ANDOVER residents are becoming increasingly worried that they will be unable to pay their rapidly rising sewage bills and service charges. 

Thirty-five properties in The Close, Hatherden, are connected to a plant operated by Aster Housing Association. 

The Close is made up of 14 private properties, with 12 belonging to the English Rural Housing Association and nine Aster homes.

Aster's cost breakdown for running and maintaining the plant increased from more than £13,000 in 2021/22 to £29,000 in 2022/23, meaning that residents' bills have increased substantially. 

The residents have yet to receive their bills for 2023/24, but they are concerned that the sewage charge will drastically rise. 

Andover Advertiser: Residents are angry at rising bills

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Test Valley Borough councillor Nick Adams-King has said that some Aster residents have received letters informing them that it will be putting a cap on maintenance charges of no more than £3,500 per year for homeowners.

The letter, seen by the Advertiser, also states Aster residents must clear their arrears within 10 days or contact the association to "avoid further action". 

Cllr Adams-King said Aster is currently charging "extortionate, unaffordable amounts to homeowners".

One Aster resident, who lives in The Close and did not want to be named, said in 2022/23 Aster residents in the street were faced with a bill of £829 per property, despite the housing association saying it would be £171.77. The Advertiser understands that this bill was later caped at £569.50.

She said the cost of sewage "is so hit and miss and it is extremely hard to budget".

She added: "We also get charged huge amounts for tankers. What I can tell you is we used to get accounts (a breakdown) for this but this stopped."

Aster has said that work needed to be carried out on the plant in November 2022 after the motor and gearbox failed, with further maintenance required in January this year. 

English Rural Housing collects the money for the sewage bill from its residents on behalf of Aster.

Each English Rural Housing Association resident receives an estimated annual service charge statement in October, which they begin paying monthly from the following April and includes their portion of the sewage bill from the previous year. 

English Rural Housing resident Stephen Rogerson has been living in The Close for the last 10 years with his wife.

The 76-year-old, who is retired, said that the estimated service charge costs for 2021/22 was £1,592 but residents actually ended up paying £2,996.34. While the estimated costs for 2022/23 was £3,200 but residents faced bills of £5,528.88. 

English Rural residents have now received their estimated service charge for 2023/2024 which Steve said shows an estimated £5,904.

Stephen continued said: “Given the current increases Aster appear to be making, we could end up having to pay double that figure in 2024/25.

“We are extremely worried with prices continuing to rise we have no idea what we will eventually have to pay. If the bill keeps going up we eventually won't be able to pay it because our money will just run out."

He said it is making him "feel really uncomfortable". 

Martin Wolstenholme, 64, is also an English Rural Housing resident and has lived in The Close for 19 years.

He said: "I am really concerned because I am soon going to be joining them [Steven and his wife] as a pensioner. This means that I will end up in the same situation and will be unable to pay if the prices keep going up.

"The most worrying thing is the uncertainty of what is coming down the line and whether we will be able to pay the bills." 

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English Rural’s resident services director, Kathryn Harrison: "We are actively collaborating with Aster Housing Association to address resident concerns at The Close, Hatherden, prioritising transparent communication and fair solutions. Ensuring affordable and well-managed living conditions for our rural residents is our top priority, and we are committed to resolving these issues swiftly."

An Aster spokesman said the the homes require a separate sewerage treatment system, which we must maintain to standards set by the Environment Agency which requires "ongoing investment".  

This means that it must pass "some of the cost on to customers in the homes concerned".

The sewage bills cover maintenance and repairs of the plant but residents told the Advertiser that the plant failed this year and took three months to fix.

An Aster spokesperson said: "Regarding specific repairs at the sewerage treatment plant at The Close in Hatherden, Andover, the motor and gearbox at the plant failed in October 2022 and needed to be replaced. Specialist parts were ordered and were delivered within five weeks and the work was completed in early November. In January 2023, the plant also needed a new sludge return pump and control panel.

“To minimise the financial impact of maintenance and repairs, we have put in place a cap on maintenance charges of no more than £3,500 per year for homeowners, and no more than £600 for our social housing tenants. During the year, we invested over £700,000 in subsidising these charges.

“We’re acutely aware of the financial strain that households are under at this time, so our financial wellbeing and accounts teams are on hand to help set up payment plans and to discuss any concerns customers have.

"We’re in regular contact with our customers, and we remain committed to supporting them as best we can. Customers receive annual estimates from us about charges for the plants, and customers at The Close last received these estimates in May 2023. Customers are not required to pay the full costs within a 10-day period.”