February 24, 2024

Letter to Michael Gove: Housing association retirement living … is much improved if there is badgering by a determined resident

The following is a letter to Housing Secretary Michael Gove recording the experience of being a Leaseholder Resident in a Social Housing Complex. The housing association landlord is a member of the G15 group, which represents the larger ones.

Dear Michael Gove,

I note you are taking a keen interest in the performance of Social Housing Landlords and Management Companies, which is a joy to many residents as in my opinion this sector has been much neglected in the past. I would like to inform you of my experiences over the past six years as a Resident Leaseholder in an over 60’s Retirement Complex which has 62 flats and Assisted Living if required.

I am 82 years old and worked a lifetime as a Quantity Surveyor in the Construction Industry mostly for Taylor Woodrow Construction. I am qualified as a Member of the Chartered Institute of Building. I have stated this just to show I do have good knowledge and experience on the subjects I am about to record.

In 2015 my wife and I decided to downsize from our freehold house into a Retirement flat. We chose a Leasehold flat in what was their so called flagship development built in 2006. Of the 62 flats, 26 are leasehold and 36 are rented. The current selling price of the flats is around £250,000 which is far more than the average flat price for the area. We pay a monthly service charge and when a flat is sold 0.25% of the selling price is taken for each year of occupation to go into a sinking fund. We have a 999 year lease.

Good Experiences

The flats are generally well built, roomy and adequately fitted out

They provide extra care for up to around 20 residents and from what I have seen this is carried out sympathetically and satisfactorily.

Day to day cleaning of communal areas is good.

The housing assocition landlord has abolished ground rents from April 2022 onwards. It was a ground rent that doubled every 25 years, which becomes a handicap to those trying to sell so we are pleased. We hope that the ground rent clause will be deleted from our lease to prevent it returning in the future but that is something I am struggling to get action on.

All 62 flats have had a new electrically operated fire door installed at no cost to residents to comply with new fire regulations. An expensive task provided free.

The housing association is supposedly a non profit making organisation, so service charges are generally less than on comparative complexes such as Churchill Retirement, McCarthy &Stone, etc. And unlike some of those companies I do not believe they intentionally go out of their way to extract extra money from us.

But major discrepancies come about by inadequate finance control

We have an excellent lady complex manager with an office on site who does her best for us in my opinion under difficult circumstances.

Problems with Finance

My first unfortunate experiences began when purchasing our flat, There were delays by the landlord’s solicitors in providing the necessary information and documents. This happens with many sales and purchases here and has resulted in one sale falling through.

Once I took occupation, it took 8 months for them to recognise me and I although I tried I was unable to pay my service charges. This has happened to other purchasers. After 8 months I received a demand of around £1,700 for unpaid service charges, to be paid in 7 days or interest would be added.

At the end of September each year we receive the end of year accounts up to the previous March. They have to be submitted within a 6-month time scale. This year we are still waiting after 8 months. The Sinking Fund account is submitted at the same time.

Many times the accounts are miscalculated as are the Service Charge estimates given in February each year. Each time I have corrected them, and last year I got the estimated Service Charge figure of £288 month down to £230 month. Saving each leaseholder £696.

On three occasions I have had to correct major mistakes to the Sinking Fund which stands at around £90,000. This sum has often almost completely disappeared, and on one occasion potentially could have cost each leaseholder £1,580 to pay for Section 20 works due to our sinking fund account showing almost empty. Each time my intervention has corrected the accounts and saved Leaseholders a large amount of money

I have constantly requested our 62-flat complex should have its own dedicated sinking fund account so we can check it at any time. This has been refused and our monies are mixed with all other Landlords properties sinking funds. This is if a sinking fund account really exists, for all we know it could be just numbers on a balance sheet

Sinking fund money should never be used for other purposes, it belongs to the complex from which it is obtained.

Occasionally we are informed that Section 20 works need to be carried out and are provided with quotes. On one such quote for redecoration I pointed out a saving of around £35,000, all caused by careless preparation. I also managed to create a big saving by observing that the Painting Contractor in many areas applied only one coat of paint instead of the three he was being paid for. Due to poor supervision of works. There is little supervision of contractors generally, they appear to come and go as they please, many times not turning up or making abortive visits.

Being a Quantity Surveyor in the Building Industry I have observed much waste of money on abortive repair and maintenance work which has been carried out. Many £ thousands on useless repairs to the Communal Heating system.

Problems with Repairs and Maintenance

Upon moving into our flat we discovered there were major faults with the Communal Heating System, and it had been that way for many years. Around 50% of all radiators both in flats and communal areas either did not work or were stuck fully on. I struggled for 4 years to get a remedy, which would never have happened without my intervention.

