Council may owe people up to £10,000 after error that took 20 years to spot

For the last 20 years a group of residents have been paying £10 a week for a service charge that came with no service.

But now, thanks to the diligence of Joyce Iyinolakan, they could be in for quite a large payday.

She has lived in a terraced house in Peckham, south east London, for nearly four years. Over that time she spotted that she was being billed £10 a week by Southwark Council for services such as communal cleaning, lighting and outside maintenance.

However, she does not live on an estate or have any access to communal amenities so she challenged the charge.

After a bit of a back and forth that started in 2019, it became clear that the charge was for the upkeep of the North Peckham Estate – a 40-acre site of 1,444 council homes and four adjacent estates that was demolished and redeveloped in the mid 90s.

Joyce said: ‘We were getting charged for cleaning but we were doing all the cleaning ourselves, and they’ve been charging us for communal lighting but our outside lighting is wired to our home so we’re paying for that already.

‘The charges added up to just under £10 per week altogether. A lot of people don’t query this kind of thing because it’s such a small amount, but it all adds up.’

Joyce believes that one of her neighbours may be eligible for a reimbursement of more than £10,000 because they have lived there for 23 years.

Explaining how it became clear that she should not have been paying the money, Joyce said: ‘Last September, I called the “Right to Buy” number on the council website to ask about buying our home because we didn’t want anything to do with the council anymore.

‘The lady on the phone told me that if we bought our property, we would incur a service charge. I said we were already paying that on top of our rent.

‘She was really confused so she looked at our property on Google Maps and said we shouldn’t have been paying that at all.’

Joyce has since received a £2,000 refund but wants others to be aware they may be entitled to some cash.

She said: ‘I cannot assume it’s just us this has happened to. This is a large area – we’re talking hundreds of people.

‘We’ve had four years of paying it, but there’s other people that might’ve paid that for decades. The people that lived here before us were here 19 years. One has passed away and the other is in a hospice now, so will they get their money back?

‘I’ve spoken to at least three neighbours who all confirmed they are getting billed for the service charge too. But as far as I’m aware, I’m the only one that’s been refunded.’

Since the error was discovered, Southwark Council wrote to say her rent would be increasing seven per cent from £115.08 to £123.14 per week because of inflation.

She said: ‘Conveniently, just after they removed our service charge we received a letter telling us that our rent will be increasing going forward.

‘The difference is about the same amount they were charging us for the services. So, although they’ve paid us back what they owed, they will still be taking the same amount of money from me in rent. How can they justify that during a cost-of-living crisis.

‘I’ve lived in this borough for around 30 years. If we’re having issues, they are supposed to be the ones we go to for help. They aren’t meant to be causing problems for us. I think the entire council needs an overhaul.’

A spokesperson for Southwark Council said it is unsure how the error occurred but believes it may have been due to postcode changes when the old estate was demolished and the new properties were built.

The local authority confirmed it has paid arrears to a ‘small number’ of tenants affected by the error and is proactively seeking out others who may have been overcharged.

The spokesperson said: ‘It is correct that we overcharged a small number of residents in this area.

‘Since we discovered the error, we have paid out both compensation and arrears to the tenants concerned.

‘We are proactively contacting the others we believe we may owe money to and will be reimbursing them if this is the case.’

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at [email protected]

For more stories like this, check our news page.

Source: Read Full Article