Residents of One Housing Group from different but comparable blocks on the same estate (One Stratford) have pooled information about their service charges and found a level of randomness that defies explanation. It highlights what happens when landlords are allowed to impose charges without any external oversight or regulation.
A survey across flats in George Hudson Tower, Thomas Frye Court, and John Wetherby Court, all belonging to the One Stratford estate, has shown that different properties with the same floor area, receiving identical services from the same suppliers, are being charged at wholly different rates.
One Housing Group is now part of Riverside Housing Group
A comparison of three flats of identical size at John Wetherby Court were found to have service charges of £4,633, £4,684, and £4,876, per year, meaning some residents pay £243 more than their neighbours. Larger flats were found to have a differential of £231 per year. One Housing is unable or unwilling to explain this variation.
Housing Association Charges Higher Than Private Renters
Another revelation was that those renting from a private landlord – Haus, which also owns properties at One Stratford – were paying significantly less than those renting from the housing association. A complete reversal of the notion that housing associations provide more affordable housing to communities.
Haus residents of Thomas Frye Court paid £4,300 compared to One Housing residents in duplicate flats in the same block who paid £4,932 per year. One Housing is overcharging its residents by £632. Those in One Housing properties at John Wetherby Court were charged a staggering £2,210 more than those living in comparable properties at Haus’s George Hudson Tower in the same year.
Protestors make their point outside the OHG head office in London (2020)
The financial distress inflicted on One Housing residents is compounded by stonewalling and obstruction by their landlord, a lack of legal protections, scant access to justice, and weak sanctions by the institutions meant to safeguard them.
Nina Smith*, One Housing Group Resident, Speaks Out
We have experienced prolonged delays in receiving finalised Service Charge accounts from One Housing. These delays have stretched over years, making it impossible to plan and budget effectively. This year we were given only four weeks’ notice of a substantial service charge increase of £400 per month (£4,800 per year), which took effect on April 1st. We are now bracing ourselves for the next rise.
Having not received finalised accounts since 2018, we were completely unprepared for this significant financial hit.
Balances from the years prior to 2018 have been hitting our accounts slowly for the past year. Although One Housing have provided reasons for the delays, they will not tell us why so much time has been allowed to pass. Months of delays are perhaps understandable, but not years.
We’ve also expressed concerns about the transparency of their bills, and have requested evidence of expenditure. All One Housing seems legally obliged to supply is copies of single line invoices which tell us little. For services provided by a third party, there is no process within One Housing for validating costs before passing them on to tenants and residents. And their communication is so slow and evasive, it is impossible to enter meaningful dialogue with them.
One Stratford residents’ service charge strike made the news in August
We were told by the Service Charge Manager that he couldn’t advise on some of the older unfinalized accounts because it all happened before he joined. On querying some of the service costs, we were told that all the people in the Contract Services team had left.
This poor management has led to us suddenly finding ourselves in mountains of debt with more to come. There clearly needs to be some kind of legal reform to prevent housing associations from financially abusing their residents, who are a captive audience as far as they are concerned.
Tenants and Residents Organise
With support from SHAC, many One Stratford residents are already withholding service charge payments for bills of questionable legitimacy. But the residents are determined to take their fight to a wider base.
The information gathered from One Stratford has been shared with One Housing residents living on other estates. Together, they plan to hold a summit hosted by SHAC at the end of November to prepare a strategy for escalating their challenge to One Housing.
One Housing tenants and residents interested in getting involved can join SHAC here.
14 November 2023
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