'Mini mafia' housing association forced to return £25,000 to residents

Ed Spencer

Ed Spencer has branded OneHousing a ‘mini mafia’ (Image: Ed Spencer)

A man has branded a housing association a “mini mafia” after managing to win back more than £25,000 for services for which he and his neighbours overpaid.

Ed Spencer was one of around 150 tenants overcharged by OneHousing, which also failed to provide receipts as it claimed it had “lost” them. 

Speaking about his experience, the 39-year-old broadcast engineer says he has lived in his block of flats in Mile End, east London, for 10 years and has shared ownership of his property. After noticing his services charges has doubled to around £300 a month, he went through four years of service charges from OneHousing with a “fine-tooth comb”.

“I found loads of issues. Loads and loads of issues,” said the shocked tenant.

Ed said the biggest shock came when the company was unable to provide receipts for around £25,000 worth of services.

He explained: “We have a stupid door entry system that calls everyone’s mobile phone, and it must charge like 50p a minute or something stupid just to open the door. The charges for that, combined with the communal electricity, came to at least £25,000.

Speaking to MyLondon, he said: “At least £25,000 for this electricity and door intercom – but they couldn’t produce a single receipt. They said we’ve definitely paid it, but we’ve lost the receipts. With all of the charges, they claim to pay for something but are unable to produce any evidence that they have.”

On top of the this, Ed discovered he and his neighbours were being wrongly charged for services in the neighbouring building, also managed by OneHousing. After challenging the housing association and “a lot of hassle,” Ed said it refunded the money which was unaccounted for.

What’s more, the missing receipts may be just the tip of the iceberg, as Ed said there are other services he is convinced tenants are being overcharged for – such as a concierge service.

“We have three concierge staff who are each paid £25,000,” said Ed, who claims despite this the tenants are being charged £130,000 a year for the service. “They claimed it was for overtime and uniforms and National Insurance,” he explained dubiously, adding: “[but] we’ve said we don’t want the concierge if it’s going to cost £130,000.” Ed claimed despite the expensive unwanted concierge service, the post room was left unmanned for two days over Christmas, and “everyone’s post got robbed, so people have lost hundreds of pounds worth of parcels.”

“It’s absolutely shambolic.” said Ed. He went on: “They still haven’t given a satisfactory response to any of my requests, they just fob me off.” One Housing confirmed it is currently undertaking a consultation with residents regarding the concierge service, and a spokesperson said the firm “will honour the majority decision of the residents.”

Ed said in 2019, two years after the Grenfell Fire Tragedy, the tenants were told their building also has cladding which is not fire safe. “It’s been almost three years since they told us that we’re living in a death trap,” said Ed, explaining how the Housing Association apparently informed flat owners their warranties ‘don’t cover cladding’.

“Not only were we told our properties weren’t fire proof, we were told we might have to pay for them to be fixed,” said the exasperated tenant. Ed said One Housing dealt with the issue by adding a 24/7 watch, then a fire alarm system – but he said the new alarm system would regularly go off “at 2am,” waking up tenants.

The Grenfell tragedy happened back in 2017

The Grenfell tragedy happened back in 2017 (Image: AFP/Getty Images)

He added: “This is the kind of thing they pull, they are sort of institutionally incompetent. They are basically mischarging people for things they’re not getting.” Ed described the issue over overcharging tenants as “endemic” with Housing Associations. “I would say they run a little mini mafia, basically,” he said.

Ed went on: “The way residents were treated at Grenfell shows the systematic abuse of social housing tenants that is happening… you realise the whole system has been rotten for decades, and has allowed the abuse of vulnerable people. Especially with the big housing associations, they’re basically rotten to the core.”

One Housing confirmed residents at Cradford House are on a variable service charge, meaning the Housing Association provides an estimate of the service charges every April, and confirmation of the full charges once the financial year has closed.  The housing association claimed its accounts are certified by an independent external auditor who sample check the agreements for the estate to ensure service charge calculations are supported by invoices.

One Housing also confirmed it operates a 24/7 concierge service staffed by four full-time staff members (40 hours per week) in buildings including Ed’s. A spokesperson said: “References to salaries of individual staff do not reflect the full cost of providing the services as One Housing also incurs back-office costs, overhead salary costs such as national insurance, pensions, holiday/sickness cover, training and materials/equipment relating to the service. All of these costs are rechargeable.

“One Housing provides full transparency and a breakdown annually of its service charges and has responded to enquiries from residents in relation to recent service charges, including the concierge and the way in which the charge has been calculated. Full invoice packs have been provided to residents for these years, where requested. Our policy is to always fully investigate any issues that residents raise in regard to their service charges.”

Regarding the cladding, One Housing confirmed “work is required” to the external wall system. A spokesperson added: “However, this does not mean the building is not fire safe. We undertake regular Fire Risk Assessments on the building as per legal requirements and we have been in contact with the London Fire Brigade throughout the remediation process to ensure resident safety.

“We provide regular written communication to residents and also meet virtually with residents to ensure an open conversation and to provide updates on the works. We do understand that is a worrying time for residents.” Apologising for the faulty alarm system, the Housing Association said: “The false alarms were caused due to the temporary alarm system not being fully commissioned at the time.

“It should be noted that during this period the Waking Watch was still in operation and carrying out 24-hour patrols to ensure there was a provision for early warning of any potential fires. Since the alarm has been commissioned, we have had no further reports of false activations and we are in regular contact with the London Fire Brigade regarding the building. The temporary alarm system will be removed once the cladding remediation works have been completed on the building.”

One Housing added it was sorry to hear of the break-in to the parcel store on January 2 during planned closures to the concierge service which were communicated to residents, and a spokesperson explained: “The theft was reported to the police and we have provided CCTV to support the investigation. Our team have been liaising with any residents who had parcels in the store and supporting them with making claims through their individual contents’ insurance.”

As for its failure to provide receipts for service charges, a One Housing spokesperson said: “Following resident enquiries, One Housing agreed in 2021 to carry out a review of service charges going back to 2016 and to provide all contractor invoices and supporting documentation.

“This was not a legal requirement under current legislation which only requires landlords to do so within six-months of statements being served but was provided to support customer’s requests. The vast majority of charges were fully validated but for some older costs the supporting invoices were no longer held by the supplier.

“Although those costs were legitimately incurred by One Housing, a decision was taken to remove those charges from the accounts These were not incorrectly or illegitimately charged at the time but, due to the time that had passed since the original billing to leaseholders, could no longer be evidenced. If residents had paid for these charges, they received a credit/refund on their account.”

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