CONTACT Aster and pay what you can was the message to leaseholders charged with maintenance bills of nearly £40,000 from a housing provider during a town council meeting.

An Aster representative faced a barrage of questions from Andover town councillors and residents about issues including garage rent hikes and the Kingsway Gardens maintenance charges after being invited to attend a recent meeting held in the Guildhall.

The company’s head of housing for Hampshire, Rebecca Outram, gave a presentation to the council detailing Aster’s priorities as an ethical housing provider, targets the company are meeting and their commitment to providing new homes across the county and nationwide.

Ms Outram also outlined how the company’s recent rebranding has saved them money which will be used to provide more affordable homes.

But following the presentation councillors took the opportunity to question the housing chief about issues across the town involving Aster’s treatment of residents, both tenants and leaseholders.

Regarding the 70 per cent rise in garage rents as reported by this paper in March, Cllr Barbara Long said: “Some of the rents are being increased by 72 per cent, how can you justify that?”

Ms Outram explained that Aster had reviewed their garage prices by comparing against market rental values, raising their rents accordingly but remaining under market value.

She said: “We are a registered social housing provider not a registered provider of garages – we don’t have to provide garages.”

Other councillors questioned whether Aster are contributing to Andover’s parking crisis when they should be working to improve the situation.

The housing boss responded by saying that parking was a national problem and not an issue for them specifically.

Councillors also addressed the issue of Kingsway Gardens where Aster are taking leaseholders of Stuart, York, Tudor, Saxon and Atholl Courts to a tribunal after issuing them with maintenance bills of up to £37,000.

As reported, the bills have been sent out to homeowners and the contract signed for the work to be carried out by Stepnell Limited, despite Aster notifying them of legal proceedings to determine what maintenance work should be done and who should be responsible for payment.

Speaking about Aster’s treatment of the leaseholders and the stress the charges are putting on them, Cllr Andy Fitchet, who has supported the residents, said: “When you have had to stop people committing suicide and people are off work with depression, I’m sorry but it is simply not good enough.”

Justifying Aster’s actions, Ms Outram said: “There are extensive works that need to be done.

"What we have done is put all of the reports to a first tier tribunal which will make a decision about what are fair and reasonable repairs and what is fair and reasonable to be passed on to the leaseholders.”

Leaseholder Emma Noble asked what she should do as the current bills state that all monies should have been paid in full this month despite the awaited tribunal.

Ms Outram responded: “It is unfortunate that the work has started before the first tier tribunal has come through.

"Contact us and to pay a small amount each month and when the first tier tribunal makes its ruling it will make a decision on how to pay.”

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Andy Fitchet said: “Aster have proven that they have no interest in anything but pounds and pence.

"They are immoral in their behaviour towards Kingsway Gardens leaseholders.

"Telling residents they are to pay whatever they can means that the tenants have to accept that they are reasonable costs when they simply aren’t reasonable.

"There is no concern for people’s welfare, mentally or physically.”