Service charge

Elderly Oxford residents campaign against unfair rise in service charges

RESIDENTS faced a catalog of problems in their ‘terrible’ retirement apartments, including days without hot water, after being hit with crippling 76% service charges.

The over-55s living in Harris Court and Drew House in Summertown, Oxford, have banded together to deal with the steep rise in fees by their housing association, Green Square Accord (GSA). They say some services, such as “smart electricity”, have increased by 640% in cost.

The tenants – some of whom are on housing benefit, some live off their pensions and others work – have been backed by activists from the Acorn Tenants’ Union, who joined them in a protest at the GSA office in the ‘Oxford Business Park in Cowley.

Problems faced by tenants include a broken boiler, damaged windows and fences, infrequent lawn mowing and hedge trimming, water leaking from pipes and almost no access to a housing officer. There have also been issues of botched repairs, with maintenance crews returning to properties up to eight times to fix some fixtures.

The GSA apologized for the issues it said resulted from repair work to the apartments’ heating system, and said the increased fee was necessary due to rising costs of providing the service.

Michael Ryan, a tenant in Harris Court, Harpes Road, said: ‘Many days we had no hot water. Since September of last year we have lost about 18 days of hot water. It was six days in a row at one point. Some people had to boil kettles to take a bath. This is not reasonnable.

He added: “The lawn was not mowed; this is only done about four times a year. The common maid service fee has also increased, but the maid is not paid more than she was. The GSA also did not explain the doubling of the charges for our “utility services”.

Another resident, Sue Joseph, said, “We don’t get the service we pay for anyway, even before the hikes. The lawn was mowed fortnightly and the hedges trimmed regularly – but not anymore. We also no longer have personal window cleaning, they have decided that only communal windows will be cleaned.

She added: “For three months, some of our windows were covered with plastic bags. People came to fix them but got the measurements wrong and then took another few weeks to come back.

“A lady upstairs had a leak, she was going through the ceiling – it took months for someone to come out and look at her.”

Tenant Malcolm Bridges, said: ‘Someone came to fix the boiler but he came eight times without fixing it, are we paying for these visits?’

Justifying the fee increase, the GSA said: “The GSA is a not-for-profit organization that faces the same economic pressures and rising costs, and we have a duty to the tens of thousands of people at who we provide accommodation and support across the country to ensure we operate in a sustainable manner.

“When the cost of providing services to a particular building increases, the only fair and ethical way to recoup those costs is to pass them on directly to those who benefit from them.”

The GSA also said any customers who had concerns about their rent or service charge increases should contact them directly.

However, Mr Ryan said: ‘I tried to speak with the service charge team but was told ‘no we can’t get you through’.”

GSA also has properties in Headington, Rose Hill, Greater Leys, Blackbird Leys and Cowley.

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