Thursday, 4 March 2010

Duty Of Care?

A personal - and possibly long - post, but one that has far-reaching effect on anyone who rents property from a housing association - as do I.

First some background:

From April 2002, the Government introduced a new policy for social housing rents for all Councils and Registered Social Landlords. The new rent policy changes the way that Councils and Registered Social Landlords set their rents and are designed to bring rents into line by 2012. This means that by 2012 similar rents will be charged for similar homes across the country, regardless of whether the landlord is a Council or a Registered Social Landlord. There is a formula which must be applied in calculating rent which is: Retail Price Index plus 0.5% plus £2.00 - this latter figure only being chargable until such time as 'target rents' are achieved.

As readers who do rent property will be aware, it is a requirement that landlords wishing to increase rent must issue that notice in a legal form, giving 28 days notice of implementation, said 'form' differing slightly in the initial wording dependant on the type of tenancy held, for example a 'Assured Shorthold Tenancy' or an 'Assured Tenancy'.

In my particular case I have an Assured Periodic Tenancy and have just received a rent increase notification, along with other tenants. The notice received is headed 'Form prescribed for the purposes of Section 13(2) of the Housing Act 1988. Form 4B. Housing Act 1988 Section 13(2), as amended by the Regulatory reform (Assured Periodic Tenancies) (Rent Increases) Order 2003. Landlord's Notice proposing a new rent under an Assured Periodic Tenancy of premises situated in England'. So far, so good.

Unfortunately for my landlords, English Churches Housing Association (ECHG), the notice is invalid for two reasons. In some cases tenants have received the covering letter, which advises them of the increase and including details of increased service charges (which is a separate matter as these must be agreed with tenants - something which has not been done), but no legal notice has been included. All tenants have been advised of increases which vary and which in monetary terms result in increases in the order of £20+ per week. Bearing in mind the formula mentioned above, in our particular case the RPI applicable was minus 1.4%, which meant a increase in rent of minus 0.9% plus the figure of £2.

The majority of tenants are elderly and/or can be categorised as vulnerable, for various reasons within the meaning of the term 'vulnerable'. It is not unreasonable, therefore, to assume that a housing association would take a little care in preparation of legal notices. Not one of those in the 'elderly and vulnerable' category really understood why and how their rents had increased and as a result accepted it as a 'given' and would have paid the requested increase. Considering also that these tenants, in the main, have no family, this lack of attention to detail is unforgivable by an organisation, one of whose prime responsibilities is a 'duty of care'!

Having advised ECHG of the problem, they have informed me that they will be unable to address this problem until Monday 8th, which means that allowing for the 28 day statutory notice period, they will be unable to meet the date required of 5th April, the date on which the new rent is due to take effect. This situation is not unusual where ECHG are concerned - last year the rent increase arrived just 6 days prior to implementation which resulted in ECHG deciding not to levy an increase!

You could not make it up if you tried!

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