COUNCIL tenants are paying twice for service charges and “it is disgraceful” a councillor said this week, calling it a “rent increase by stealth.”
At audit committee on Tuesday (February 2) Cllr Mike Stoddart said he had raised doubts about changes made to council house rent back in 2016 and 2018 when service charges were ‘de-pooled’ and recharged to those directly using the services, without any lowering of the base rent.
“There is rent and then there are service charges to individuals, they are separate matters, the legislation treated them separately.
“It’s a basic injustice we have got in the system, I think the council is charging double for service charges.
“It’s a public authority behaving like Del Boy. It’s been admitted here this morning that we didn’t remove all these service charges from the rent because it enabled us to get closer to the target rent, it’s a rent increase by stealth and I think it’s a disgrace really,” said Cllr Stoddart.
In response to the face the decision had been taken by full council, with reports noting concerns had been raised, he added: “Just because the council have passed something doesn’t mean it is right.”
He estimated that around £2 a week extra was on the base rent, which would be a substantial amount to pay back after five years if it was required.
One of his constituents had told him his service charges had risen by £12 a week which to “someone on a small basic pension, it’s a small fortune.”
Cllr Jacob Williams, and Cllr Stoddart, said that legal challenge could result from the situation.
Cllr Williams said as an audit committee “I don’t think it would be proper for us to acknowledge it and not do anything.”
The Welsh Government target rent is higher than what is charged in Pembrokeshire and the authority has been making adjustments to move closer to it over recent years, with all void properties brought to the required level before re-letting.
A report to Tuesday’s meeting, in response to Cllr Stoddart’s questions late last year, states:
“It is considered that a robust rationale for including every reasonable step has taken to ensure that the de-pooling of service charges has been undertaken in a fair and equitable manner as well as justification for not reviewing base rent levels as a result.
“It is acknowledged that there are circumstances where it may be considered that tenants could be paying for services from within their rent that they would not directly receive the benefit of, but the research undertaken into the practicality and cost-effectiveness of de-pooling these costs was not considered to be a reasonable undertaking.”
The committee agreed that the director of resources be asked to look at the points raised by Cllr Stoddart and any possible ways of resolving it before preparing a report for the next meeting, along with an update from the head of housing on the current Welsh Government position on its Rent and Service Charge Standard guidance.