When we meet Sonya*, the first thing she says is:
There is no transparency, actual spend is ending up between 55% and 197% higher than estimates.
We’ve experienced on average 109% increase in service charge over the past eight years, and we no clarification why. We have many questions but no answers.”
Despite all our efforts to engage with the landlord, we haven’t been able to resolve these problems because the complaints system is wholly ineffective.”
This is why the tenants and residents of a Greenwich estate concluded that the only option left open to them was to start withholding payments, and begin a service charge strike from the end of January.
They have despaired at the inability of their landlord, L&Q, to compile clear and accurate service charge demands, and to keep rises reasonable.
Complaints But No Action
Over the years, tenants and residents have submitted complaints to L&Q, and requested supporting information such as invoices for actual spend. This information has yet to be forthcoming.
A recent complaint to L&Q was signed by more than 80 tenants and residents individually, but still failed to make an impact.
L&Q provides homes to around 250,000 mainly in London and the South East
The Greenwich strikers will be joining those from Capworth Court in Leyton, who took action after spotting repeated inaccuracies in their service charge statements. This included a duplicate charge for their communal electricity (L&Q Capworth Court Strike).
Service charge abuse by L&Q was raised with chief executive Fiona Fletcher-Smith and others from the senior leadership team when they met with SHAC@L&Q delegates in June 2022. L&Q denied that such problems were systemic.
SHAC sought agreement from L&Q that they would conduct an external audit of their service charge process using an accredited organisation, including a review of service contract management and procurement processes.
L&Q lead Gerri Scott replied that there was no legal or contractual requirement to get service charges certified by external accountants, but did promise that residents could ask for this to be applied. She added that the residents would need to bear the cost.
Scott also promised that the creation of the new, Neighbourhood Housing Leads and servicing teams would mean improved accuracy.
Pictured: Fiona Fletcher-Smith (Chief Executive), Gerri Scott (Director of Customer Services), Waqar Ahmed (Director of Finance)
Members of the L&Q executive have shown scandalous disregard for their failing service charging systems which mean that tenants and residents pay more than they should, or are unable to get clarity on what the service charges are for.
The SHAC delegation to the executive also requested itemised invoices, receipts, and account overviews with a clear proof of how those items tally with the calculated service charges. Scott promised that the landlord was working on more accessible and transparent service charge information with a company called TriPartum.
On pointing out that the service charge team was understaffed for the level of queries and complaints, Scott said that staffing was kept under review. She promised that the introduction of a new housing management model would provide residents with a named contact to liaise with the team to resolve any issues.
Six months on, these measures have not benefitted the Greenwich residents.
Residents from the Greenwich estate have requested itemised breakdowns of service charges after every increase since 2016, and have yet to receive a satisfactory response for any year. This gives the lie to Scott’s promise of providing invoice packs on request. It is little wonder that tenants and residents now feel forced into direct action.
SHAC@L&Q meets regularly 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.
* Not her real name
16 February 2023
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