That the Committee would note the report – it was also agreed that Lewisham Homes (or its successor) should give future consideration to a dispute resolution process for service charge disagreements. In addition – the Committee recommended that a set time frame should be written into the service charge policy for expected responses to leaseholder queries relating to their service charges.
5.1 Fen Beckman introduced the report – noting the proposed to the paper presented to the Committee and outlining the process for setting service charges. It was noted that the government was due to make a decision on rent increases for next year.
5.2 Fen Beckman and Jon Kanareck responded to questions from the Committee – the following key points were noted:
· The estimated costs for service charges were sent out in April – and a final bill was presented 18 months later. Costs between the two fluctuated for a number of reasons. There were occasionally refunds for services but the intention was to make charges as accurate as possible.
· There were a number of complaints and challenges to service charges. Due to the quality of the systems being used to record charges the response for individual properties took time. The new housing management system would make this system easier (and would enable an element of self service).
· Regenter B3 (responsible for the Brockley PFI) were engaged in the process and consulted in the same way as Lewisham Homes.
· A number of cases were considered by the first tier tribunal for service charge decisions – these related primarily to major works. Given the current development programme it was possible there would be an increased number of cases being considered by the tribunal in future.
· The intention was to respond to leaseholders regarding service charge queries within 20 days. In the case of complaints the target response time was 10 days. This might be considered as part of the potential future housing management arrangements.
· The process of responding to queries could be complicated and time consuming. Approximately 60-80% of queries were answered within the 20 day period.
· A response would be provided on the extent of the Council’s flexibility to move away from the existing formula for raising the service charges for Regenter B3 service charge decisions.
5.3 In Committee discussions the following key point was also noted:
· Members would welcome the inclusion of a target response time for queries raised by leaseholders relating to their service charges.
5.4 A member of the public was invited to address the Committee about the increase in service charges for Regenter B3 – they queried, in particular, the contractual arrangement between the Council and Regenter B3 to raise service charges by the retail price index measure of inflation +1%.
5.5 Fen Beckman and Jon Kanareck advised the Committee that once the consultation on rent increases closed the Council would consult with residents on the service charge increase for the upcoming year. It was noted that the estimated charge would take into account the increases for salaries, energy and repairs.
5.6 Resolved: that the Committee would note the report – it was also agreed that Lewisham Homes (or its successor) should give future consideration to a dispute resolution process for service charge disagreements. In addition – the Committee recommended that a set time frame should be written into the service charge policy for expected responses to leaseholder queries relating to their service charges.