Lately I’ve been transfixed by the British Parliament Channel. I’ve watched the various shenanigans, sometimes live, in the House of Commons, the House of Lords, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and various Select Committees.
One thing you can definitely say about British administration is that it is done with a panache and thoroughness that I truly enjoy.
I recently watched the BBC TV licensing department on the receiving end of a veritable grilling. Imagine this: the grand inquisitors were concerned that vulnerable people with no bank account were paying 1.25 pounds per quarter more than everyone else. Also there was a sharp intake of breath when it was stated that this premium of 5 pounds per year was amassing a small fortune of 16 million pounds every year.
This is an excerpt from the oral evidence given at the Public Accounts Committee re the BBC Licence Fee Inquiry:
“ Chris Evans: Ms Doubtfire, how much extra are you making out of the licence fee if people are paying by direct debit? Do you have any idea of that? And what is that money being used for? Is it just going straight into the BBC pot, or is it being directed towards citizens advice bureaux, or--
Chair: So how much is it hypothecated, or does it go into the pot?
Pipa Doubtfire: It goes straight into the consolidated fund, as do all other payments collected, and it’s about £16 million per annum.
Chair: £16 million per annum?
Pipa Doubtfire: That is the total value of the £5 premium.
Q26 Chair: Wow. And have you done an analysis of which households—the demographics—are paying that?”
I'm green with envy. For years now I’ve been shouting from every possible rooftop as to how all tenants, including poor, vulnerable tenants, are paying 2 to 3 times more than their multiple property owning landlords on their Arms bills. Or how poor, vulnerable tenants are not able to access the rent subsidy because their landlords refuse to rent with a contract.
And we’re not talking about 5 pounds per calendar year here. Definitely not – we’re talking rich pickings – tenants are overpaying by 100 % or even more. Obscene or what?
We’re talking €5.14 euro per cubic metre of water instead of the €1.40 euro per cubic metre of water that multiple property owning landlords pay for their consumption of water in their own primary residence. We’re talking 25 c per unit of electricity instead of the 10 c per unit of electricity that multiple property owning landlords pay for their consumption of electricity in their own primary residence. We’re talking of no eco reductions for tenants even if they consume less than 1 750 units per person per year. On the other hand, multiple property owning landlords enjoy this eco reduction, as a matter of course.
On the incorrect tariff, we paid €6 580.12 instead of €3 270.28, at the correct tariff, for 17 670 units of electricity and 417 units of water over a period of 35 months. That’s an overcharge of 101%. This is widespread and across the board. Just have a read of some of the comments of members of my tenant support group, which now numbers 1 870 members:
- So, What can I do. We have made an agreement with the landlord, that We pay 100 euros per month in advance and then we check afterwards from the ARMS if I have overpaid or underpaid. Now the landlord has received a bill from last year, which i have basically paid in advance last year. but now he is calculating it towards this year as 1 month payment when the bill clearly shows that it is for november AND december last year and the amount is 129 euros. For that time I have paid 200 euros. But now he is calculating as 1 month bill for this year. He starts to yell when I explain this to him and says "Case is closed", Am i being frauded or is he just not understanding. I consider this as he is violating our contract.
- Hello, my name is XXX, I am new here in this group. I am XXXX years old, XXXXXX and live and work in Malta for over XXX years. I have a big problem with my previous landlord, a XXXX. She wants to cheat me because of overpayments of electricity and water charges. I moved out of the apartment at the end of XXXXX because my landlord wanted to raise the rent suddenly by 200 Euro monthly. The leasing contract was finished at the end of 2016. Despite repeated reminders, she has not given me a copy of the original accounts of the past (XXXXXX). She refuses to repay too much paid monthly deposits on the grounds that there is nothing to be paid back. However, I have the consumption and was at ARMS Ltd., which have calculated me that I have to get several hundred euros back! Does anyone in the group know anything? What can I do? Who can help me? Is there an authority that handles such matters? A contact person, an address? I intend to make a criminal complaint for fraud at the police station. Are there any reports about this? It would be nice if there were also XXXXX speaking people in the group. My English is not so good. Also I do hard with facebook.
