Tenants and residents of Leeds Jewish Housing Association (LJHA) have reported to SHAC with further concerns about their landlord’s conduct, and have announced that they have begun a service charge strike.
SHAC published an article in May 2022 (Leeds Jewish HA: a Cause for Concern) which highlighted concerns over the landlord’s service charging mechanisms.
The landlord subsequently asked that the article be removed, claiming that the complaints described had been dismissed by a Tribunal Judge. However, when SHAC requested evidence to support this statement, it was not forthcoming.
Now residents Lindsay, Victor and Peter have highlighted ongoing concerns.
We have now sent notification to our landlord that we have decided to embark on a service charge strike from 3rd April 2023 due to lack of compliance. They have failed to provide an invoice pack by email or post for the previous two years”.Lindsay, Victor and Peter – LJHA Residents
The residents confirm that the last invoice pack was received in 2021, and believe that the refusal this time round is down to the fact that they challenged their landlord on service charge discrepancies, inconsistencies, and non-compliance with legal obligations last time.
Lindsay is keen to point out that residents were unaware of their right to inspect invoices prior to late 2020. She adds “When we first started to ask for the invoices it happened to be during the Covid lockdown. They therefore sent us the invoices via email without any issues.”
Residents assumed that invoices for subsequent years could be sent in the same way, and none of them have ever attended the LJHA offices to inspect documents. Hence their conclusion that LJHA is refusing the request for electronic copies because they challenged them later at Tribunal.
Section 21 and Section 22 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 provide a legal entitlement for leaseholders to view their service charge accounts and invoices. For more details, see the Leasehold Advisory Service.
Their experiences also raise a concern over a possible breach of the Equality Act 2010. Victor, who is now 81, has been registered blind since 1988 as well as suffering other health conditions, had asked for the pack to be sent via email to his personal assistant as was the case last time as a reasonable adjustment relating to his disability, but the request was declined.
Further examples of concern include continuing to use a sub-contractor which, according to Companies House, was dissolved over ten years ago. The company has apparently charged the landlord for VAT, and these charges have been passed on to residents.
In recent correspondence with SHAC, LJHA recently admitted that there had been ‘errors’ in service charging, for example confirming that it had overlooked the legal requirement to have its documents certified by an accountant. Residents claim that this has not been done for at least 21 years, effectively since the estate was first built.
Leeds Jewish Housing Association
LJHA excused this oversight on the basis that the finance team was mainly drawn from a private sector background and were therefore not aware of the legal requirement. It is an excuse which blames staff, one at senior level, and brushes aside the board and executive’s obligation to ensure that their activities are legally compliant.
Residents in this case have, as in many others, requested clarification of service charge statements, but say that transparency is still lacking.
They are still fobbing us off. They even sent us implied threats that we should not try to report them to the Regulator of Social Housing. We are still uncovering service charge discrepancies and suspicions of overcharging each time we scrutinise the figures.”Lindsay, Victor and Peter – LJHA Residents
The group have concluded that they have no other option but to begin withholding service charge payments until their bills are satisfactorily evidenced.
“Going on a service charge strike is the only way now that we can take any kind of meaningful action. Enough is enough.”Lindsay, Victor and Peter – LJHA Residents
All too often, large housing associations justify service charges inaccuracies on the basis that the size of their operation, and the thousands of properties under their care, inevitably leads to errors. The evidence from LJHA (with just over 500 properties), and multiple other small housing associations, puts the lie to such claims, and shows that regardless of size, service charging is a rigged system to extort additional funds from tenants and residents.
SHAC Service Charge Campaign
SHAC is running a Service Charge Campaign which supports tenants and residents challenging inaccurate or unreasonable bills. SHAC has also teamed up with FindOthers to #EndServiceChargeAbuse. The specialist platform includes a unique online tool to request and chase service charge packs.
26 April 2023
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