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Rent and service charges FAQs

Rents and Service Charges FAQs 2020 – 21

What is my rent used for?

Your rent is used to manage, maintain and improve your home, strengthen your community and help fund the building of new homes.

How is my rent charged?

Your rent is charged on a weekly basis and is due weekly in advance.

This year payments are due from 6 April 2020 to 4 April 2021.

If you choose to pay fortnightly, your payment will need to cover the current week and week following. You can also pay monthly in advance. We check your account at the end of each week.

When are the rent free weeks?

The ‘rent-free weeks’ will be the weeks starting 28 December 2020 and 29 March 2021.

Our rent year runs from 6 April 2020 to 4 April 2021.

There will be 52 weeks during this period.

If you pay weekly, we ask you to pay your rent for the whole year over 50 weeks so that you will have two rent-free weeks. If you pay your rent by monthly Direct Debit your rent for the year is paid in 12 equal instalments. However you pay, the total for the year will be the same.

If you are in arrears, have a court order or have another arrangement in place to clear arrears, you will still be expected to make payments during the rent free weeks.

When a property is first let, how does PCH set the rent?

When PCH sets the rent for your home it will either be set at a “Social Rent” or at an “Affordable Rent”. Affordable rents are set higher than social rents.

What is a social rent?

A social rent is based on a Government formula which takes into account the number of bedrooms together with local wages and the open market value of the property.

What is an affordable rent?

An affordable rent is also set in accordance with Government guidance which says they can be charged at up to 80% of an equivalent property let by a landlord in the private market (inclusive of any service charge). Rents on newly built and acquired properties in the last 10 years are charged at 80% of market rent.  Rents on older properties will be charged at 76% of market rent from April 2020. The additional rent is used to support building new homes.

Why is my rent changing?

Like all social landlords, we follow the government’s guidelines relating to rents that we charge each year.  For the past 4 years this has meant that we have reduced PCH rents by 1% each year. We explained in the rent notification letter last year that this was the fourth and final year where rents would be going down by 1%.

Our “social rents” are amongst the lowest in the country and although any increase is difficult, PCH will continue to ensure that they will remain within the reach of local people.

From April 2020 we will be increasing most rents by 2.7% following the government’s guidelines. This is based on inflation at 1.7% (using the September 2019 Consumer Price Index) plus 1%. This increase will apply to most of our homes including newly built homes.

We know that any changes in your finances will be difficult. Your rent helps us to keep homes in good repair, make necessary improvements and build more affordable homes, so that we can meet the needs of local people both now and in the future. We know that your home is important to you and we make sure that your rent goes back into providing good quality affordable housing and supporting the communities where we work.

Over recent years some of our older homes have been relet at an ‘affordable rent’.  A small proportion of this rent contributes money to help support PCH in building much needed new homes for rent. This charge includes both the rent and service charges as a single combined charge.

We have the flexibility within the government’s guidelines to reduce these rents and have chosen to do so by up to 5% from April 2020. If this reduction on any specific home reduces the rent to a social rent then we will convert the home back to a social rent. If this is the case then we will also charge any service charges separately.    

Specific details of the changes to rents will be explained in individual rent notification letters due to be sent to residents at the end of February 2020.

What if I fall behind with my rent or service charges?

If you are having difficulty paying your rent and service charges please contact the Income Recovery and Financial Inclusion Team as soon as possible on Freephone 0800 028 0350 or (01752) 388121.

Money worries, especially debt, can have longstanding effects on your health, as well as having wider implications for you and your family. We work with a number of agencies that can help you resolve your problems in complete confidence.

Most people struggle from time to time to make ends meet and life can throw up unforeseen costs that result in you being short of money. There are however some key indications that you may have a debt problem. Are you:

 Having trouble paying your rent?

  • Having to borrow money to pay day to day living expenses?
  • Borrowing to meet outstanding debt repayments?
  • Struggling to meet minimum credit card payments?

