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New service charge - Q&As updated 08.11.17

From April 2018 we’ll be introducing a service charge, an average of 84p per week, to go towards estate maintenance costs. Please don’t worry- rents will go down by a similar amount at the same time so there should be little or no difference in what you’ll pay.

Many housing providers already have such service charges in place.  It’s something we’ve so far managed to avoid but now need to help us meet part of the cost to maintain your estates and neighbourhoods. This charge will also ensure that we can continue to maintain jobs and services, and deliver our improvement plans. Here are some answers to questions you may have about it..

Will my housing costs increase?

If your rent is higher than £85 per week, you should see an overall reduction in the amount you will pay from April 2018. If your rent is less than £85 per week, you may need to pay a few pence extra. This is because the charge we’re looking to introduce will only be brought in in April 2018, at the same time your rent will go down. The rent reduction will be an average of 84p and because the service charge will average the same amount, there should be little or no difference in what you pay.

What services will I be charged for?

This service charge will go towards helping us maintain our estates and the land that we’re responsible for.

Services include:

• Grass cutting,
• Clearing fly tipping,
• Inspecting and the safe maintaining of trees,
• Inspecting and repairing footpaths,
• Maintaining shrub beds,
• Controlling weeds.

What if I don’t use these services?

We understand that you might not always feel the benefit of our estate maintenance and some might have more exposure than others when it comes to seeing the different types of work. However we maintain estates in the interests of all customers. Identifying exactly how much each customer benefits from these services by would be extremely contentious and very difficult, so we’ve decided on a common charge as the best way forward.

Where can I get more information about grounds maintenance?

For more information on our grounds maintenance standards and how to get in touch to report issues with grass cutting, shrub beds and hedges on our communal areas, click here.

How will it affect me if I receive Housing Benefit or Universal Credit?

Under current legislation, this charge is eligible for benefit. The amount of benefit you receive will be calculated by the Revenue and Benefits Unit. The amount you receive for your rent will go down by the same amount. The Government is constantly reviewing the benefits it pays out, so we always monitor the situation so we understand what changes mean for you.

What if I live in a sheltered housing property and already pay a service charge?

We won’t place a further charge on your property. The charge you already pay is called an Intensive Management Service Charge and you can see this on your quarterly rent statement.

What if I don’t pay the charge?

The charge will be part of your tenancy and treated in the same way as your rent, therefore subject to the same recovery action as rent arrears.

Will there be further service charges in the future?

Each year we review all our services, costs and what you pay for your home, so we can’t say now what you’ll pay in 2019 and beyond. If you will be potentially affected by any future proposals for additional service charges, we will consult you first.

I’m worried that I can’t afford my rent, what can I do?

We can help you if you’re worried about your finances.

We can support you to:

• Review your income and benefits,
• Apply for emergency payments, called Discretionary Housing Benefits, from Bolton Council’s Housing Benefits Service,
• Help you organise your payments to creditors if you have debts,
• Help you manage your budget,
• Help you with the right housing options for your circumstances,
• Arrange a payment plan for your rent if you’re in arrears.

If you would like help to deal with your rent payments, household bills or debts, please phone our Money Advice Team in confidence on 01204 329868. The advice our team gives is impartial and fully qualified.

Remember, we also have a wide range of information to help you maximise your money on our website. Click here.

Here's a downloadable version of these Q&As.

Service charge Q&A's [pdf] 276KB

Added Q&As 3.11.17

Why are we introducing a service charge when rents have decreased?

We’re introducing the charge from April to make sure we can continue deliver all of the services we currently provide. The charge will enable us to carry on providing things like:

  • Support services for older and vulnerable people
  • House building
  • Our ongoing capital improvement programme (such as replacing roofs, kitchens, bathrooms, fencing etc)
  • Employment training and support
  • Community activities
  • Repairs and maintenance
  • Looking after our estates.

The charge is set at the same level and at the same time as the cut in rents and should mean that most, if not all, tenants won’t be paying more to us in 2019 than they were in 2018.

If people do find themselves worse off as a result of this service charge, we’ll consider how we can help based on their specific circumstances.

Are Bolton at Home rents higher than the national average?

Bolton at Home’s rent levels are good value compared to other providers of social housing locally, regionally and nationally. We also compare favourably to the private rented sector in terms of cost, quality and service provision. Sometimes ours might look higher but we only charge our rents over 48 weeks..

Does Bolton at Home receive any extra funding from Bolton Council?

No, not for estate maintenance services on Bolton at Home land.

What are the legal implications/steps of introducing a service charge?

We sought comprehensive legal advice before proposing the introduction of a service charge for estate maintenance. The proposal will be considered by Bolton at Home’s Board following customer feedback.

Service charges are regulated by law and housing organisations can’t charge more for a service than the service costs.

Does Bolton Council provide estate maintenance services for Bolton at Home properties and land?

No, we’re responsible for estate maintenance in our neighbourhoods. The majority of this service is provided to Bolton at Home by Glendale, after a competitive tendering process

Added Q&As 08.11.17

I thought I paid for estate maintenance in my Council Tax. Are Bolton at Home tenants being asked to pay twice for the same thing?

As a Bolton at Home tenant you have always paid towards estate maintenance services through your rent, not Council Tax.

This was also the case before Bolton at Home took over the ownership of houses and estates formerly owned by Bolton Council, in March 2011.

The Council Tax you pay maintains the land and services owned and provided by the council.

Is it legal?

Yes and many housing providers already have service charges in place for their tenants.

Still, we have been careful and taken the necessary legal steps to ensure we are right and proper in our approach as we seek to minimise the potential impact on tenants.

Has this service charge been introduced at the council’s request, or is any of this money going to the council?

No, we are completely separate to Bolton Council and the service charge has not been introduced at their request.

Each year we review all our services, costs and what you pay for your home, as part of our business plan which is approved by Bolton at Home’s Board.

Is the article in Door to Door the only way tenants have been informed about the service charge?

As well as sending the article to every tenant in our autumn issue of the Door to Door newsletter, we:       

  • Set-up this page on our website to answer potential questions you might have and to respond to new enquiries about the service charge.
  • Have asked for your views via our online feedback form and a paper version that you can send back to us by FREEPOST.
  • Shared our feedback form with Voices, a group of tenants who we consult with on different topics.
  • Produced a customer leaflet about the service charge, which has been available from our UCAN centres and offices.
  • Are consulting a number of tenant and resident associations and community groups in person.

Please take the opportunity to tell us your views on how the service charge will affect you and what we should do to help tenants who might struggle if they believe they’ll be worse off when the service charge is introduced.

Complete our survey here.

Media enquiries

We’re happy to comment on current housing and related issues.

For more information contact Andrew Pilkington, Marketing and Communications Manager, on 01204 329714 or email andrew.pilkington@boltonathome.org.uk