A group of Hyde residents from an estate in Maidstone have begun withholding service charge payments in despair over their landlord’s failure to provide accurate, reasonable, and evidenced accounts.
Residents wrote jointly to inform Hyde that they were “withholding the service charge payments” because they have been requesting itemised invoices from the service charge team for more than a year and have “still not had a comprehensive response”.
The group collectivised their dispute, forming a Tenants and Residents Association (TRA), and explained to Hyde that they will not pay their bills until the dispute is resolved.
To help them withhold the service charge element, striking residents changed their method of payment from Direct Debit to Standing Order. This means that only the resident can make changes to the amount paid to their landlord each month.
Hyde’s Cash Reserves
With social media awash with stories of Hyde’s extortionate service charging, it comes as little surprise that Hyde’s latest financial statements reports being awash with cash.
The group reported core operating income at £272.6 million, and core operating surplus at £85.4 million, both having increased on the previous year. The group’s available liquidity stands at a staggering £907.6 million, an increase of around £70 million on the year before.
Rocketing Service Charges
While rents for many tenants and residents have been subject to manageable increases, the same cannot be said for service charge bills. Residents have faced sharp and unexplained hikes in demands.
Between 2018 and 2019, charges for those in the Maidstone block rose by 139%.
Residents were billed between £350 and £400 per month for a small block with no lift, no video intercom, no sprinkler system, or communal gardens. Some have now received bills of £800 per month.
As well as creating financial problems for those who live there, the rapidly rising charges also deter buyers when leaseholders need to sell. Joe commented “We want to move but our home is practically unsellable. No other property in this area has such high service sharges.“
Carley spoke of her fears that if the increases continue, she will end up financially overstretched. She also explained “We’re seen as cash cows through which Hyde can just generate extra income. I will pay for services, but only when I’ve seen the evidence and when the price is reasonable.“
Dan expressed similar anger over what he considers financial exploitation. He believes that “service charging has become an abusive process and we have to act to stop it happening.“
The amount that landlords can charge tenants and residents is unregulated and subject to minimal legal constraints.
Over the last four years, exploitation of the system to maximise revenue has been growing into an extremely lucrative income stream.
The effect can be to bankrupt tenants and residents; a world away from the original social purpose of housing associations.
To join the SHAC rent and service charge strike group, or to find out more, see here.
The sector is now a broken model and a failed experiment, creating a strong imperative for breaking up such landlords and transferring the stock to local councils, or moving to cooperative-style tenant management organisations.
SHAC Supports Hyde Strikers
SHAC@Hyde meets monthly to discuss issues with the landlord and develop campaigns to address them. All meetings are advertised on the Events page. To join the group and receive an invitation, please register with SHAC here.
2 November 2021
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.