A TRIBUNAL has retired to consider whether a service charge was ‘fair and reasonable’ after a housing association’s tenant in Totnes found his bill had risen by 520 per cent.
Tony Dale, 55, received a service charge bill of £4.70 a week for his one-bedroom flat but when he asked his landlord, Devon and Cornwall Housing, for a breakdown, he was shocked to discover the charge for lighting a communal area had gone from 54p a week to £3.35.
The musician, who has lived in the property for 18 months, decided to take DCH to a property tribunal, which met at the Royal Seven Stars Hotel in Totnes on Wednesday.
Barrister Simon Lane, representing DCH, told the tribunal that the electricity charge for the whole block of 10 flats had been waived for 2013-14. He said: “That was done with the best of intentions and goodwill bearing in mind there was a clear error made. DCH have put their hands up and done everything they can to put it right.”
The tribunal heard from DCH’s service charge manager Sue Davies that the increase of 520 per cent should have been an increase of 13 per cent and the error was due to ‘manual input’ of the figure. She added: “We’ve now put a more robust process in place to make sure it doesn't happen in future.”
Mr Lane said the tribunal did not have jurisdiction because it was a fixed, not variable, service charge.
Judge Andrew Cresswell said this was not clear from the documentation Mr Dale received.
Ms Davies apologised for the ‘confusing’ letter sent to Mr Dale and said the member of staff that wrote the letter no longer worked for the organisation.
Mr Cresswell said the tribunal needed to consider whether or not it had jurisdiction and whether or not the charge was ‘fair and reasonable’.
After an hour and a half of hearing evidence and examining witnesses, he said: "We’re not going to make a decision straight away. We need to think about this. We will start this process now and finish it over the next few days. We will put it in writing and the decision should reach you in two to three weeks.”
Speaking after the hearing, Mr Dale said: “As it should have been a fixed, not variable, charge the judge could have gone with that but he has chosen to hear everything in detail so it went better than I expected and I’m happy.
“I’m hoping we can get a fair deal for the electricity costs next year and beyond but I’m concerned that this may be going on in other places and housing associations are raising service charges.”