SHAC’s meeting on Service Charges and How to Challenge Them heard from two excellent and informative speakers, with many attendees posting their thanks and appreciation for the contributions.
Ed Spencer – SHAC
Ed demonstrated a powerful piece of software that he has developed to help analyse service charge statements and receipts. Using the software, he has helped tenants and residents form a clearer picture of what they are being charged for.
From the analysis already done, he has been able to identify for example long gaps between works carried out and the invoice being created, missing receipts, the wrong receipts, extortionate charges, and inconsistencies in the costs for the same item.
Ed is developing the software so that it can be used by others. He is also preparing a video of his presentation. Both will be shared when available.
Martin Boyd – Leasehold Knowledge Partnership
Martin focussed on the legal angle, and particularly the process of taking a claim to First Tier Tribunal or County Court. He cautioned that the process of taking a claim can involve costs to lodge a complaint. He also noted that if the claim is not upheld, in some cases the landlord’s legal costs can be charged to the individual bringing the claim, other leaseholders, or both.
Martin’s main advice was to bring cases only where there are big issues in dispute, to make sure that the supporting evidence is watertight, that you have checked your tenancy / lease for details of costs that could be charged against you, and that you are fully aware of the financial and other risks involved. For further advice see https://www.leaseholdknowledge.com/.
Political and Media Action
We need politicians to take up this issue so that the legislation is changed to give greater protection to tenants and residents. So far, attempts to get MPs and councillors involved on the systemic issues have not taken hold, even though many complain that their casework is straining under the weight of complaints from constituents struggling with service charges.
The media has carried some reports on service charges (see below), but we need it to be much more widely publicised as a means of putting pressure on landlords. We have enough cases and plenty of supporting evidence.
Join Our Political and Media Teams
We agreed to form two teams to take on more persistent lobbying of MPs and the media. If you are willing to give time to this, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Service Charge Strikes
“I think if everyone in the country stopped paying service charges, they would go bankrupt before the landlords could get their bullies to pursue us through the courts”
This is certainly a tactic worth considering.Some people are withholding service charge payments, and there is legal protection for doing so under some circumstances (see legislation below). For those who are, we strongly recommend joining the SHAC Strike group, providing both solidarity and resources.
Two protests were highlighted:
Leaseholders Together Rally on Thursday 16 September in Parliament Square. Assemble in Parliament Square from 12.30pm. More details here.
UK Housing Awards Protest In the autumn, housing association executives will gather for an obscene display of mutual congratulations, and will be spending anything up to £3,250 for the pleasure. SHAC is calling on all members and other housing groups to protest at the event. Assemble from 5.30pm outside North Greenwich tube station on the 25th November. More details here.
SHAC – Resources for setting up tenant and resident associations, plus various guides and templates, including those for requesting service charge information and writing complaints.
Fuel Poverty Action is an organisation campaigning to protect people from fuel poverty. FPA challenges rip-off energy companies and unfair policies that leave people to endure cold homes. We take action for warm, well-insulated homes and clean and affordable energy, under the control of people and communities, not private companies.
Shared Ownership Resources is an independent online platform for shared owners, first-time buyers, housing professionals and anyone with an interest in affordable housing. Twitter @ResourcesShared.
Some sections of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 relating to service charges:
- Section 21 – Right to service charge information https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1985/70/section/21
- Section 21A – Right to withhold service charge payment https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1985/70/section/21A
- Section 22 – Right to inspect supporting accounts etc. https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1985/70/section/22
- In 2019, a complainant reported Notting Hill Genesis to the Advertising Standards Agency over a misleading advert for shared ownership. The case is described here.
- In August, the Financial Times exposed widespread service charge abuse. The article itself is behind a paywall, but a report is published on the SHAC website here, with links to the original article.
- On the 3rd September, BBC Newsnight dedicated an entire programme to the cladding and fire safety issue – Could the Building Safety Crisis Damage the Housing Market? You can see the programme here.