How many Service Charges does it take to change a lightbulb

In my small block of flats the most common thing that needs periodic attention is to change the light bulb in the stairwell. For many years we paid our rent and when required rang to say ” can we have a new light bulb, please ?” Out the electrician would come and replace our light bulb. This process worked well.

This is a light bulb, not a Service Charge

Then three or four years ago the landlord decided it was too simple for them to pay the electric bill for the light bulb in the stairwell and for us to reimburse by paying the rent. No, apparently, having a light in the stairwell was a service that was provided to us. The cost of that service was no longer to be included in the rent, but to be recovered by a separate Service Charge. Then our Housing Professionals must have been asked to sit in a room and think about all the services that were provided to us grateful tenants. In due course we were given the output  of their brainstorming exercise. It seemed that we greedy tenants had been in receipt of no less than 21 services that were not part of the rent at all and that we had been getting almost for free. That situation was to be put right. So we were presented with a list of Service Charges along with their estimated costs, but the comforting reassurance that Housing Benefit would pick up the tab. Well reassuring for those in receipt of Housing Benefit, not so reassuring for those who are not, or indeed the Chancellor of the Exchequer. So here is the list of Services we were asked to pay for separately to the rent whenever they were applicable, mainly relating to areas outside our front doors that make up the twilight world  known as ‘Communal Area’ :

  1. Electricity & lighting
  2. Heating & Hot water
  3. Water Tanks
  4. Fire Fighting & smoke alarm maintenance
  5. Door entry system maintenance
  6. Furniture, fixtures & fittings
  7. Catering services
  8. Lift maintenance
  9. Electrical appliance testing
  10. Pest control
  11. Refuse removal
  12. Grounds & tree maintenance
  13. Snow & ice clearance
  14. TV aerial/amplifier system maintenance
  15. Depreciation
  16. Management charges
  17. Heating & Hot water to property
  18. Water to property
  19. Electricity to property
  20. Catering services to property
  21. Other service costs ( I kid you not ! )

That was fine apart from the fact that not all the headings would meet the requirements of eligibility for payment by Housing Benefit. All the costs were estimated for the coming year and I, and presumably Housing Benefit, paid up where appropriate. At the end of the year it turned out the estimated costs were only overcharged by a trifling seventy per cent. Not a problem for me as the following year the charges were reduced. I did not mind, but not so sure the Chancellor of the Exchequer was happy to pay extra Housing Benefit a year in advance. But that’s his problem, maybe he did not notice. Then in December 2012 the Department for Work & Pensions published a list of Eligible Service Charges that would be met by Housing Benefit. With an authorised list to look at you could guarantee that anything not already charged for would soon be found to be an essential service to improve the happiness of tenants. Our tenancy agreements  state that tenants are responsible for the cleanliness of the communal areas. The blocks of flats, that I live in, are just small buildings with 4 flats ( 2 up 2 down ) and could be called ‘maisonettes’. We looked after the communal areas for years and all tenants used the same window cleaner. But we could no longer do this on our own. We had to have cleaners for the stairs and the flats on the first floor only ( for health & safety reasons ) had to have their windows cleaned by a contractor. The ground floor flats could still happily clean their own windows. Naturally the costs of all this work we were assured would be chargeable to Housing Benefit, assuming you were eligible. Now with all the political furore surrounding Housing Benefit over the last few years you might think a rational person would not seek to further increase the growth rate of this Benefit bill beyond the inflation busting formulas that already applied to the rents. Still you must appreciate that these decisions are made by Housing Professionals, so normal rules of common sense  do not apply. So we now have an additional two Service Charges to pay : 22. Cleaning 23. Window cleaning The landlord now has an extremely large profit surplus. Now that all these services are charged separately from the rent and generously over estimated a year in advance it inclines you  to have a light bulb moment.

This is a thought not a light bulb
This is a thought not a light bulb

   What is the rent actually supposed to be for ? And that I will discuss another time.