Service charges planned for April 2019 to March 2020
From April 2019, and where it is appropriate, we will require some customers to pay an increased estate maintenance charge and some to pay a new service charge to cover the cost of lighting in communal areas. We are writing to customers this week (12 - 17 November) to explain these plans to introduce some further charges and to get feedback on the impact this might have. We are tailoring the letters to people’s circumstances and properties. This Q&A explains more.
What is changing?
From April 2019, we plan to increase the estate maintenance service charge from 84 pence to £1.41 per week. We also plan to introduce a communal lighting service charge of £1.14 per week for customers living in our blocks of flats.
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.
From April 2019, we plan to split out the estate maintenance and communal lighting service charges from your intensive housing management charge on your rent statement. The total service charges will still only increase by inflation as it does annually.
What is the reason for these charges?
Service charges like these have been commonplace in the UK housing sector for many years and we avoided introducing them for as long as we could.
We first introduced an estate maintenance service charge of 84 pence per week across all ‘general needs’ properties (excluding properties on affordable rents) in April 2018. This money was an essential contribution to meeting the costs involved in maintaining our neighbourhoods, providing community services and delivering improvements. For households, this coincided with a reduction in rents so people wouldn’t actually pay more overall.
Rent levels have gone down over successive years and service costs have naturally risen. Fair service charges mean housing providers can avoid cutting services and try to keep the impact on personal finances minimal, while rents have been lower. One of our main objectives is to support customers to be independent and communities to be sustainable, so we don’t want to make life difficult for you.
How will these charges affect me if I receive Housing Benefit or Universal Credit from 7 November onwards?
These charges are eligible for benefit / Universal Credit. The amount you receive will be calculated by the Revenue and Benefits Unit. The government is constantly reviewing the welfare it pays out, so we always monitor the situation to understand what any changes mean for you.
Do these charges affect my property?
The estate maintenance charges apply to all ‘general needs’ houses and flats.
The communal lighting charge will apply to general needs flats. For sheltered flats the charges are included in your intensive housing management charges.
What services does the estate maintenance charge cover?
This charge goes towards helping us maintain our estates and the land that we’re responsible for. Services include:
- Grass cutting
- Clearing fly tipping
- Inspecting and maintaining trees
- Inspecting and repairing footpaths
- Maintaining shrub beds
- Controlling weeds.
Doesn’t 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.
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?
No. 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.
What if I don’t use estate maintenance services?
We understand that you might not always feel the benefit of our estate maintenance. However, we maintain estates in the interests of all customers. Identifying exactly how much each customer benefits from these services would be extremely difficult, so we’ve decided on a common charge as the best way forward.
Does any of the money from these service charges go to the council?
No, we are completely separate to Bolton Council. 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.
Why can’t Bolton at Home absorb these increased costs?
We invest significantly to improve our neighbourhoods. This includes regeneration projects, community services and new housing developments to increase the supply of affordable housing to our communities.
We would not be able to do this vital work if we were to continue meeting the increased costs of maintenance and utilities entirely on our own, which is why we need support from our customers.
The charges will enable us to carry on providing things like:
- Support services for older and vulnerable people
- House building
- Our on-going capital improvement programme (such as replacing roofs, kitchens, bathrooms and fencing)
- Employment training and support
- Community activities
- Repairs and maintenance
- Looking after our estates.
Is this being done so Bolton at Home can make a profit?
No. Service charges are regulated by law and housing organisations can’t charge more for a service than the service costs. We have been careful and taken the necessary legal steps to ensure we are correct in our approach. We want to minimise any financial impact on you.
What if I don’t pay these charges?
Any estate maintenance or communal lighting service charges 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 the future.
I am 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 328000.
The advice our team gives is impartial and fully qualified. Between April 2017 and March 2018, the team helped 755 customers gain £1,422,785 in their pockets and £1,575,054 of financial help towards rent payments, through money advice.