Firm says sorry for delays over repaying money

Jackie Stark, right, with her 83-year-old cousin Audrey Clark
Jackie Stark, right, with her 83-year-old cousin Audrey Clark

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Looking after the needs of an elderly relative and keeping their affairs in order can be a demanding task.

But Purbrook reader Jackie Starks found she was banging her head against a brick wall when she went into battle with a housing association about a refund of overpaid service charges.

Last August Jackie’s disabled 83-year-old cousin Audrey was reluctantly compelled to surrender the lease on her Hilsea flat and move into a Southsea nursing home.

The flat was provided by the Bournemouth Churches Housing Association, a charity which specialises in providing housing and support services for vulnerable people.

Jackie explained: ‘Audrey went into hospital because she wasn’t able to look after herself, but when she came out it was suggested she shouldn’t try to walk again but use a wheelchair and that’s what made her want to go into a home.

She had to pay BCHA ground rent and service charges of £79 a month, and I used to take her to the bank now and again to sort out her bills and council things, but when she moved I forgot to cancel the direct debit.’

Jackie discovered that three payments had been taken from Audrey’s bank account without her noticing it, but was not concerned because she promptly cancelled the direct debit and was sure all she had to do was ring the housing association and request a refund.

She first phoned BCHA in early November and they insisted she needed a notice of transfer before a refund could be arranged. She checked with her solicitor who confirmed it wasn’t necessary.

When she rang BCHA back to clarify, it became clear they’d given her the wrong information.

That sorted, it wasn’t until she rang their Bournemouth HQ for the third time that she realised the cards were stacked against her getting the message across.

It soon became obvious that no-one had been listening to her when she was asked to explain the matter all over again. This time she gave them Audrey’s new address details and asked them to reply to her, but that request also fell on deaf ears.

Two phone calls later Jackie thought she was at last getting somewhere when she was given the name of a back-office staff member who dealt with finance inquiries.

She was promised she’d receive a return call the following day to get the matter wrapped up once and for all.

A couple of weeks later Jackie was still waiting for the call.

Frustrated and concerned she decided to contact Streetwise to request a helping hand.

We first checked out some background information about the charity.

The BCHA website claims ‘accountability is vital’ and their organisational structure included a board of trustees who keep a close eye on their services and values.

Jackie’s attempts to obtain a simple overpayment having developed into a complete shambles, we decided to invite chief executive Martin Hancock to redeem the charity, tell us what had gone wrong, and to expedite the return of Audrey’s overpayments.

We waited patiently for 10 days, but Mr Hancock appeared to be unobtainable.

Undaunted, we tracked down an email address for their finance director Janice Hughes.

We repeated Jackie’s story and this time better news was soon on its way. The following evening Jackie finally received the call she’d been waiting on for over three months. Audrey’s cheque was in the post.

Jackie was delighted when a few days later Audrey received an apologetic letter and a cheque for £348.39 in reimbursement for the overpaid services charges.

Discussing the situation with BCHA’s housing and support director Brian Swann, Streetwise accepted that there had been an inexplicable internal office communication breakdown which didn’t necessarily reflect badly on the charity’s core caring values.

He offered Jackie and Audrey profuse apologies for not meeting their high service standards but was anxious to ensure it couldn’t happen again.

‘It’s all a bit of a puzzle and still trying to find out what went wrong,’ he said.

‘We’re talking with the staff because we believe it’s important to learn from this and put it right.’