- Hi All, can someone answer this for me.. My landlord has us on a residential tariff HOWEVER the number of people registered is 0. If I do my calculation on ARMS website based on this, it is almost double of what we would be paying if the correct number of 3 is applied. I have spoken to him and he is refusing to change it as he says it will affect his main residence which has 5 people registered as he will no longer benefit from the discounted tariff. I have searched all over for an answer and have come up with nothing. Any help greatly appreciated. They are good landlords so I do not want to upset him but us paying double is ridiculous really. Thanks in advance”
What do I tell these people? It’s been nearly 4 years since I stood in a queue at the check out of a supermarket with my 5 year old son, to be told that my bank account had been frozen. Our ex landlord had decided to apply to the courts for a precautionary garnishee order on both my bank account and my salary. Why? Because I had found out that we were on the extortionate summer residence tariff and therefore we refused to CONTINUE OVERpaying.
Just what do I tell these people who come to the group for support and a way out of this nightmare situation? I am a teacher by profession. And yet I spend much of my precious free time away from my family writing to anyone who could do something about the situation most tenants living in Malta find themselves in. There are no checks and balances. No will to stop this. Instead, the milking of the ‘foreigner’, and the sacrifice of the ultra vulnerable Maltese tenant at the altar of this milking of the foreigner, continues.
In this time, I have tried to explain this to as many tenants as possible so that they are forewarned. I have also put pressure on Arms, the Minister for Energy, the Prime Minister – to stop this clearly abusive and criminal behaviour. I have written to the National Audit Office, the Office of the Ombudsman, the European Parliament, the European Commission... I have set up my own website and blogged - the European Parliament and the European Commission could publish a book with all my correspondence and documents.
And yet, still today, many tenants are being overcharged by hundreds, if not thousands, of euros every year. The Maltese government tries to fudge the issue. Lately, under the pressure from the EU, it has introduced Arms Form F2, temporary recognition of tenant in rented premises. My heart jumped and then sank when I saw that tenants will have to fork out a €466 deposit and a €50 application fee for the ‘privilege’ of paying for their consumption of water and electricity at the same rates as their multiple property owning landlords.
What of the ultra vulnerable tenant, on an ultra low income, maybe with children, who cannot afford the ever increasing rents? How is she EVER going to find an extra €466 euro or even an extra €50? How can this discrimination between tenant and landlord when it comes to cost of utilities even be LEGAL?
NO ONE cares. Not the then Minister for Energy or the Prime Minister or the Opposition who introduced this obscenely unfair and unwieldy billing system or the NAO or the Office of the Ombudsman. NO ONE CARES. The European Parliament and the European Commission keep my petition and my complaint open. But this doesn’t cut it any more. I need to be able to tell members of my tenant support group – It’s over. You can have access to your own Arms bill. You can apply for your own account. You can pay at the correct tariff without needing the signature of the landlord or a €466 deposit or a €50 application fee. You can apply for a refund of your stolen money.
Instead I get emails which contain this: “Please find enclosed the answer of the European Commission to our request to conduct a preliminary investigation into the issues that you raised in your petition.
Should you have any comments, please send them to us within 2 months.”
Stop. Please stop. No wonder Britain is Brexiting. You have incontrovertible evidence that tenants are being SYSTEMICALLY overcharged, and have been for years, in direct contravention of Article 12 of the TFEU. And yet, you are going to sit on this for another 2 months?!
In Westminster they grill the BBC TV licensing big shots and make a fuss about 5 pounds per year. AND people can watch the grilling on TV. AND people are asked which socioeconomic group is paying this extra 5 pounds per year. AND these big shots know exactly how much overcharge is being collected – in this case 16 million pounds every year.
Alla jbierek (God Bless), Arms hasn’t a clue as to how many tenants are on the incorrectly applied summer residence tariff or how much extra money they have stolen from tenants over the years or are not aware of any anomalies of a supposedly empty property showing consumptions of electricity and water which belie the ‘empty property’ tag. I could go on.
The UK may be Brexiting. But the Brits sure as heck know how to hound the hell out of any trumped up, out of touch CEO or Director or Whoever to put them firmly in their place. What are our higher authorities for if not to protect the interests of the Maltese citizen, the Maltese resident?
I feel sick to the core with the sorry excuses of our politicians, our higher authorities, our checks and balances. What are you all doing in power other than feeding at the trough, may I ask? Are you aware that you are meant to SERVE the public who pay your salaries? Are you aware that you are meant to put right these glaring injustices? Not 4 years later. BUT THE DAY THAT YOU ARE ALERTED TO THEM.
Politicians – you are failing at your job. Please wake up and smell the coffee.
Next step for me is the European Ombudsman. Beyond that, we’ll see.
Yours in frustration
Malta Tenant Support