Last year we supported hundreds of people to resolve their debt problems -if you are worrying about money and paying your rent please contact us as soon as possible.

How can I get help with my rent and service charges?

If you have a low income and do not get any help to pay your rent at present, you may be entitled to Housing Benefit or Universal Credit.

If you are of pension age and would like to make an application for Housing Benefit you can do this online at on the Plymouth City Council website or by contacting Plymouth City Council at their 1st Stop shop in the City Centre or by speaking to our Income Recovery and Financial Inclusion Team on Freephone 0800 028 0350 or (01752) 388121.

If you are of working age you will need to apply for Universal Credit which replaces a range of working age benefits and Tax Credits to simplify the system and make work pay. Universal Credit has been introduced in Plymouth and may apply to you. To find out if you can make a claim, and for the latest information, visit the Universal Credit section of the website or speak to our Income Recovery and Financial Inclusion Team on Freephone 0800 028 0350 or (01752) 388121.

I am receiving Housing Benefit. Do I need to reapply?

If you receive housing benefit now, you do not need to reapply.

You will receive a letter from the Housing Benefit Office that will tell you your new benefit entitlement and the revised amount you should pay each week.

Before receiving Universal Credit.

If you start claiming Universal Credit there will be a delay of around a month before your regular payments arrive, known as the waiting period - as Universal Credit is paid monthly in arrears. We advise keeping 4 weeks rent credit on your rent account to provide a financial cushion.

I am receiving Universal Credit. Do I need to reapply?

If you receive Universal Credit and there are any changes to your rent or service charges you need to contact the Department of Work and Pensions by signing into your Universal Credit journal to update your claim.

Your update on your Universal Credit Journal should be made as soon as possible from 6 April 2020 and BEFORE end of your assessment period.

Your assessment period ends 7 days before your payment date. You cannot /should not report any changes until the 6 April 2020 – if you do this too soon the update will not be actioned by the DWP.

 

Paying By Direct Debit

Direct Debit is the best way to pay your rent.

Direct Debit is safe and easy which is why a large number of our residents now choose to pay this way. If you set up a Direct Debit you are protected by the Direct Debit Guarantee. You can pay weekly, fortnightly, four weekly or monthly on any date you choose.

These payments should be made in advance in line with the terms of your tenancy agreement.

For more information or to set up a Direct Debit, contact us on Freephone 0800 028 0350 or (01752) 388121.

MyPCH

MyPCH is the online portal that puts you in control. If you want to check your rent account, you can do it through your MyPCH account. With MyPCH, you can also report repairs, update your contact details and make a comment or complaint online, 24 hours a day from your computer, tablet or phone.

Registering for a MyPCH account is easy. Just go to: https://mypch.plymouthcommunityhomes.co.uk/

Frequently asked questions about Service Charges

What is a service charge?

A service charge is a charge made for services we provide to your block or home that are not covered by the rent such as caretaking and block lighting. It covers communal services and, in some cases, individual services such as heating and hot water. 

We operate a variable service charge system. This means we will only charge you the actual amount it costs us for the services you receive. We aim to provide services in the most reasonable and cost effective way and to a standard acceptable to you, our residents.

Why are you sending out a service charge statement?

The service charge statement shows you the difference between the actual costs, compared to what we originally estimated for the period October 2018 to September 2019.

We have to estimate how much your service charge will be for the following 12 months. By law, if we make this charge, we have to make an adjustment when we know how much the services actually cost. We want to be open and transparent with you about these costs and the adjustment.

The estimate might be different from the actual cost due to things like changes in inflation or different products being used to provide services. Once we know the actual cost, we either add or deduct the difference from the estimated cost of the services for the next year (starting April 2020) to give your new service charge.

How does the affordability cap work?

PCH has an affordability cap for some tenants who pay service charges.

