave a commemorative lecture on Amedeo’s life at the Italian Cultural Institute in London. More details (and many photographs) can be found on www.amedeoguillet.com. He is passionately interested in Eritrea, whose 21st anniversary of independence was celebrated this year.

Sebastian O’Kelly can be contacted at: sok@leaseholdknowledge.com


  1. Melissa,
    I am so sorry to hear the sad news that you are having to stand down because of ill-health. I hope it will not be too long before you feel well again.
    Thanks for having the vision and energy to set-up Campaign against retirement leasehold exploitation, which bought the problems of leaseholders and freeholders in mixed developments to a much wider public. You will be missed by many of us.

  2. Terry Baldwin says

    Thanks MELISSA, seems bit minimal and inadequate for all you have done/achieved during your Campaign against retirement leasehold exploitation involvement.

    But having had the privilege to meet you, I know that gushing attributes are not your style however well deserved.

    LOL. Terry & Barbara

  3. John Fenwick says

    Melissa Briggs is deserving of the utmost gratitude for her trailblazing campaign against the exploitation suffered by leaseholders in retirement. In wishing her a speedy and complete recovery may I also welcome Sebastian O’Kelly as a worthy and formidable successor as Chairman. Anyone seeking to correct the injustices that stealthily pervade the leasehold sector with the vigour and determination that Sebastian has shown by his relentless opposition to malpractice commands my respect and whole-hearted support.

  4. Very sad day with the second withdrawal of Melissa from the Struggle with these unspeakable people. I do wish Melissa good health and a happy retirement. You will be greatly missed I am sure.

  5. Having met Melissa on a few occasions and got to know her somewhat, I am very saddened to hear she is retiring for the reasons stated. Obviously I wish her the best, and hope her health improves and now she can sit back and watch the fruit of her labour unfold. However, few words will best describe Melissa, but what I can say, for those who got to meet her, and those that knew her, she will be missed by many. She worked tirelessly to stand up to the rogue industry which has continued to get away with appalling levels of service and experienced this first hand through her own mother. On Behalf of Rynew Property Management, all the team wish you well, and look forward to working with LKP and Sebastian who is a great appointment to takeover your role to improve standards in the industry.

  6. Wendy Roberts says

    Thank you ,Melissa.

    Good luck, Sebastion

    Best wishes to everybody from

    Wendy Roberts