Progress in the campaign for transparent service charges

In September 2019 we held a meeting to discuss leasehold issues such as transparent service charges. Here’s how we’re getting on in our campaign

Background
Sonia said if you live in a block of flats you have communal areas. All common charges for a building should be gathered together and divided by number of flats in the building. There are some exceptions if flats are different sizes (e.g the service charge for a three bedroom flat will be more than the service charge of a two bedroom flat). You have an estimate in April and the final statement in October.

Cllr Ben said we have a legal right to inspect accounts. We have six months to make request for receipts (so if our final statement came on 27th September 2019 we had until 27th March 2020 to request receipts). If we don’t get a response we should put in a complaint via the council. If enforcement action is taken it is bad PR for housing association.

Cllr Ben said leaseholders should always challenge everything that looks incorrect. In particular, if you are billed for communal repairs you should ask exactly what repairs have been done (e.g. broken lighting). Lambeth Council service charge statements include this.

Cllr Ben is not being inundated by complaints for other estates, only St Martins.

Campaign tactics
First issue is what happens when people in the same block have different service charges. This only seems to affect Metropolitan residents. When Chris & Annalisa complained Metropolitan reduced Chris’ service charges. Saleha has put in a request and received no response. This issue also affects Doreen.
ACTION:

  • Saleha and Doreen to contact their neighbours to ask if they want to be involved in the campaign. Chris to provide details.
  • Saleha and Doreen to put in a formal complaint to Metropolitan about the fact they failed to respond to their original email.
  • If Saleha and Doreen don’t receive a satisfactory response within a month Cllr Ben will escalate it via the council.

The second issue is when service charges for similar blocks vary wildly. We know this happens because of this spreadsheet. The idea is to challenge our landlord for receipts. Chris, Annalisa, Evette and Terry are the only Metropolitan residents to have successfully got receipts. Debbie has got receipts from Notting Hill. We really need more people to get receipts
ACTION:

  • Cllr Ben said the secretary of a recognised residents association could ask the landlord for receipts. He gave Chris a pro forma to use to request receipts. We can use this when the 2020 actual statements come through. It’s too late to do it for 2019
  • The residents association will either call a meeting in early October to explain to leaseholders why it’s important to ask for receipts. Or we will mention it at their meeting AGM in November. This should mean more people ask for receipts in 2020.

The third issue is that Metropolitan receipts are useless – they say how much is being paid for the entire estate but not how much is being paid for each block. So we don’t know why there is such a wide variation is service charges. Cllr Ben said receipts broken down by block are not a requirement, but they are good practice. Sonia said Metropolitan did block by block invoices in 1998, they should be able to do so now.
ACTION – Annalisa, Chris, Terry and Evette to raise a complaint about the receipts they received. If they don’t get a satisfactory response Cllr Ben can help them challenge whether Metropolitan has provided adequate information. (note: he can’t challenge whether or not the service charge is reasonable, only whether it is adequately documented)

The fourth issue is that we are being charged for work that isn’t done (e.g. in Evette’s block window cleaning that isn’t done) or work that it done but of poor quality (e.g. a lift that keeps breaking in Karen’s block).
ACTION – Evette will write an article on how she handles the issue that Chris will advertise on the TRA website and the TRA mailing list. She’ll liaise with Siobhan as she has some good ideas on this subject too.

There’s also a broader issue with repairs not being done (e.g. Karen has had scaffolding outside her block up for six weeks). We’ll have a general meeting to discuss that in more detail on Thursday 25th June.

The fifth issue is that estimates can differ so much from actuals. Doreen and Terry both raised this.
ACTION – Doreen and Terry to contact the leasehold advisory service to come up with an action plan, then feed back to the residents association.
UPDATE – Doreen spoke to the leasehold advisory service. They said if actual values do differ a great deal from estimates we should put in a formal complaint and escalate via the housing association’s internal procedures. They also said it’s better if several people put in a similar complaint so the housing association knows this isn’t just one person who’s upset. If we’re having a leaseholder meeting in October to discuss why service charges for similar blocks vary wildly we can discuss this too.

Stephen suggested we ask a representative from each housing association to answer leaseholder questions like we did in 2016. No resolution on if that was a good idea.

ENDS


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