Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Service Charges 2010/2011 - SAY NO TO DIRECT DEBIT!

It looks as though Crossfields Leaseholders are the recipients of some big reductions this year. Holden's is £192 less, Castell's is around £300 less, Farrer's is £134.48 less. Castell's enormous reduction includes the refund they got for the huge 'mistake' in lighting charges from 2008/2009 (see here). Whatever your charges, if they're less than last year, this is equivalent to saying we were overcharged by those same amounts last year.

The main thing to note about the new bills is a new charge for Bulk Household Waste Removal. Is this is a new flat rate that has been applied to all bills? There is nothing about this charge in the four glossy sheets (usually referred to as the 'newsletter') accompanying the bills. That these sheets are stapled in one corner rather than stapled at the sides suggests there are some cutbacks in staples being made. Any savings are probably going towards maintaining the £80K salaries we are currently paying for (including that of the bloke whose signature is on the bill).

The Resident Involvement charge was £12 and is now £20.28. Antisocial Behaviour was £38 and is now £30 (see what they've done there with £8 of your money?). No one likes the ASB charge (and it's useless) so they reduced it by £8 and added it to Resident Involvement which no one uses at all. The total management charge was £194 and is now £194.44.

Complaints about any of the above should be addressed to Complaints at Lewisham Homes and copied to us at crosswhatfields. 


Before you make any arrangements to pay, please reflect on the YO-YO that is Estimated Service Charges. In 2007 they wanted £55 p/m over 10 months from Holden House, in 2008 it went down to £54, in 2009 it was suddenly £76. This year it is £60. If we had carried on paying them around £50 every month since 2007, we'd be pretty much covering the costs for this year and NOT OVER PAYING THEM for last year (and that's before challenging them about non-existent repairs).

This year they are offering us the opportunity to pay £55 over 11 months (rather than £60 over 10 months) if we pay by DIRECT DEBIT.  

Do not pay by Direct Debit. Instead, set up a STANDING ORDER for about £40-£50 a month (depending on your bill). Do not give an end date, let it run over 12 months. Standing Orders give YOU the control on how much you pay and you can change it at any time or stop it.

If you pay your Utilities by Direct Debit, you'll know that if BT, or British Gas or whoever, suddenly decide to increase your Direct Debit – which they frequently do – and you don't notice because you don't look at your statements, you'll pay a lot more than you might need to. When you do notice the increase, however, and think it's unjustified, you can ring them up and ask for a refund, and alter the monthly figure. 
You won't be able to do that with Lewisham Homes. They can't even tell you properly what you're paying for. You can't get a monthly or quarterly statement telling you how they're spending your money. You have NO IDEA what you're paying for because you're paying in part for repairs and stuff that took place 18 months ago that no one ever told you about at the time. They don't audit your account and it could be full of mistakes.

Why are we paying for Resident Involvement? Instead of some fantasy about community involvement we could have real accountability. For the same money, those nice people in Resident Involvement that we've never met could be replaced by an Estate Manager and a bit of software that tells us exactly what those slackers in Repairs are up to. 

You might also want to take a look at our analysis of the 2008/2009 Repair Breakdowns on the Leasehold page here.

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