Words by Ed King / Pics supplied by residents
Castle Vale residents in the Redrow development are facing a rise of around 60% in their yearly service charge, adding potentially hundreds of pounds onto their monthly bill.
Managed by HLM Property Management, the drastic increase has been attributed to utilities costs, but some residents are now facing monthly fees even bigger than their mortgages – to be paid directly to HLM.
In a letter issued to residents around Yatesbury Avenue and Merlin Way/Walk, HLM told: ‘We understand this is going to be a difficult time for leaseholders, however in order to ensure that services at the property continue we would ask that prompt payment is made.’
The letter also included a note explaining the national property management company had budgeted ‘a contribution from the reserves to reduce the impact of the utilities cost increase’ totalling £75000.’
Paul White, Merlin Walk, told Erdington Local: “I have just bought my first property and within a month it (service charge) has gone from £300 to £460 a month, way above mortgage and inflation level with wages not being increased.
“I am worried that even though I own my property I could be faced with being homeless.”
Another resident, Amber Batt, said: “I’m a 23-year-old, first time buyer. Initially I was advised the service charge would be around £300 and of recent I have been told it is going to be upwards of £450.
“I am not able to go out and live the normal life of a 23 year old as I have the impending responsibility of paying over £400 a month to be able have a functioning house in addition to my mortgage and council tax.
Christine Pascoe said: “I moved in to my flat in February of this year and got my first service charge bill, whilst buying the property.
“I was told the service charge would be £250 approximately per month, but it’s come out at £412 per month. I live alone and a pensioner.”
Sarah Garfield, who has lived on Castle Vale since the houses were built in 2006, added: “My service charge has risen by £160 a month which I find absolutely criminal. I live alone so therefore only have my wage to live on and this rise will have a massive impact on my day-to-day living.
“It’s time HLM were confronted and provide us with a decent management service instead of the abysmal one we’ve had to put up with for the past 16 years.”
He explained: “I’m paying more for my energy than many families in three bedroom houses. It’s just shocking.
“These flats are well insulated; I don’t have the heating on that much – even in winter. There’s no way that the energy I’m using correlates with the price I’m paying for it.”
After individually trying to challenge the home wrecking increase with HLM, a group of residents have now banded together to fight the hiked-up service charge – which is scheduled to begin being paid to the company on 1 July.
Matthew Bowler continued: “(We want) a fair deal in proportion to inflation because this is way above inflation.
“It’s reached a tension point now where things have got to be addressed and we’ve got to sit down with them (HLM) and say ‘look we’re really unhappy and this price that you’re trying to put on us is going to be devastating. You need to work with us to get a solution.’
“If they don’t act, people could lose livelihoods; there’s families that live here, there’s pensioners, and we won’t be able to cope. There’s going to be people made homeless by it – they’re not going to be able to pay the mortgage and the service charge.
“If HLM aren’t prepared to do anything then we’ve got to bring into question their reputation as a company – it’s completely not acceptable.”
After being contacted by residents looking for help, newly elected Castle Vale Councillor Ray Goodwin (Lab) began organising a public meeting to hear concerns directly and seeking legal advice from colleagues at Birmingham City Council.
Cllr Goodwin told Erdington Local: “Having been approached by residents living in the Redrow development on Merlin Way/Walk and the surrounding roads, I’m deeply concerned by the disproportionate increase in relation to utility costs. In some incidents this appears as high as a 300% increase.
“I will be supporting the concerned residents – who are angry, worried, and very stressed by this – to find a way forward which ensures they pay fair utilities costs.
HLM Property Management were approached for comment which they replied would be issued “in due course.”
If you have been affected by a rise in service charges, imposed utility bills, or landlord/lettings agent fees, we want to hear from you – email in confidence: firstname.lastname@example.org