Housing associations are, according to the Birmingham City Council website, independent, non-profit-making organisations. They provide homes for people to rent, buy or both. One such association is run by Sanctuary Group, which makes the reassuring claim that “putting our customers first is at the heart of everything we do.”
Sanctuary Housing Association provides homes for people across England and Scotland, including in the Birmingham City Council area. According to their 2022-23 annual report, their surplus before tax was £101.3mn (compared to £58.6mn in 2022 and £46.9mn in 2021). Despite this doubling of their surplus since 2021, Sanctuary Housing stated in this year’s report: “We are also acutely aware of the impact of the seven per cent rent cap announced by the Government. While this increase was more than expected, the adverse impact of inflation on our cost base means our margins are tightening.”
The same annual report shows that the salaries, benefits in kind and pensions contributions of their executive board directors came to £919,000, with the chief executive’s salary at £382,000 plus pensions contributions of £55,000.
25% service charge increase
I rent my home in the Birmingham City Council area from Sanctuary. My service charges were increased in July 2023 by a whopping 24.8%. This charge is supposed to include lift maintenance, maintenance of the heating system, maintenance of the CCTV and the fire alarms.
I objected to this hefty increase in July, but have yet to receive a proper response. I suspect the people working for Sanctuary are hoping that I will go away if they drag their feet for long enough. Every time I email, it takes a while to get a reply, and then it’s just a holding message stating they will get back to me.
Money for nothing
So what I am getting for my money?
This year, the lifts did not work for several months. Contractors advise that the lifts break down because the 40-year-old parts are ‘knackered’ and it is hard to find suitable spares. Yet Sanctuary refuses to replace the lifts.
According to Sanctuary, these breakdowns are due to misuse. But they cannot check the misuse since the CCTV in the lift is also not working – has not, in fact, worked for at least two years. An email exchange I had with the housing officer in 2021 reminds me that the CCTV in the lift was not working then, and it hasn’t been repaired. The cameras on the ground floor also don’t work. Neighbours tell me that, when there are incidents, the police have to ask them if they’ve seen anything as they are unable to check CCTV footage.
All the while, we are paying for the maintenance of the lifts and the CCTV through the service charge. Which, you will recall, has just rocketed up by 25%.
In spring, during a stock condition survey, I pointed out cracks in my bathroom sink but was told that this did not need replacing. Now a chunk has broken off. I cut my hand on the sharp edge when I lost my balance and fell against it.
The housing association claim it’s my fault and I will have to pay for it. Meanwhile, I have waited two months so far for someone to come and inspect the broken sink and measure up for a new one.
Service not included
Last week, the boiler broke down. I – and a few hundred others – did not have heating or hot water for seven days. This should have been an emergency repair, sorted within 24 hours.
As the hours lengthened into days, Sanctuary gave us no updates on progress. I rang several times to find out what was happening. One day, I was on hold for over 90 minutes, then the phone was answered and the call terminated ten seconds later. The following day, I was on hold for 45 minutes before the call was answered, the call was then terminated after five minutes.
We had no heating and hot water for a week but Sanctuary is still charging us for the heating and hot water that they didn’t provide. I was cold (as was everyone else), and I had to use electricity to heat water to do the washing up.
Will Sanctuary refund me the charges for the non-existent heating and hot water, plus the electricity I used to heat water? I’ve asked them but, thus far, they haven’t even responded to my objection to the increase in service charges from July.
So I’m not holding my breath.
Sanctuary have been contacted for comment. To date we have not received a reply.