At this time of year BHT reviews its rents and service charges. We are always mindful that Brighton and Hove is a high rent, low income area. Average rents in the private rented sector are now over £1,050 per month, and the average one bed flat and/or bedsit is close to £1,000 per month.
This year, regrettably, we are increasing service charges on 72 of our properties that we rent from private landlords. These increases will lead to a higher overall rent although we are lowering the actual core rent. In other properties we will be decreasing or freezing rents.
Previously we have not reflected the true costs of managing the properties. Recent government policy changes and reductions in support mean that for us to continue to provide this housing, we must start to recover the true costs.
The increase in service charge reflects the following costs of providing an intensive housing management service. We spend more time with our tenants than most landlords would. Many of our tenants have numeracy and literacy problems, and often have not held a tenancy before or not for a significant period of time. We provide extra assistance with Housing Benefit claims and other welfare benefits assistance and support, including completion of claims on line. We also spend more on staff help to sustain tenancies, especially liaison with other agencies and referrals to relevant support network.
The increase also reflects the costs associated with repairs and utility issues. The management of repairs and others factors, for example the number of tenants who lose their keys or abandon our properties, has led to increased staff time and costs. We also spend more time assisting with utility set up and use of meters.
We have recently employed a new full time tenancy officer to meet increased workload.
These increases will be eligible for housing benefit and our Income Recovery Team will provide further advice for those affected. We recognise that for those in employment, these increases may not be fully covered by Housing Benefit or covered at all, depending on their income. We regret that these increases are necessary. However, our overall weekly charge is still considerably below market levels which are now approaching £250 per week for a one bedroom flat or bedsit.