Questions of cash: ‘What is this excess service charge?’
By Paul Gosling
Saturday, 7 June 2008
Q. I am being harassed by my housing association, Bush Homes, for extortionate service charges that I don’t owe. I bought a flat through a government home ownership initiative three years ago. Since then Bush Homes has repeatedly raised my service charges to a level that isn’t affordable. My fellow residents and I took them to a leaseholders tribunal and we won our case. Bush Homes was forced to refund us over a £1,000 in service charges and keep them capped. But now Bush Homes has sent me a bill for £200 saying it’s a service charge excess – which is nothing compared to the £4,000 that I and my fellow residents have just received to repair our lift when we already pay maintenance charges specifically for this. And the managing agent Ringley has sent me a final demand for payment of charges to them. Can you sort this out for us? SC, London
A. There has been a sequence of misunderstandings, compounded by a legal disagreement between Bush Homes – part of Shepherds Bush Housing Association (SBHA) – and Ringley, the managing agents for your apartment block. The letter from Bush Homes that initially alarmed you was not a demand for payment, but what SBHA describes as a “letter of courtesy” to advise that essential repairs were to be carried out and that a proportion of this will be included in the annual service charge. It says the additional cost will be within the limits approved by the tribunal and the amount will be formally notified in the statement of account sent to leaseholders in September. SBHA says that its service charges do no more than cover the actual expenditure incurred. According to SBHA, the anxiety has been caused by letters from Ringley that were seen by you and other leaseholders. SBHA says that letters from Ringley should not have been sent to you and if you receive any you should forward them to Bush Homes. Ringley says letters were not sent to leaseholders and it does not know how or why these were seen by yourself or other leaseholders. The issue of service charges is now a matter of legal dispute, with Bush Homes challenging Ringley on the amounts charged. We have been unable to get either party to disclose progress on the case. Meanwhile, you have been caught in the middle.
Q. My wife and I sent a letter to NatWest asking it to close our joint e-savings account. The letter also instructed it to cease paying the standing order from my current account into the joint account. We wanted to shut the savings account because my mortgage was coming to the end of its two year penalty period during which no extra repayments could be made. When I phoned to check progress I was told that a mistake had been made and that all accounts had been closed, including my current account, but that the mistake would be rectified. Subsequently I received calls from utility companies saying that direct debits had been cancelled. I believe that I may have lost discounts for not paying by direct debit. Despite promises by NatWest that it would write to the direct debit recipients to explain its error, these letters have not been received. Instead, NatWest has now opened a new account for me. SJ, by email
A. We have been unable to get NatWest to discuss your complaint with us, but you advise that after we took up your case the bank has provided you with a £250 compensation payment.
Q. I have banked with the Abbey for over a quarter of a century, we have our current account with them, a joint account, a mortgage and my children have ISAs & child trust funds with them. On the first of every month I get paid and on the same day I have an automated transfer to our joint account for £2,000. For years, Abbey credited my money first, and then took the direct debits out. Recently Abbey has reversed this, taking the direct debits from the joint account first, before crediting my £2,000. This means that every month I go about £400 overdrawn for a few hours. I cannot see why Abbey has started to do this. It won’t tell me. SE, West Sussex
A. Abbey says it is clear in its terms and conditions that direct debits are processed at the start of the day, but credits are processed during the day. It says there has been no change to the terms and conditions.
Questions of Cash cannot give individual advice. Please do not send original documents. Write to: Questions of Cash, The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; firstname.lastname@example.org.