My SO Home: No. 10

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Ed Spencer and a friend bought a 40% share in a One Housing shared ownership flat. He believes their poor experience is due, in part, to weak regulation of the social housing sector.

I would love to simply leave my One Housing shared ownership flat and hand back the keys. I just want to move to Devon or Sheffield and have a baby with my girlfriend. But it isn’t that simple. Fire safety problems now mean it’s impossible to get on with my life.”

The estate agent recommended my solicitors as having “25 years of experience”. But they lost the deed to our One Housing shared ownership flat on the day we were due to complete. Although we’d sent it recorded delivery, and they’d lost the deed, it was us who faced additional fees if completion didn’t happen on time. We had to run around East London to find a fax machine to send a freshly signed copy. We eventually found one in a local corner shop. When we moved in the next day we discovered the hot water didn’t work. It took two weeks to get that fixed. Things have gone downhill ever since.

In 2012 shared ownership seemed like my only option to get on the property ladder. I’d spent a decade renting in London and was paying £750 a month with very little to show for it. I thought ‘Sod it! I’m going to do it”. I’d inherited a bit of money and had some cash saved in an ISA. It was just enough to scrape together a deposit. But I still couldn’t afford to do it by myself. I shared the purchase with a friend and between us we bought 40% of a 3-bedroom flat in Mile End. 

A lot of things the estate agency working for One Housing told us weren’t entirely true

We were means-tested by the housing association to make sure we were first-time buyers and that we didn’t earn too much money. Once we passed these checks we were allowed to view the flat. The estate agency working for One Housing told us our heating and hot water would always be included in our service charge, the new development opposite would only be 7 floors tall so it would not block our view, and that we had a 10-year warranty to cover us from unforeseen costs. None of these things, it turns out, were entirely true.

Eight years on we’re still having regular disputes with One Housing about the communal heating system that has malfunctioned most winters. They didn’t use moth-repellent carpet for our flat; so we now have issues with moths every year. Whilst they replaced the carpets in the social tenant flats, we were quoted over £2,000 for ours to be swapped. We’ve also had problems with cockroaches that took weeks to be dealt with.

Service charge errors and overcharging appear common, and it’s left to One Housing residents to spot mistakes

Our monthly service charges seem very high in relation to the service provided. We were paying £166 in 2012 but now it’s more than £250. We have to pay an additional £40 a month for the hot water we thought would be included. Even though our services charges are high, most years we’re charged an additional adjustment.

We started chatting with neighbours and residents in other blocks to compare costs, and were shocked to discover that mistakes seemed common. Our block of flats was overcharged £18,000 for fire safety costs. A block we spoke to in Essex was charged £40,000 for a security guard they did not have. Another block was sent service charges when One Housing had not managed their estate for two years. It seems residents have been the ones to spot these mistakes. One Housing took six months to admit fault regarding our recent overcharge.

We set up a residents action group to campaign for better services and unite people from different estates

I’m worried One Housing could be overcharging lots of people like me. I think this could stem from incompetence or because they do not have the right level of property management skill for their vast portfolio. The service charge team for our estate exported the wrong Microsoft Excel file this year, meaning we were sent last year’s bill by mistake. (One Housing own and manage over 17,000 properties in London and the South East).

In the end, we set up a residents action group – One Housing Residents Action Group – to campaign for better services and unite residents from different estates. We’ve been in touch with the Social Housing Action Group (SHAC) who told us that many housing association staff face poor treatment like residents do.

Now I’m desperately worried I could go bankrupt or lose my One Housing shared ownership flat due to fire safety

Recently we discovered that our development has serious fire safety problems even though it passed building control. We have the same K15 insulation as Grenfell, HPL Cladding, and missing fire cavity barriers. There’s a 24hr waking watch (which One Housing is currently paying for). We’ve been told that if there is a fire we need to get out rather than ‘Stay Put’. Understandably, It doesn’t feel safe living here.

I’m desperately worried I could go bankrupt or lose my flat to pay for remediation. We’ve heard stories of residents being charged tens of thousands of pounds to make their properties safe and are still waiting to hear if One Housing will send us a bill. The warranty sold with our flats doesn’t cover us because the local council carried out building control and not the warranty provider.

High-level executives move between housing associations and the Regulator of Social Housing

One of the problems we have experienced with housing associations is that there isn’t effective regulation. We can easily see just by browsing the internet that high-level executives move between housing associations and the Regulator of Social Housing. The Regulator has told us they would only intervene with “serious detriment” issues. Issues that we have escalated to the Housing Ombudsman can take months to be resolved.

On a more positive note, since we’ve been campaigning, dialogue with One Housing has improved. They’re now realising there have been historic issues and they’ve begun to address some of these. They set up a dedicated cladding team who have stayed in regular contact with us about our building, their application for funding, and our safety. However, we still face several months, maybe years, of uncertainty. Not to mention the actual remediation which could involve living on a building site for several years.

I’ve really had enough. I would love to simply leave my flat and hand back the keys, but it isn’t that simple. I just want to move to Devon or Sheffield and have a baby with my girlfriend. The fire safety problems now mean it’s impossible to get on with my life. I remain at the mercy of a housing association that has let me down so many times over the last 8 years.

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