Tenants of Tower Hamlets Community Housing (THCH) embroiled in a long-running dispute over mismanagement, the managed decline of their homes, and serious overcharging for services, are now voicing staunch opposition to a proposed takeover by Poplar HARCA, another local housing association.
Peter, a tenant of THCH explains: “We have real worries about the financial situation at Poplar Harca, the January [ratings agency] Moody report downgraded Harca saying: that they are one of the most financially exposed housing associations around” (See Moody’s report). The merger would be a leap from the frying pan to the fire.
Tenants are worried that in just a few short years we will be in a similar position to that of THCH now. We aren’t confident that Poplar Harca will be able to service its debts and will then have to start looking for yet another housing association to merge with.”Peter, THCH Tenant
Tenants have slammed both landlords for a disingenuous consultation over the merger which they believe leaves the landlords free to interpret responses however they want.
THCH tenants are concerned that merger with Poplar HARCA would be a leap from the frying pan to the fire
Protests have been growing at THCH for the last couple of years as the association’s finances have become increasingly precarious. THCH’s financial viability and governance ratings were both downgraded by the Regulator of Social Housing in March 2023 to the second lowest grade for each.
Service Charge Abuse Rife
The association seems to be hitting the rocks, and the consequences for tenants have been disastrous. Service charge abuse is rife, with tenants identifying inaccurate bills and persistent overcharging. This includes charges of £88 per week on heating alone for two-bedroomed flats at Charles Dickens House, highly inflated costs for a concierge service, and payments for a CCTV system that doesn’t work.
To put the heating costs in context, THCH’s charges are 1245% higher than similar properties on a neighbouring estate run by East End Homes.
These bills are bringing tenants financially to their knees in one of the most deprived boroughs in Britain”Peter, THCH tenant
As a last resort, tenants have been withholding payment. THCH’s response has been to decline engagement over tenant concerns, and instead issue legal threats to those unable or unwilling to pay.
As well as the battles over service charges, the fabric of tenants’ homes has been crumbling across estates while THCH counts the cost of years of financial mismanagement.
THCH disrepairs include mould and damp, plus crumbling walls
At Vollasky House, the roof has leaked for almost twenty years after being replaced. At Verdigris Apartments, the landlord threatened to pass on the cost of remediating dangerous cladding to tenants, and after the cladding works were completed, a host of issues unfolded including new security risks, further fire safety risks, and property damage. At Lysander House, tenants risk life and limb on a daily basis thanks to a degraded staircase. And at Charles Dickens House, tenants in some properties and in communal areas face a dangerous obstacle course of exposed wiring.
Tenants across the community of THCH estates have appealed to Tower Hamlets council, which once owned many of their homes, to come to the rescue. But their story shows just how much housing associations are causing the problems they were set up to address.
THCH manages more than 3,000 homes, all within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. It was set up in 2000 as part government’s push to transfer council housing to private registered landlords – also known as housing associations, but which are entirely private organisations.
According to tenants, for the first decade or so, THCH lived up to the promises it made to refurbish homes, and it provided homes within the borough for those in housing need. But in the longer term, the policy has been disastrous, not just at THCH but across the country for those who need genuinely affordable public housing. This aspect has been an under-reported contributor to today’s housing crisis.
THCH tenants must be supported as an important case study illustrating the need for fundamental housing reforms in Britain.
A Movement for Change
SHAC is able to support members who wish to withhold payment of any contested service charges, and has resources for those suffering disrepairs and other problems. We help groups organise locally and nationally. If you are a housing association tenant or residents, join us.
24 July 2023
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