“You feel powerless” says Barnet housing association campaigner

Hana Rajabally uncovers resident distress at rent and service charges hikes at “not fit for purpose” Notting Hill Genesis properties

The current entrance to Colindale station
Colindale station

Residents of a housing association in Barnet have raised complaints that their service charge fees have been increased by up to 126% despite receiving almost no service and having rough sleepers entering blocks at night.

Concerns have also been expressed over the fact that service charge accounts have not been audited in five years, meaning that residents could potentially owe hundreds of pounds to Notting Hill Genesis (NHG), one of the largest housing associations in south-east England.

Charlotte Daus, chair of New Colindale Residents Association, spoke to Barnet Post about a number of health and safety concerns with Heybourne Park estate, as well as frustrations with the lack of service provided by NHG, including maintenance and repair work.

Charlotte, who has lived on Heybourne Park estate for nearly 11 years and has chaired New Colindale Residents Association for six years said: “We’ve had people breaking into blocks, sleeping in the stairwells, trying people’s front doors.”

“A couple of years ago, in our core block, we had somebody break in and poo on the carpet in the stairwell. This was over a weekend. Nobody came for two days, and it wasn’t until one of our councillors escalated it that anything was done.”

She continued: “The person they sent out was this poor guy who brought a bucket he’d probably bought himself from Poundland and a bottle of bleach, and no PPE whatsoever. The situation hasn’t improved since then.”

During another weekend on the estate, there was a sewage pipe leak in the car park, much to the disgust and immense concern of residents with their cars parked there.

Doors in disrepair

Charlotte told Barnet Post that although her block was charged £750 a year for door entry maintenance, the door to the building is frequently in a state of disrepair, and other blocks have had doors that are broken, enabling anyone to just walk into buildings. 

When residents raised the issue to NHG, the chair said the housing association insinuated that it was because residents were leaving doors open that outsiders were able to get in, but she stressed it was actually because doors aren’t functional.

She added: “We log these issues frequently but no one comes out to fix them. Our car park gate has not been fit for purpose since we’ve moved in, it’s frequently stuck open. The other week it closed and wouldn’t open and we had neighbours that had to get to work and they couldn’t get out of the car park.”

Although Charlotte contacted the estate manager who said they’d logged it as an urgent repair and that contractors would be on site as soon as possible, the contractors never picked up Charlotte’s calls when they failed to show up. 

Charlotte continued: “It was two of our neighbours that ended up fixing the gate and getting it open, and we are being charged estate maintenance of £25,000 for services like that. People are absolutely furious.”

As well as the issues with faulty doors and gates, Charlotte also explained that the lighting in the car park doesn’t work, an issue which a resident first raised to her back in 2022. It was also in 2022 that concerns were raised over CCTV cameras not working, and although NHG said they were reviewing the situation at the time, it’s since been two years and the cameras still aren’t working.

“Bloke with a leafblower”

It’s not just repair issues that are angering residents; they’ve also faced an increase in estate maintenance including gardening and cleaning, although Charlotte says the quality of these services provided is almost non-existent.

“The whole estate is being charged £20,000 for gardening and that amounts to a bloke with a leafblower, maybe once every few months,” Charlotte said.

The chair added: “There’s a lady outside who does the gardening in the area outside Butterfly Court, and she does that in her own free time, she doesn’t charge for it. What she does is far, far superior to anything that they do. It’s just disgusting, it really is.”

“The level of cleaning is really really poor and we’ve had the same contractors providing this cleaning service for over five years and they’ve constantly told us that they accept it’s not an acceptable standard but they seem to be continuing to give these people a tender.”

And when it comes to window cleaning, Charlotte simply stated: “I’ve never seen a window cleaner here.”

“I’ve never seen a window cleaner here”

On the rare occasions that contractors do turn up to fix maintenance issues, Charlotte told Barnet Post that they often cause more issues than they resolve.

“When contractors were finally sent to remedy issues with the cladding work in the blocks after a lot of campaigning, they knocked vents out of the wall while they were working, and left rubbish everywhere, fencing and things in the car park.”

The residents in Heybourne Park estate are a mix of leaseholders, social tenants and private tenants. All leaseholders pay a service charge which goes towards services, repairs, maintenance, improvements or insurance, and includes things such as cleaning, lighting and repair, and lift maintenance.

Charlotte said that the service charge fees demanded by NHG have massively increased this year, giving the example of a leaseholder in a one-bedroom flat without a functional lift having their service charge increase from £100 to £227 a month, amounting to a 127% increase.

She said the lowest percentage increase in service charge reported by residents was 25%, with her own service charge going up by 30% this year.

And it’s not just the service charge that residents are concerned about – private tenants on the estate have seen large hikes in their monthly rent, with one resident having their rent increased by around £300 a month for a one-bedroom flat.

Charlotte remarked: “This is a housing association, it’s meant to be altruistic.”

Heybourne Park estate was part of the first phase of the Grahame Park regeneration project by Barnet Council, which is being delivered by the construction company Wates.

Three new blocks have been built as part of the second phase of the regeneration, and Charlotte worries that another 2000 people will have to experience the same problems that she and her neighbours are having to deal with.

What makes the increase in rent and service charge fees all the more anxiety-inducing is the fact that residents at Heybourne Park are aware that accounts for the estate have not been audited for five years, meaning that all charges since 2019 have been an estimate.

The uncertainty of not knowing whether they owe hundreds of pounds to NHG has left many residents worrying about their financial situation.

