Tenants complain of service charge rises
RESIDENTS of a Bideford sheltered housing development say they cannot afford to pay big increases in their heating and service charges. Neighbours on the Phase 2 development at Ethelwynne Brown Close, East-the-Water, point to a rise in heating charges fro
RESIDENTS of a Bideford sheltered housing development say they cannot afford to pay big increases in their heating and service charges.
Neighbours on the Phase 2 development at Ethelwynne Brown Close, East-the-Water, point to a rise in heating charges from �3.42p to �10 per week and service charges up from �9.50 to �16 per week.
They complain of a lack of consultation before the charges were imposed by their social landlords Tarka Housing and that they are tied to the communal charges and unable to make individual arrangements of their own or turn to alternative suppliers.
It is understood that the heating charges relate to a communal gas supply for central heating of the buildings.
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Services charges cover areas such as caretaking, cleaning, repairs, maintenance, lighting, warden service, management charges and other items.
The residents say the increases are based on "fictional projected costs which exceed the level of annual inflation 10 times over and the wholesale increases in the cost of gas by at least the same."
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In a letter to the Gazette they say: "There are residents who are afflicted by severe disabilities and who are on some of the lowest incomes in the area. Some will be put into fuel poverty when the increments are combined with their private electricity costs."
Tenant John Paddon said: "People here can just afford to live now and they cannot afford this. We are also worried that if this happens now, what will happen in the future. Pensions don't go up in line with these increases. Even if we switch everything off in our own flats, we still have to pay the same. Why can't we have the choice of paying for what we use ourselves."
A fellow resident, who did not wish to be named, said the first they knew was in a letter about their annual rent update on March 1.
They would not mind a reasonable increase in charges of, say 10 per cent. But was there anyone else who could say their gas bills had risen 292 per cent in the past two months? he asked.
A statement from the Westward Housing Group, which incorporates Tarka Housing, said: "Rent and service charges can be claimed under Housing Benefit for those on a low income. However, heating costs to a tenant's own home are not covered. This makes a separate charge necessary, which was previously �168 per annum and most of the tenants would have received the Government's winter fuel allowance.
"As part of the Tarka commitment to improve services and in order to meet regulatory requirements and best practice, Tarka has started to provide accounts for all its schemes, showing actual costs and incomes. In late February these were sent to all our tenants, along with our rent notifications, advising that overall we were reducing rents this year.
Nigel Barnard, Managing Director of Tarka Housing, said on Monday: "There is no issue of our tenants being back charged to pay off escalating energy costs from the past few years, Tarka has had to write off and absorb those costs to protect its tenants. Unfortunately the heating charges for the previous year were substantially lower than the actual energy usage on this scheme, resulting in a substantial deficit of over �10,000, which Tarka will be writing off on this occasion. Similar deficits are also being written off on a number of other sheltered schemes.
"The charge has been changed little during the past five years, when in 2005 Torridge District Council, prior to the stock transferring to Tarka, entered into a three-year fixed price deal for energy costs.