FOLLOWING extensive consultation, new service charges are being introduced for some housing tenants to cover £2million the housing department spends on grounds maintenance, lift maintenance, door entry systems and communal heating and lighting.
Leader of the Council and Portfolio Holder for Housing, Cllr Rob Gledhill said: “The Council already charges many tenants for extra services they receive like care taking and concierge, this is just an extension of that approach.
“It is not fair that a housing tenant in a house in Ockendon is paying for lift maintenance in Grays or tenants in Blackshots high rises paying for communal lighting in Stanford. These new service charges will only be used to cover the cost of the services provided to individual tenants ending this unfairness.”
All affected housing tenants were written to in February 2017 and invited to respond through a full consultation. The issue was put in front of the cross party Housing Overview and Scrutiny Committee on 13 December 2016 and 2 February 2017. Letters outlining each individual increase were sent to tenants in late August.
Cllr Gledhill added: “Let’s be clear, the grounds maintenance charges will not be paying for tenants to have their gardens mowed or communal electricity to light their homes. What may not be appreciated is that the housing department is responsible for a number of area based facilities – including 14 play parks, 50 hectares of green space,13 hectares of footpaths, a further 30 hectares of hard surfaces and over 2,000 trees. It also provides 4 million kilowatt hours of electricity for heating and lighting in our communal areas, helping to keep 3,000 of our tenants safe in their blocks.
“By applying these charges more fairly, it will free up £2 million of rental income per year to spend on much needed improvements to our Council homes.
“If basic rents had been increasing each year in line with the previous set framework – rather than the 1% reduction introduced by government – every tenant, on average, by next April would be paying an additional £8.36 in their basic rent. The impact of bringing in these charges is at most £7.65 per week, so overall, the tenants paying the charges will not be paying more than they would have done if the previous arrangements had continued. In addition, all of these charges can be included as part of the rent for Housing Benefit purposes.
“As a landlord, we want to maintain and improve our stock as well as build as many new homes as possible. To do this we need the Housing Revenue Account to keep pace with the necessary requirements of a modern service and ensure tenants are paying for the services they receive.”