Housing associations - Service charge unreasonable
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If you are a tenant, you might pay a service charge to your housing association in addition to your rent. There are two types of charges: a ‘fixed’ service charge that is set by the landlord according to his or her own estimates and costs; or a ‘variable’ service charge – this a charge that the landlord can change depending on costs incurred, but he or she must give you notice of the variation.
First, you should check your tenancy agreement to see what is contained within your agreement. If you think that the charges are too high, you should complain to the housing association. If the issue is still not resolved, you can go to a residential tribunal for assessment of the charges. You can find out more about the process at the gov.uk website.
You should know
- All housing associations have a formal complaints process. resolver will get you in touch with your housing association to help you raise your issue.
- If you cannot resolve the issue, you can go to the Housing Ombudsman; however, it can only deal with cases related to renting your property directly from a housing association. It excludes long leases or shared ownership issues.
- If there is a danger to your home or the estate, you can raise the issue with your local council’s Environmental Health Department.
- There are two key tenancy types: starter and assured tenancies. Your rights depend on the type of tenancy that you are in.
If you have a complaint you should officially raise the issue with your housing association, either using resolver or by writing a letter to them.
There are several different types of housing association tenancy agreements, and you need to work out what type of agreement you have. Find your lease and read it carefully: you need to look for the words ‘secure’ or ‘introductory tenant’.
This is a trial tenancy; it is similar to an assured short tenancy and gives you the same rights. You have fewer rights from eviction, and after an initial period your contract should become an assured tenancy, unless the Housing Association tries to evict you.
If you have spent any time as a starter tenant with another housing association, you might be able to carry this over.
If you have a joint tenancy, and the trial period ends for one of you, the trial period is then over.
After 12 months you will probably become an assured tenant. An assured tenancy gives you better rights, for example the ability to sub-let part of your home (with the housing association’s prior consent).
You are likely to be an introductory tenant if you have been with the housing association for less than 12 months. During this first year, you cannot buy your home, exchange your home or apply for a transfer.
Key reasons that a housing association could try to evict you from your home are if you have not paid your rent, or are causing a disturbance to the local environment. They will apply to a court to get an eviction notice.
Other potential causes for evictions are if you have not kept the property in good condition, your application was not truthful, or if you or a member of your household has been involved in anti-social behaviour.
If your Housing Association wants to evict you, they will need to go to court to obtain a court order for possession of your property. You will have had to receive two months’ notice before going to court. Reasons for eviction include:
- Not paying the rent;
- Causing a nuisance;
- Undertaking illegal activities;
- Living in another property or subletting without consent.
Your tenancy agreement should state the process for rent increases, and you must be given at least four weeks’ notice of any such increase. If you think your rent has been increased unfairly, you can go to a Rent Appeal Tribunal.
Speak with a specialist, such as Shelter, beforehand to ensure that it is reasonable for you to appeal.
Your rent cannot be increased during a starter tenancy unless you have agreed to it, such as when you signed the agreement.
Most assured housing association tenants pay what is called a social rent or an affordable rent, which is usually set by the landlord annually. It should be lower than you would pay a private landlord for the same kind of property.
Check your tenancy agreement, as there are rules on how much your rent can be increased by. Your landlord normally gives you written notice first, at least four weeks in advance.
The amount of rent that you pay should not go up more than once a year, unless by mutual agreement. You should always be given at least four weeks' written notice. You might also have to pay a service charge for the maintenance of communal areas.
Repairs & maintenance
Your housing association should give you information about the repairs that you are responsible for; these usually include internal decoration and putting right any damage that you cause. The housing association is usually responsible for most of the other repairs to your home, such as work on the roof, guttering, windows, doors and brickwork.
Inside the property, they should also ensure that the plumbing, gas and electricity are working safely, including periodic checks (annually for gas). If your home requires repairs, or there is an emergency, report your issue to the housing association; you can do this via resolver.
If the housing association plans to do any significant work, it should also consult you before the work begins. If you have to move out while the work is done, the housing association might have to rehouse you (temporarily or permanently).
Can I have a lodger?
Once you are a secure tenant, you are permitted to have a lodger and you will not need to get permission to do this. However, you should be aware that any income will need to be taken into account with the Social Security Agency and the Inland Revenue. The first £4250 of the income is tax-free.
You cannot sub-let your home unless you have written permission from the housing association.
Right to improve
Secure tenants can carry out improvements to the property as long as they receive the housing association’s permission first. Introductory tenants are not allowed to carry out any improvements.
Your landlord should only refuse permission for the improvements if he or she is worried that the work will make the property less safe, reduce the value of the property or make it difficult to let in the future. You will become responsible for future repairs and maintenance of any new improvements you make to the house; so, for example, if you install a new shower and it leaks, it’s your responsibility to fix it.
Right to buy
You can apply to buy your housing association home if you’ve been a tenant for five years or more. You could receive a maximum discount of up to £77,000 – or £102,700 if you live in London – off the value of the property.
Making a complaint
Before you can make an official complaint with a housing association, you must make what is technically known as an ‘unofficial complaint’. This means that you must raise the issue with the housing association and give them a chance to resolve the problem. Around 87% of issues are resolved by housing associations.
Ensure that you head any communications as a ‘Formal Complaint’, so it is recognised as a complaint. This is important, because otherwise you will not be able to escalate the case if it is not resolved to your satisfaction.
Ensure that the letter or email is addressed to the ‘Head of Complaints’, and keep it to one side of A4 paper (an email should be roughly the same length). It is important that your communication remains focused. We recommend that you:
- Explain what the issue is - try to keep it simple, and stick it to the key points;
- Say what have you done so far to try to resolve the issue. Have you made an informal complaint? If so, mention to who and when;
- State how you would like the issue to be resolved (ensure that this is simple and straightforward).
You should then give the housing association time to respond. If you still have no resolution, the next stage of the process is to contact a designated person. Under the Localism Act of 2011, a local person will be introduced during complaints against a housing association: the purpose is to help resolve issues in a local environment.
The designated person can be an MP, a local councillor or a tenant panel. This person (or people in the case of a tenant panel) can then try to resolve the dispute, or can pass your case on to the Housing Ombudsman. If they try to resolve the issue they will act as an independent assessor, attempting to find a way to sort the problem.
If the issue cannot be resolved by the designated person, or eight weeks after the time that the formal complaints process from the housing association finished, you can take your complaint to the Housing Ombudsman.
The Housing Ombudsman is the final stage of the escalation process: it can only deal with your case once it has been through the housing association’s complaints process.
If you have started legal or court action, the ombudsman will be unlikely to take your case forward. The ombudsman will then gather information from the housing association and you about your case. Your resolver case file will contain all of your relevant communications and supporting documents, which will help the ombudsman assess your case.
The housing association must act on the decision of the Housing Ombudsman.
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