Delayed accounts

Charlotte explained that NHG has been able to delay issuing the audited accounts for this long due to repeatedly issuing a Section 20B notice, which is used when landlords are unable to produce the actual accounts within 18 months of incurring service chargeable costs. She said that NHG kept using the excuse that accounts were left in a bad state before Notting Hill Housing merged with Genesis back in April 2018, but pointed out that it’s now been six years since the merger.

Charlotte commented: “For a huge organisation like Notting Hill Genesis, not being able to audit its own service charge accounts is really worrying.”

Due to the litany of issues faced by residents at the estate, Charlotte has frequently contacted councillors at Barnet Council to ask for help, and she told Barnet Post that the only time residents ever get any real response from Notting Hill Genesis is if they copy in councillors, who demand a response from NHG on specific issues.

“Freeholders can act with impunity”

However, the chair said that she feels that the council are more toothless than they might be were NHG a council property, but the fact is it’s council property that has been transferred to a housing association. Charlotte explained that this means although councillors are doing what they can, they are limited in the actions they can take because NHS is a private housing association.

She emphasised: “This is not a criticism of Barnet councillors, this is a criticism of Notting Hill Genesis, and of the system. The system where freeholders can act with impunity and put up service charges and provide very very little service.”

As well as Barnet Council, residents have in the past also contacted campaign group End Our Cladding Scandal during the fire safety concerns in 2021-22 with cladding, and the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership regarding service charge payments. Charlotte said they’ve escalated all anti-social behaviour to the police, and the community support officer has been really helpful in going round the area and doing reports.

However, despite the support residents have received, they are still faced with continual problems and see no end in sight.

Summarising how residents felt, Charlotte stated: “It is exhausting. People just want to come home after the end of the day and a) not worry about what they’re going to get through the door about what their service charge is and b) know that their intercoms are working and the gates are working and the CCTV is working, and gardening and cleaning is actually taking place.”

She also questioned why residents’ concerns were only taken seriously once they kept escalating it to other bodies to put pressure on NHG, asking: “Why do we have to be constantly be copying in other people and trying to push it to other organisations when we pay for that service and we don’t get it.”

Residents at Heybourne Park estate have been making complaints about the standard of services provided by NHG since before the pandemic, with resident meetings being crowded with over forty people angry about being overcharged for cleaning quotes back in early 2019.

These long-standing issues have left residents feeling in despair, Charlotte told Barnet Post.

“It’s awful. We feel like we’ve got nowhere to go. If we withhold our service charge, they could potentially evict us.

“It feels like Notting Hill Genesis almost has a free pass to do whatever they want with fairly little recourse. So you do feel quite powerless, because with all the will in the world there does not seem to be much that can be done to hold them to account.”

Labour parliamentary candidate for Hendon, David Pinto-Duschinsky, who has worked with many residents in housing associations properties said: “Dozens of Notting Hill Genesis residents across Colindale have raised concerns with me about the levels of service charges and the poor service they are getting from NHG. Some of the stories are just appalling. It’s completely unacceptable. 

“I am committed to fighting for residents to help them get a better deal and have kicked off a campaign to fight for more rights for leaseholders and tenants. I’m working with a number of groups of residents to help them put pressure on their freeholders and their agents-including NHG- to bring down their service charges and raise their game.”

Pinto-Duschinsky promised that he will fight for a better deal for leaseholders and tenants and will hold under-performing service providers to account if he’s elected as Hendon’s MP in the upcoming general election this July.

“We have recently introduced a dedicated estate team”

A spokesperson for Notting Hill Genesis said: “We’re sorry Charlotte is unhappy about some aspects of our service. We have recently introduced a dedicated estate team for the Heybourne Park area to ensure that any concerns are addressed quickly and efficiently and would encourage Charlotte to continue to raise issues with them or her local officer. 

“Our team is actively engaging with the residents’ association, including holding meetings, drop-in sessions and informal catch-ups to help local people remain engaged and informed.

“On the specific query around security, we recently fixed the block doors following a series of break-ins and they were working when we last checked them … The local police attended a residents’ meeting [last month] and urged residents to ensure doors are closed behind them so people can’t follow them in, and we would echo that message.”

“More widely, we have invested in additional resources both for repairs and service charges to help us provide a better service for our residents, and are retendering the contract for grounds maintenance work.”

But despite NHG’s pledges to improve their services, Charlotte believes what is really necessary is fundamental reform of the legislation around freeholders.

Charlotte said: “Especially in Colindale where there’s a lot of redevelopment, people are buying flats and there’s no legal cap on what they can charge with rent and service charge uplifts and it’s just getting higher and higher and higher.”

“I think that as part of any leasehold reform, there needs to be a cap on the annual amount that can be lawfully placed on service charges, such as no more than the rate of CPI or something like that for service charge increases.”

She added: “There needs to be more accountability for if you can’t provide audited service charge accounts, it shouldn’t be acceptable or allowable that we’re sitting here not having had accounts audited since 2019.”

No news is bad news 

Independent news outlets like ours – reporting for the community without rich backers – are under threat of closure, turning British towns into news deserts. 

The audiences they serve know less, understand less, and can do less. 

If our coverage has helped you understand our community a little bit better, please consider supporting us with a monthly, yearly or one-off donation. 

Choose the news. Don’t lose the news.

Monthly direct debit 

Annual direct debit

£5 per month supporters get a digital copy of each month’s paper before anyone else, £10 per month supporters get a digital copy of each month’s paper before anyone else and a print copy posted to them each month. £50 annual supporters get a digital copy of each month's paper before anyone else. £84 annual supporters get a print copy by post and a digital copy of each month's before anyone else.

Donate now with Pay Pal

More information on supporting us monthly 

More Information about donations