Often a contentious talking point when the Ombudsman holds monthly Meet the Ombudsman sessions, service charges contain many grey areas that confuse and frustrate both residents and landlords. Often this results in broken down relationships between resident and landlord.
This report contains key information about the role of the Housing Ombudsman in these disputes, the role of the First Tier Tribunal and courts, as well as key learning from the Ombudsman’s casework.
There are cases in this report where the landlord has charged for services outside the agreement and then been heavy-handed in the complaints procedure when trying to regularise the payments. This includes forcing the resident to sign amendment deeds.
Other cases include a service failure by a landlord because the final account and actual costs were not consistent and did not include information about the section 20 notice and bill.
Among the learning, landlords should be clear about whether they are able to charge or not by consulting the tenancy agreement, not assuming its content. Where mistakes are then made, it should provide redress and not seek to pressure the resident into accepting charges going forward.
Alongside this report, the Ombudsman has also refreshed its guidance so that landlords can use this to provide better services and for residents to use it to know what they can bring to the Ombudsman and how the Ombudsman can help.
Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, said: “The cost of living crisis and rising charges means this is one of the most complex and contentious areas we look at, and where there can be a significant breakdown in relationships.
“Landlords must use this report as an opportunity to focus on what good complaint handling looks like on charges to provide greater transparency and better communication customer service. It can them help improve signposting and expectation management around charges, as well as familiarising themselves with our jurisdictional guidance on this important subject.
“For residents, it is an opportunity to see where landlords have gone wrong on charges and which complaints can be brought to the Ombudsman and what we are unable to deal with. We work closely with the First Tier Tribunal and have included case studies in this report from them to show their work in this area.”