Call for action as Members admit overcharging tenants

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The Jersey Tenants Forum has suggested a public inquiry may be necessary into the conduct of some elected Members following a response to a freedom of information request about tenants being overcharged for metered electricity supply.

Two Members, both of whom serve as assistant ministers, acknowledged yesterday that residents in lodging houses they owned had been required to pay extra for their electricity, they said in order to cover costs.

However, the politicians – St Peter Deputy Rowland Huelin and St Ouen Constable Richard Buchanan – both said they had removed the charge, and in Mr Buchanan’s case refunded it – following inspections by environmental health officers in 2019.

Deputy Rowland Huelin. Picture:DAVID FERGUSON. (30461463)

Stuart Langhorn, of the Jersey Tenants Forum, said that he considered overcharging by States Members who were landlords to be something that should be investigated.

‘This raises a lot of questions, not just for the Commissioner for Standards,’ he said. ‘Members of the public would be incredulous to know that States Members are doing this.

A “quiet word” about this, as if it’s a boys’ club, is simply not acceptable – and it may well be there should be a public inquiry.’

Mr Langhorn questioned whether those who were found to have overcharged tenants were in breach of the code of conduct for States Members.

The issue of legislation to protect tenants and regulate the sector has been a contentious one in recent years.

Last September, Environment Minister John Young’s proposals for a Landlords’ Licensing Scheme were defeated by 24 votes to 21 in the States.

This sparked anger from the tenants forum who queried why Members were allowed to participate in the debate when, as landlords, they had declared an interest.

Following questions from the JEP to the 21 States Members who declared an interest as landlords – either personally or through their partners – Deputy Huelin and Constable Buchanan issued statements yesterday.

Constable Richard Buchanan. Picture:DAVID FERGUSON. (30461471)

Deputy Huelin, who was appointed as an Assistant Chief Minister last September, said his lodging house had been managed by an agent since he was elected to the States in 2018.

‘A brief conversation on electricity charges took place when, if I recall, charging an additional 0.7p per unit to cover the service charge and communal areas was deemed fair and appropriate,’ he said.

‘My sole intent was that it should be cost-neutral.

‘The lodging house, through my agent, was inspected in the summer of 2019. At that point the inspector advised against the additional 0.7p per unit charge. A discussion took place on how to recover the service charge.

‘The solution was complicated so I instructed my agent to recover just the electricity charges at unit cost (15.3p), with the cost of the service charge and communal areas falling to me.

‘The inspector accepted this was a genuine error on my part and was satisfied with my immediate action to correct the error.’

Mr Buchanan, an Assistant Chief Minister and Assistant External Relations Minister, said tenants in his small lodging house had been required to pay for electricity through individual pay-as-you-go coin meters in accordance with Jersey Electricity’s tariff.

As part of a switch from coin meters to pre-paid electronic cards in 2017, Mr Buchanan said he had been advised that the cost of the cards could be recouped through the unit rate set at each electricity meter.

‘The intention was only to cover our costs, not to profit from supplying electricity to our tenants,’ he said.

‘In 2019 an Environmental Health inspector pointed out that this uplift in the unit rate was contrary to the Residential Tenancy Supply of Services Order and that we should refund our tenants. This was done to the satisfaction of the department and we had confirmation that the matter was closed.’

Paul Kernaghan, Jersey’s Commissioner for Standards, responded to

a JEP query and said there had been no complaint received regarding States Members overcharging for electricity.

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