‘We’re being ripped off’: England’s ‘affordable-housing’ residents who are being priced out of their own homes | Housing

When the construction company Lendlease first promoted the regeneration of Elephant and Castle in south London, it promised a host of benefits for the local community.

It said the area would gain more than 3,000 homes, including hundreds of affordable flats, a new public park with a community “tree house”, and thousands of jobs. The area was previously best known for the sprawling Heygate council estate, two precarious traffic roundabouts and a fading shopping centre.

In recent weeks, people in many of the new “affordable” homes have found a financial sting in the tail in this £2.5bn development, built in partnership with Southwark council. Demands have been dropping on doormats for service charges that are rising in many cases to more than £5,000 a year.

Residents who have investigated the reasons for such high bills have discovered they are paying for neighbourhood security patrols and towards the costs of the public amenities that Lendlease pledged to deliver. The charges include paying towards the upkeep of the new park and the new tree house, with a cafe, bamboo decking and public roof terrace.

Amada Teruel Sanchez, 36, and partner José Mellado, 47, were told last month that the service charge on their flat sold by the L&Q housing association was rising from £338 to £469 a month, an increase of 38%. Marson apartments, their 10-storey block of 50 homes, is being levied with a charge of £48,885 for managing and upkeep of the “public realm”.

Mellado said: “We are already paying the council tax and shouldn’t be paying for a public park.” He said residents now wanted to see all the accounts for the total costs they were paying towards, including local security patrols of the area, the public park and the tree house.

Alejandro Sanchez, who lives in a shared-ownership block in Wood Green, north London: service charge rises ‘make a mockery’ of ‘affordable’ housing.

Jessica Salgado, 29, another resident of the Marson apartment block, also faces a rise in her service charge of nearly 40%, to £372 a month. Salgado, who moved into her shared-ownership apartment last year, said: “We don’t know how these costs are calculated, and when we ask for documents they are like riddles.

“It breaks my heart a little bit because the reason I went down this route was because I couldn’t afford a property outright in London. When you get through the shared-ownership process, there is an emphasis on affordability. It feels like we’re being ripped off.”

The residents of Marson apartments are joining with groups across the country, protesting against the rise in service charges. A poster in the block’s lift states: “We are starting a common strike against L&Q on the abusive service charge rises.”

At Braeburn mansions, a block in Wood Green, north London – another development with L&Q homes – residents were relieved to be told in a letter dated 19 February that their service charges were going down. Then, in a letter dated the following day, they were told they were increasing by more than 40%.

Alejandro Sanchez, 33, a campaigns officer who lives in a shared-ownership property in the block, said: “You have to complain to get the budget, and then it’s very opaque. We’re still trying to get to the bottom of increases from last year’s budget.” He said it “made a mockery” of the concept of affordable homes if service charges could be raised so dramatically.

Lendlease said: “All residents at Elephant Park contribute towards the maintenance of public spaces and community facilities, including the tree house.” It said the tree house was a benefit for the community and also served the development.

L&Q said it was not the freeholder for Marson apartments or Braeburn mansions, but had the head lease on the properties. It said had “limited influence” on decisions on which services are provided.

An L&Q spokesperson said: “Unfortunately, we have not been provided with a detailed budget for the whole of Elephant Park. We have approached Lendlease, the freeholder of the estate, to obtain this information.” It said residents were paying significant increases for various reasons, including stricter building safety regulations, undercharging of residents in the previous accounting year and increases in building insurance.

Michelle Furber, in Brighton, faces a £2,221 charge to cover a budget deficit.

Southwark council said it had requested an urgent meeting between all parties at Elephant Park to ensure legislation was being complied with and “to reduce bills going forward”.

Michelle Furber, 52, a primary school teacher and single mother from Brighton, said what was meant to be a lifesaver to get on the housing ladder had “turned into a nightmare”. The service charges for her Clarion Housing shared-ownership two-bedroom flat in central Brighton have risen from £349 a month in 2023-24 to £417 a month in 2024-25.

The association says it also wants a one-off payment from her of £2,221 to cover a deficit in the previous year’s budget. It means her total charges for this year are more than £7,200. She is refusing to pay the increases.

Furber said: “It was marketed as affordable and suitable for key workers, but once you move in the charges are massively increased. It is now completely unaffordable for me.”

Savills, the appointed managing agent for Furber’s property, said: “The main drivers of the increase in service charge is a result of rises in communal utility and insurance charges, as well as increasing operational and maintenance costs. We are engaged with all residents regarding service charge levels moving forwards.”

The regeneration of Elephant and Castle in south London by construction company Lendlease was initially promised to bring numerous benefits to the local community. This included over 3,000 new homes, including affordable flats, a new public park with a community “tree house”, and job opportunities. However, residents in the new “affordable” homes have recently been hit with high service charges, some exceeding £5,000 a year.

Residents have discovered that these charges are for things like security patrols and maintenance of amenities that Lendlease had pledged to provide. Many residents, such as Amada Teruel Sanchez and Jose Mellado, are facing significant increases in their service charges, leading to frustration and calls for transparency in the accounting of these costs.

Residents across different developments, such as Marson apartments and Braeburn mansions, are coming together to protest against the rising service charges. It has been noted that these increases make a mockery of the concept of affordable housing, as stated by Alejandro Sanchez, who lives in a shared-ownership property in Wood Green.

Both Lendlease and L&Q, the housing association involved, have responded to the concerns raised by residents. L&Q mentioned limited influence on service decisions, while Lendlease highlighted that all residents contribute to the maintenance of public spaces and community facilities, including the tree house.

Southwark council has stepped in to request a meeting to address compliance with legislation and potentially reduce future bills. Meanwhile, residents like Michelle Furber in Brighton are facing substantial service charge increases, leading to financial strain and uncertainty. Savills, the managing agent for Furber’s property, cited increases in utility and insurance charges as reasons for the rise in service charges.