Congratulations are in order to the Debt & Consumer and Housing Units of ILC!
Both units have worked together closely in resolving a dispute regarding a housing association’s mishandling of billing tenants for the use of the district heating system. It was a hard earned fight, but we received word from the Housing Ombudsmen Service last week that they have decided in favour of our clients.
A group of tenants approached ILC early last year after receiving utility bills backdated 2 years (some bills were as high as £1,000!). The reason for these arrears was due to the fact that ‘gas for heating and hot water’ was listed in the tenants’ service charges and as such, the tenants believed they were paying for this service as part of their rent. The housing association attempted to back pedal and removed the ‘gas for heating and hot water’ aspect from the service charge; however, remained in their position that tenants were responsible for the past 2 years’ worth of utilities charges.
As social housing tenants, the majority of our clients are unemployed and/or in receipt of low income and not in a position to pay such a large amount out of pocket. Their landlord is of course fully aware of these circumstances, but has paid no mind to such factors and continued to ask for payment.
A unique aspect of this case is the utilisation of a district heating scheme by the housing association. District heating is a relatively new initiative and rather than draw energy from the city’s pipelines, these systems generate their own energy for a predetermined set of properties. Such a network can be incredibly beneficial in terms of reducing the carbon footprint and costs for end users.
Unfortunately, the economic benefit of this system was lost on our tenants as the housing association failed to fully understand the scheme and bill their tenants properly. This matter is further exasperated by the fact that district heating systems are not yet regulated by a governing authority.
After numerous attempts of settling this matter with the housing association itself, ILC lodged an application to the Housing Ombudsmen on behalf of 20+ tenants.
We are pleased to report that after a lengthy waiting period, the Housing Ombudsmen have decided in favour of our clients and have instructed the housing association to write off the backdated payment amounts.
Although a final outcome in this matter is still pending, the decision by the Ombudsmen is incredibly encouraging and we will continue to fight for the rights of our clients.