This cap only applies to you if you were a tenant before April 2011 and is due to the introduction of variable charges. We have tried to keep this information as clear as possible but if you have questions then please contact your Housing Officer.

If this applies to you, we have adjusted the service charge so you will not pay any more than what was your ongoing charge at 2011, uplifted by inflation +1% +50p for each year since April 2011.

Why should I pay for a lift, laundry or door entry control in my block if I don’t use them?

If you live in a block of flat with communal services, everyone in the block has access to the facilities. Whether you choose to use it or not, all residents in the block share the cost of communal services and the cost is shared between all properties in the Block, hence reducing the cost to you, the resident.

I am in a block and I know someone in another block who pays a different amount for the same service. Why is this?

Each block, however similar, will have costs that can vary. For example, one block may have more flats than another so the costs are spread among more residents. This makes the cost per resident lower. Some blocks have more grounds to maintain or larger courtyards to clean so the costs may be higher.

What is a management charge in my service charges?

There is a cost in running and managing the services provided to your block. These costs are covered by the management and administration charge.

This includes calculating the charges and adjustments, managing the contracts, making payments to our providers, providing information and consulting with residents. It will not be more than 15% of the total cost of service charges.

Will I get a refund if I am owed money for the period October 2018 to September 2019?

If we overestimated your service charge, any extra money you have paid will be taken into account by reducing your service charge for the year starting from April 2020.

Information about benefits

Bedroom Tax

If you are below pensionable age, receive Housing Benefit or Universal Credit and you have one or more spare bedrooms, the amount you receive will be reduced. You need to pay the difference, commonly known as the Bedroom Tax (or spare room subsidy), yourself. If you are having difficulty paying this, please contact us as soon as possible and we will do our best to help you and provide advice.

We are able to help anyone who wants to move to a smaller home and we have already helped many residents move to accommodation that suits their needs. If you would like to move to a smaller home please contact us.

Universal Credit

Universal Credit was introduced in Plymouth in 2016 as part of the national roll out by government. Universal Credit is the new single payment for people who are looking for work or on a low income. It replaces a range of working-age benefits including Job Seekers Allowance, Income Support, Employment and Support Allowance, Child Tax Credits, Working Tax Credits and Housing Benefit with a single calendar monthly payment.

If you currently receive Housing Benefit, this is paid directly to us as your landlord. Under Universal Credit, this will be paid to you with all your other benefits and you will then need to pay us your rent.

We realise that this is a big change but we will do everything we can to make this as easy as possible for you.

We contact people who we think may be affected to see if there is anything that they are concerned about or if they need any additional support.

If we speak to you about Universal Credit, we will need to ask you a lot of questions about your income, your outgoings and any debts you have – this information will be held in complete confidence. It is important that you are honest with us so that we can give you the right advice and help if you need it.

If you would like to find out more about Universal Credit and how it may affect you, contact our Income Recovery and Financial Inclusion Team on 0800 028 0350.

Benefit Cap

There is a limit in the total amount of welfare benefits that people of a working age can receive – this is called the Benefit Cap.

The Benefit Cap is £20,000. There are exemptions if you are in receipt of Personal Independence Payment / Disability Living Allowance/Support Group Employment and Support Allowance, Industrial Injuries Benefit, War Disablement Pensions, War Widow/Widowers benefits or if you work enough hours to get Working Tax Credit.

If you have any queries concerning the Benefit Cap and how it may affect you, please call the Income Recovery & Financial Inclusion Team on 0800 028 0350 or (01752) 388121.

If you need more information about your rent or service charges you can contact us:

PCH City Centre Shop

16-19 Frankfort Gate,

Plymouth PL1 1QD

Or 

Plymouth Community Homes

Head Office, Plumer House, Tailyour Road, Crownhill,

Plymouth PL6 5DH

Tel: 0808 230 6500 or (01752) 237990

Income Recovery and Financial Inclusion Team Tel: 0800 028 0350 or (01752) 388121