Housing

Campaigners reveal tenants have been overcharged almost £2 million for service charges

Social justice platform Find Others is asking tenants to get in touch to find out how much they are being overcharged as growing numbers of residents take strike action

social housing tenants like Michael Savell are being overcharged for service charges

Michael Savell said he was forced to threaten a first-tier tribunal to recoup overcharges from his landlord. Image: Supplied

A campaign to find out how much residents are overpaying housing associations for service charges has uncovered almost £2 million in overcharges in the space of just a few months.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced social housing rent rises would be capped at 7 per cent in April. But there has been no such protection in place for service charges which cover utilities and maintenance in communal areas as well as services housing associations provide, but can rise by an unlimited amount. 

Social justice platform Find Others, working with campaigners Social Housing Action Campaign (SHAC), launched its campaign to tally up just how much residents are overpaying in January and has since found tenants have overpaid £2m over the past few years.

The group is hoping to hear from more than 1,000 tenants to build up a nationwide picture of how tenants are being affected amid a wave of residents going on service charge strike across England.

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Suzanne Muna, SHAC secretary, said: “Service charge abuse has been going on within the housing association sector for years, and has reached a point where tenants and residents are no longer prepared to tolerate it. It is one of the top two causes of complaints from our members, often combined with a declining standards of service and an increase in disrepairs.

“We have seen evidence of tenants and residents being charged upwards of £300 to change a lightbulb, £9,000 for communal electricity in a block of just seven flats, and payments for public spaces, lighting, and waste removal. There have been charges for lifts where none exist, and concierges that are absent from the estate. Another example was a charge for a permanently flooded car park that couldn’t be used. Shockingly, it is the largest and most well-resourced landlords that have the worst track record.”

Historically residents who believe they have been overcharged have been alone in trying to recover the cash from their landlord.

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Michael Savell, a 73-year-old balloon shop owner who lives at Halton Court, a 170-flat housing scheme for over-55s in Kidbrooke, south-east London, told The Big Issue he has clawed back over £300,000 for residents from his landlord.

Meanwhile, John O’Rourke, a retired IT professional, also spoke to The Big Issue about how he had worked to recoup the £1,000 each of the 28 flats at Salcombe Lodge in Gospel Oak, north-west London, were being overcharged every year.

Both told The Big Issue they had to sift through a paper trail and show dogged persistence to get their money back.

But there is a growing movement of residents joining forces to take action. According to SHAC, six groups of residents affiliated to the group have organised rent or service charge strike action in the last three months. 

The most recent action saw 30 households on an estate in the London borough of Newham begin a partial service charge strike in protest against rises which residents claim will see payments soar by £1,000 a year.

Now Finding Others is hoping to build a national picture of how many tenants have been affected and how much money has been overpaid.

“We are delighted with the response to our campaign so far,” said Georgina Hollis, co-founder of Find Others. “The fact that so many residents have come forward to report overcharges shows the extent of the problem and the urgent need for greater transparency and accountability in the housing sector.”

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SHAC’s Muna added: “This campaign allows housing association tenants and residents to come together on an unprecedented scale to map the extent of abuse, missed deadlines, and failed complaints so that we can demand permanent change to the laws protecting them.”

If you think you’ve been overcharged for service charges, tell Find Others here.

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