Leaseholders in Ealing have made a stand against their housing association after they say they are being charged extra for subpar accommodation.
At least 24 households at Doniford House as well as 70 at a nearby estate have said they won’t pay landlord Clarion and managing agent First Port certain charges for services and admin, according to the Social Housing Action Campaign.
Residents of the newly built housing block in Southall alleged to Local Democracy Reporting Services that bills like a £21.60 administration fee are not agreed upon in their contracts and came as a shock to many. On top of this newer residents appear to be being charged twice for things like energy, once by the landlords and again by a separate company.
One mother, who moved to the block in June, showed LDRS a bill sent to her by With Energy asking for money in addition to the £44 she was already charged by Clarion. “I am not going to pay it,” she says, adding: “I moved in in June but they are billing from April when I already pay the landlord.”
“These bills are only appearing for newer residences, older residents don’t get them,” she went on to claim. The extra charges, fees and bills have incensed residents who already appear deeply unhappy with the standard of service and accommodation many of them are set to pay hundreds of thousands of pounds for as part of shared ownership schemes.
One such resident is Mr Ramanand, who says he is considering tearing out his whole bathroom and replacing it for thousands of pounds because of the alleged quality of the fixtures that Clarion provided him. “If you come and see my bathroom, it’s totally rubbish, the material they are using, you know, and it costs £550,000 for my flat.”
He says that since he moved in less than a year ago he had already had several issues to do with maintenance and housing issues. “When I first got the key from Clarion, the window in one of the bedrooms would not open, it will still not open. In the past six months they have sent people five times to fix it and each time they say ‘oh, we have to send you another specialist’.”
Mr Ramanand goes on the claim that although he is constantly having issues with getting people to sort out problems with the accommodation, Clarion can never be too quick to remind him when he hasn’t paid a bill. “For the payment side they are absolutely fine, for the service side they are absolutely crap.”
As word spread on Doniford House’s extremely active residents WhatsApp group, an ever-growing group of frustrated leaseholders began to form and vent their frustrations. LDRS was shown the central courtyard where irritated homeowners pointed to the sad-looking shrubberies and gestures at the garden lights dotted around them all of which had lost their purchase and lay like broken-down robots with their wiring exposed.
“Look at the maintenance, this is what we are paying for,” says Mr Ramanand as he stares at one of the lights face down in the dirt. He tells LDRS that as someone who is part of the estate’s shared ownership scheme, he pays £700 in rent, £650 for his mortgage, and £120 in management costs excluding the £21.60 which he says he is now refusing to pay.
As you move up the building you hear of more alleged issues, from faulty doorbells and broken locks on the 7th floor, to roofs filling with water on the 10th to leaky corridors on the 14th. Rajwant Kaur says that she was trapped for half an hour in her toilet after the lock on the door broke, only escaping once her husband got home from work.
As the group of people grew it became clear that almost all were in shared ownership, knew each other and had very similar issues. A man on the 10th floor showed me his half empty closet which was missing a large section of the ceiling which had been removed because there had been a leak from the pipes above.
Many complained of mould, faulty door locks, low quality carpeting, ‘smart’ doorbells that stopped working within months of moving in and all of them said that they feel unheard and exploited. Mr Ramanand said: “If you send them an email or anything they don’t ever respond, they are not responding with anything.”
Sandeep Singh says she is also refusing to pay the extra admin fees. “I’m not going to pay, they did say anything about these costs. It is not in the contract, I don’t need to pay. Still, they are trying to include it in the rent.” She says that she is happy to pay other charges including maintenance but doesn’t know why the housing association is attempting to tack on even more payments on top.
Although not mentioned to LDRS directly, the Social Housing Action Campaign (SHAC) says when it spoke to residents they have also raised concerns about safety. Security on the estate is said to be non-existent with internal doors between blocks not locking properly for over a year, allowing people to walk freely into and between buildings.
According to the group, residents have highlighted how this became a major issue during summer when they had non-residents using the building for illegal drug use, spitting on the floors, leaving rubbish, breaking lifts, and threatening and chasing residents. They told SHAC that: “All of this has been reported to police and Clarion. Clarion have blamed us, saying we’re leaving doors open and letting strangers in. It’s insulting.”
SHAC Secretary Suzanne Muna said: “Conditions on the estate are shameful, and we worry that someone will suffer serious harm because of lax security, bio-hazards or fire. It seems that these landlords will only respond when there’s a major incident, and then behave as though it’s news to them that conditions have deteriorated so badly.
“In this case, residents have done everything in their power to get things fixed through the official channels. Their strike is the result of a total lack of engagement by Clarion and FirstPort. These organisations are not fit to take charge of peoples’ homes.”
A Clarion spokesperson said: “We are taking the issues raised by residents regarding maintenance of the communal areas very seriously and have been seeking urgent clarification from the managing agent, whose responsibility it is to maintain these areas, as well as the freeholder of the building who appointed them. We will continue to keep residents updated as we progress and would like to offer reassurance that we are taking all possible action on their behalf to ensure the maintenance issues are resolved and their service charge queries are answered.
“We continue to encourage residents to directly raise their queries with us, and we will address each one individually.”