‘Affordable housing’ residents of England are being priced out of their own homes

<span>Amada Teruel Sanchez and José Mellado at Marson flats, Elephant and Castle, South London.  Their service charge increased by 38%.</span><span>Photo: Sonja Horsman/The Observer</span>” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/TxEs9qznKqdKehr6Oetm4w–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/theguardian_763/fad5874854d24511a1dd64dc4e37940b” data-src= “https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/TxEs9qznKqdKehr6Oetm4w–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/theguardian_763/fad5874854d24511a1dd64dc4e37940b”/></div>
<p><figcaption class=Amada Teruel Sanchez and José Mellado at Marson flats, Elephant and Castle, South London. Their service charge has increased by 38%.Photo: Sonja Horsman/The Observer

When construction company Lendlease first promoted the regeneration of the Elephant and Castle in south London, it promised many benefits to the local community.

He said the area would get more than 3,000 homes, including hundreds of affordable apartments, a new public park with a community “treehouse,” and thousands of jobs. The area was previously known for the sprawling Heygate council estate, two precarious roundabouts and a sprawling shopping centre.

In recent weeks, people in many of the new “affordable” homes have found a financial sting in the tail in this £2.5bn development, built in partnership with Southwark council. The demand for doormats is falling on service charges which are rising to over £5,000 a year in many cases.

Residents who have investigated the reasons for such high bills have discovered that they are paying for neighborhood security patrols and the costs of the public amenities promised to be delivered by Lendlease. The fees include paying for the maintenance of the new park and the new tree house, with a cafe, bamboo decking and a public roof terrace.

Amada Teruel Sanchez, 36, and her partner José Mellado, 47, were told last month that the service charge for their flat sold by housing association L&Q was rising from £338 to £469 a month, an increase 38%. Marson flats, a 10-storey block of 50 homes, is being charged £48,885 to manage and maintain the “public domain”.

Mellado said: “We’re already paying council tax and we shouldn’t be paying for a public park.” He said residents now wanted to see all the accounts of the total costs they were paying towards, including the area’s local security patrols, the public park and the tree house.

Jessica Salgado, 29, another resident of the Marson block of flats, is facing her service charge of almost 40%, to £372 a month. Salgado, who moved into his co-owned apartment last year, said: “We don’t know how these costs are calculated, and when we ask for documents they are like guesses.

“It breaks my heart a bit because the reason I went down this route was because I couldn’t get a whole property in London. When you go through the shared ownership process, affordability is emphasized. It feels like we’re being ripped off.”

Residents of the Marson flats are joining groups across the country, protesting against the rise in service charges. A poster in the block’s lift says: “We are starting a joint strike against L&Q over the outrageous service charge increases.”

At Braeburn Estates, a block in Wood Green, north London – another development with L&Q homes – residents were relieved to be told in a letter dated February 19 that their service charges were going down. Then, in a letter dated the next day, they were told they were increasing by more than 40%.

Alejandro Sanchez, 33, a campaign official who lives in a co-owned property in the block, said: “You have to complain to get the budget, and then it’s very opaque. We are still trying to cope with last year’s budget increases.” He said he made a “mockery” of the concept of affordable homes if service charges could be raised so much.

Lendlease said: “All residents of Elephant Park contribute to the maintenance of public spaces and community facilities, including the tree house.” He said the tree house was a benefit to the community and also served the development.

L&Q said it was not the freeholder of the Marson or Braeburn flats, but held the head lease on the properties. He said he had “limited influence” on decisions on which services are provided.

An L&Q spokesman said: “Unfortunately, we have not been provided with a detailed budget for the whole of Elephant Park. We have contacted Lendlease, the freeholder of the estate, to obtain this information.” He said residents were paying significant increases for a variety of reasons, including stricter building safety regulations, undercharging residents in the previous accounting year and increases in building insurance.

Southwark council said it had called for an urgent meeting between all parties at Elephant Park to ensure the legislation was being complied with and “to reduce future bills”.

Michelle Furber, 52, a primary school teacher and single mother from Brighton, said getting on the housing ladder was a “nightmare” as a life saver. The service charges for his Clarion Housing shared ownership two-bedroom flat in central Brighton have risen from £349 per month in 2023-24 to £417 per month in 2024-25.

The association says it also wants a one-off payment of £2,221 to cover a shortfall in the previous year’s budget. It means her total fees for this year are more than £7,200. She is refusing to pay the raises.

Furber said: “It was marketed as affordable and suitable for key workers, but once you move in the fees increase dramatically. It’s not affordable for me now.”

Savills, the appointed managing agent for the Furber property, said: “The main reasons for the increase in the service charge are due to increases in utility and community insurance charges, as well as an increase in operating and maintenance costs. We are liaising with all residents regarding service charge levels going forward.”

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