Published: 05:00, 12 June 2022
| Updated: 14:55, 14 June 2022
A housing association has been forced to issue refunds after it emerged it had been mistakenly charging tenants for communal street lighting - an error which could go back nearly two decades.
The hidden fee was brought to light after Maidstone resident, Steve Wilson, questioned the fee on his service charge after spotting it in March and asked for a more detailed break-down.
The 60-year-old, who has lived in a Golding Homes bungalow in Fordcombe Close, Senacre, for two-and-a-half years, was told he was being charged a communal lighting fee of £1.12 a month - equalling 28p a week.
But all lighting on his road is both provided and maintained by Kent County Council (KCC).
It is understood to be an issue affecting all the tenants in the street, and one which could stretch back to when Golding Homes took over the housing stock from Maidstone council in 2004.
Steve said: "It's a rip-off, it's a scam. They're thieving off their tenants and charging them for something they're not providing.
"I understand if you live in a block of flats or a private road, paying for lighting makes sense, but not for me.
"There are no grey areas in my life, it's either black or white, right or wrong and this is definitely wrong.
"I'm not a religious person but I will get on my knees and pray for justice."
Since discovering the charge, Steve says he has repeatedly been on the phone to Golding Homes about it without success.
Upon being contacted by KentOnline, however, the housing association has refunded him £35.25 and removed the communal lighting charge from his bill.
Steve added: "I don't know what has spurred Golding Homes to take action all I know is I received my refund after speaking to KentOnline."
'There are no grey areas in my life, it's either black or white, right or wrong and this is definitely wrong...'
Annemarie Roberts, director of operations at Golding Homes said: “We’ve been in touch with customers to apologise and refund the communal lighting charges and are grateful for their understanding in resolving this issue.
"We acted quickly, reviewing the information available to understand what went wrong and put it right. We’re checking the services charged to customers and are listening to their feedback to learn lessons and keep improving.”
A spokesperson for the company has since said some refunds had been issued by May 2.
Eight residents along Steve's street have now been promised a refund - all his neighbours were unaware of the charge until they received the letter.
One had been living on the road for 16 years without realising and was refunded £78.42, while another, who had been there 10 years, was refunded £72.49.
Golding Homes was asked how long the charges had been in place but said it could not check those details without customers' full details.
But the spokeswoman added: "When stock was transferred to us from Maidstone Borough Council we received a list of assets that are our responsibility, including these street lights.
"We pay the electricity service provider, and these costs are passed back to customers in their service charges."
Steve's daughter however, who lives two miles away in a Golding Homes property in Quarry Square, is being charged £1.16 a week for communal lighting but has been told she is not eligible for a refund.
Ms Roberts explained: "Some customers are still required to pay communal lighting charges as they do not only relate to street lighting; they can also include bollards and lighting in internal communal spaces.
"Charges are variable depending on the electricity usage. We pay the electricity service provider, and these costs are passed back to customers in their service charges."