A landlord has warned East London residents could fall into debt after they refused to pay service charges in protest at rising costs and poor housing conditions. Residents of Charles Dickens House in Tower Hamlets voted in April for a service charge strike starting in May, after they saw the cost of the charges rise by as much as 116 per cent.
The tenants have argued that the quality of their housing is poor and that services are not properly being delivered by their housing association. Charles Dickens House is a 22-storey tower block in Bethnal Green with hundreds of residents, who have raised issues about their living conditions for months. Residents said they have dealt with bins not being collected, leaks and even a ceiling collapsing in one flat.
The building is run by Tower Hamlets Community Housing (THCH), which runs a number of buildings in the borough where residents have also raised concerns about their housing. Residents at Charles Dickens House have seen the cost of their heating more than double from £20 to £40 in one case, while another resident saw their service charges rise from £180 to £210, in documents seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service. THCH argued that the increase in service charges was not for profit, but to match the level of services being delivered.
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(Image: Hussain Ismail)
In emails seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, tenants wrote to THCH saying they would not pay for the service charges. One said: “Despite numerous requests, including legally binding requests from leaseholders and tenants over two years, Tower Hamlets Community Housing have failed to provide [any] documentation or proof that residents are paying [anywhere] near the costs for the items as stated in the service charge statements.”
Jakia Begum, who lives in Charles Dickens House, also said she would notbe paying the charges. She said: “There’s no proper explanation for this, that’s why I thought you know what, I’m not going to pay my service charge… “I’m hoping they’re gonna reduce the service charges, [that] we’re gonna go back to what it was last year and not a single penny over. That’s what I’m expecting – I’m demanding actually.”
THCH responded by telling tenants they were legally required to pay for their service charges, and that they would be in arrears for payments if they refused to pay the charges and would face the “standard arrears procedure”. The group also said it would provide support for tenants if they were facing financial difficulty.
However, THCH did not say they would reduce service charges or release documents about them as residents have demanded. A spokesperson for THCH told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “It is a contractual requirement to pay rent for your home. We have a duty to our wider resident community to ensure rent is paid, as the money we collect goes directly back into improving homes and communities.
“We will support any resident who may fall into arrears, and work with them to prevent them getting into debt. We take a fair and empathetic approach to arrears to ensure residents can sustain their tenancy.”