To be fair the heating was eventually put right at no cost to Residents

A similar situation occurred with communal decoration which had not been done for thirteen years and communal carpet cleaning likewise. My intervention got works carried out.

Many wooden patio deckings were rotting and getting dangerous due to not being treated for 14 years ( Landlords responsibility), it took two years of my chasing to get replacements.

The grassed areas of landscaping were covered in weeds some areas almost 100%.

I managed to get some treatment done but since then the situation has deteriorated again.

Some communal carpets are in a poor state with being there since 2006. I have managed to get some cleaning done but some areas need replacing.

Several areas of guttering leaked and overflowed for many years, it took years to get them attended to and there are still problem areas.

Some corridors have had dips in the floor at positions of expansion joints which have opened. It took years for me to get them attended to.

We have had failures to electrically operated fire doors which have been illegally wedged open for long periods. We should be learning from Grenfell.

Problems with Health and Safety

  • Wedging of Fire Doors for months
  • Rotting Deckings with holes for long periods
  • No accessible stopcocks in flats
  • Dips in corridor floors
  • Failure of communal and flat radiators for many years.
  • Communal Heating and hot water supply often has been off for a couple of days at a time when the fire alarm sounds. Due to the alarms automatically turning off the communal gas boilers.
  • Due to the Communal Heating not being regulated properly in the Summer months we have temperatures consistently up to 34C throughout the building. Which is dangerously high.
  • Outside footpaths has not been gritted during freezing weather.
  • The communal waste bins have never been cleaned in 16 years.Dangerous brambles over growing communal footpaths.My efforts to get the situation improved.

Communal Heating and hot water supply often has been off for a couple of days at a time when the fire alarm sounds. Due to the alarms automatically turning of the communal gas boilers.Due to the Communal Heating not being regulated properly in the Summer months we have temperatures consistently up to 34C throughout the building. Which is dangerously high.Outside footpaths has not been gritted during freezing weather.The communal waste bins have never been cleaned in 16 years.Dangerous brambles over growing communal footpaths.My efforts to get the situation improved.

At Our complex the average age is around 85 years and many Residents are frail.

We do not have a Residents Committee, so with the experience I have, I undertook to deal with some of the pressing problem. I has been years of hard work.

I have been through the prolonged company Stage 1 and 2 complaints systems, and the even longer Housing Ombudsmans system, which gave a decision of Maladministration and Service Failure against Our landlord. Unfortunately the Housing Ombudsman has no power to enforce his decisions so it left a lot of items outstanding and even those which were attended to never met his time scale.

I have had a lot of correspondence with the National Housing Federation who are fully aware of what goes on buy say they cannot help as they are a Trade Orgsnidation.

Our Rushcliffe MP has written twice to Our landlord but again she has no powers to enforce.

The Regulator of Social Housing is another who has failed me.

I feel that until the Government comes up with some new regulations and appoints a body to enforce them the situation will never change. There will be many member companies of the NHF with practises as poor or worse than ours

Maybe these Housing Associations have difficulty in finding the best staff, In my opinion compared with my experience in the building industry they live in a different world. More time is spent in committee meetings discussing policy or making excuses than actually carrying out essential works.

Over the years I have had several meetings with Managers and Directors and must have sent around 1500 letters or e.mails to everyone from the CEO downwards. There tends to be a large turnover of staff and often the person I have dealt with just disappears.

I have always kept the CEO and her Personal Assistant copied in.

I list below some of the actions I have taken on the companies behalf.

1 I have cleaned carpets in communal corridors and in the guest flat.
2 Applied weed killer to communal grass areas.
3 Chopped down dangerous brambles.
4 Spread grit on frozen footpaths.
5 Walked around the building in pouring rain to check for gutter leaks.
6 Taken up manhole covers to investigate foul smelling drains.
7 Made many corrections to Service Charge Accounts
8 Recovered moneys which has disappeared from our Sinking fund
9 I have offered to prepare the Sinking Fund for them myself
10 I have offered to meet with the CEO many times to help out but am always rejected. Our CEO actually hold senior positions in the NHF and the G15 Group of companies. I am sure between us we could have agreed a different approach which would have avoided years of frustration.
11 Despite all my efforts I had an email from a Director which suggested I was wasting their time and I must limit my correspondence to once a fortnight.

I hope my comments will help in your efforts to improve the way Social Housing is managed for the benefit of all. And help bring the Social Housing Sector into the real world.