What is Catalyst doing about the increased Council Tax charges?
Recently some tenants who have moved into the new development have told us that they have experienced significant increases in their monthly council tax bills. This is a particularly an issue for people who pay their own bills because they work and/or are not claiming benefits.
For information, the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) sets council tax banding. It is not something that the local council or a housing association has any control over. The VOA takes into account the size, age, character and locality of the property and the banding of similar properties in the local area. Council tax is based on what a property would have sold for on a set date, which is 1 April 1991. Even new homes are valued on the basis of what they would have been worth on this date. You can find out more about how property is valued for council tax by visiting the council tax section of the VOA website www.voa.gov.uk
The Director of Customer Services at Catalyst has written to the VOA to appeal for the council tax bands for the rented properties in the new development to be set in line with similar sized homes on the existing Wornington Green Estate. As all of Catalyst’s new rented homes are social housing units in the footprint of the existing estate, built for our existing tenants, we believe that there is a strong case for the council tax banding to remain the same. We will let you know the outcome of our appeal when we hear back from the VOA.
NewmanFrancis, who provide the Independent Tenants’ Advice service for Wornington Green has also written to the VOA to lodge an appeal, individuals can also do the same.
Individuals can also apply for council tax benefit if they are concerned about the cost of their bills.
What can be done to help residents with increased service charges?
Residents can apply to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea for housing benefit to get help to cover the cost of rent and service charges if they are on benefits or are in work, but need help to pay their bills. Service charges relating to the property will all be eligible for housing benefit.
Tenants can also contact Staying First, our specialist independent debt and welfare advice service if they want help with budgeting and managing bills, a financial check or to see if they are entitled to benefits. The service is free and confidential.
Staying First can be contacted on 020 8996 8900 or you can visit their website www.stayingfirst.org.uk for more information.
What long term maintenance plans are in place for the new development?
A servicing and maintenance programme is currently in place for Block 1 of the new development to ensure that all necessary work on mechanical and electrical equipment is undertaken as required. A cyclical maintenance plan will also be developed for each block in the new development to ensure that the long term maintenance requirements are met.
Why are the service charges so much higher? Can you explain how the service charges for the new homes are calculated? Stiles Harold Williams (SHW) our managing agent for the new development has prepared the service charge budget for Block 1, which breaks down all costs for services in a financial year. The service charge budget has been approved by Catalyst.
The service charge costs for each home are based on the services they receive and the size of their home (in terms of m2), so service charges vary for different sized apartments, duplexes and houses. Tenants are given a breakdown of their service charges when they sign their new tenancy agreement.
Service charges include estate staff costs, cleaning and caretaking, servicing and maintenance costs for things like solar panels, fire and smoke alarms, water boosters, community heating equipment, communal TV and satellite systems and depreciation costs for items such as lifts.
Most service charges in the new development will be higher than on the existing Wornington Green Estate because residents benefit from more services, for example CCTV, video entry phones and fewer residents sharing a lift. All residents have to pay their service charges for the services they receive.
Tenants pay rent and service charges to Catalyst and can apply for housing benefit to help to cover costs.
To help to keep costs down in the new development Catalyst has a rent guarantee in place as part of its Wornington Green Residents’ Charter. Rent by itself is known as ‘net rent’. Net rent levels have been kept at the same levels as the existing Wornington Green Estate. For example, if a tenant moves from a one bedroom property to a one bedroom property in the new development their net rent will remain the same. Rent and service charge is ‘gross rent’ and this will vary because of the service charges, as outlined above.