Service charges for council and housing association tenants

Our guide for council and housing association tenants

What is a service charge?

Service charges pay for things like:

  • cleaning, lighting and maintenance of shared areas like stairwells and hallways

  • looking after gardens in shared areas

  • hot water and heating if there is a communal system

  • entry systems, lifts and rubbish chutes in a block of flats

  • caretakers, wardens and emergency alarm systems

  • buildings insurance and management fees

Service charges could be included in your rent or paid separately.

You only have to pay a service charge if your tenancy agreement says so.

Your agreement should say:

  • what the service charge is for

  • how the amount is worked out

  • when it can go up

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Can benefits pay the service charge?

Universal credit or housing benefit can cover service charges for things like:

  • repairs and cleaning in shared areas

  • costs of lifts and rubbish collection

  • external window cleaning (not on the ground floor for UC claimants)

  • heating and lighting of stairways and shared entrances

Service charges not covered by benefits

  • energy and water bills for your home

  • individual emergency alarm systems

  • wardens or caretakers

  • personal care or support

Leave a message in your universal credit journal to ask what service charges your benefits cover. If you claim housing benefit, ask your council.

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When can a service charge increase?

Most service charges go up in April each year.

Your tenancy agreement might say how the service charge will increase. For example, in line with inflation.

Your landlord might put the charge up because the cost of the service has gone up. For example, because of increased energy costs.

You need to pay your service charge if you can.

Not paying can lead to eviction. Tell your landlord if you are struggling to pay.

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Complain about a service charge increase

If other residents are unhappy with an increase, take action as a group.

You could put more pressure on your landlord if you complain and campaign together.

The government says councils and housing associations should try to limit increases to no more than 7% from 1 April 2023.

Use our letter template

Start with a complaint.

Copy the template into an email to your landlord.

[Use the subject: Unreasonable service charge increase]

I’m writing about the service charge for my home at [your address].

You have told me that this year my service charge is £XX.

Last year, my service charge was £XX.

The increase is not reasonable because [for example, it is more than 7%].

Please send me details of how you calculated the increase.

Please consider this a formal complaint and send me a copy of your complaints process.

Please contact me as soon as possible to discuss this.

You can also send the letter as an email attachment or by post:

Complain to the Housing Ombudsman

You can complain if you're not happy with the final response from your landlord.

You can only complain about things like:

  • mistakes in working out the service charge

  • how your landlord communicated with you about the increase or dealt with your complaint

The Ombudsman can tell your landlord to look at a calculation error or complaint again.

The Ombudsman cannot:

  • change the amount you have to pay

  • decide if an increase is reasonable

How to complain to the Housing Ombudsman

You can use the Housing Ombudsman online complaint form.

If you cannot use the form you can:

  • phone them on 0300 111 3000

  • email: info@housing-ombudsman.org.uk

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Contact your local councillor or MP

Ask your councillor or MP to help you challenge your landlord.

You can contact them as a group if other residents also want to complain. This can show that a lot of residents are unhappy.

Use our letter template to contact your councillor or MP.

[Use the subject: Help to challenge a service charge increase]

I’m writing to ask for your help.

I am a tenant of [council or housing association name].

My service charge has increased and I am struggling to afford it.

The increase is not reasonable because [for example, it is more than 7%].

I would like you to help me challenge this service charge increase.

Please contact me as soon as possible to discuss this.

You can also send the letter as an email attachment or by post:

Search for their contact details

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Challenge a service charge at a tribunal

This advice is for housing association tenants only.

Council tenants do not have the option of going to tribunal.

What is a tribunal?

A tribunal is like a court but less formal.

It can decide if the service charge is reasonable.

You need to fill in a form and email it back to your regional tribunal.

The email addresses are on Form Leasehold 3.

How much it costs

It costs:

  • £100 to apply

  • £200 for a hearing

If you’re on benefits or a low income, you can apply for help with tribunal fees on GOV.UK

How to fill in the form

Question 1 - Write your name and contact details

Question 3 - Describe the type of home you live in

Question 4 - Write your landlord's name and address as set out on your tenancy agreement

Question 5 - Leave this blank

Question 6 - Add details of any recognised tenant's association

Question 7C - Cross 'No' unless you live in a shared ownership home

Question 8 - Include details of any other tenants in your block who are challenging their service charge at a tribunal

Question 9 - Cross 'No'

Question 10 - Cross 'No'

Question 11 - Cross 'Yes' if you are happy for the tribunal to decide based on the information on your form. Cross 'No' if you want a hearing that you can attend in person to explain things. There is a £200 fee for a hearing.

Question 12 - Cross 'Fast track'. If the case is very complicated or there are lots of documents cross 'Standard track'.

Question 13 - Only include dates that you cannot attend. If you give lots of dates it will take longer for a hearing date.

Question 14 - Give details if you need a translator

Question 15 - Include a copy of your tenancy agreement or lease

Question 16 - Sign and date the form

Page 10 on the form

This is where you set out what is not reasonable about the service charge.

Box 1 - Write down the parts of the charge you are not happy with. For example, communal heating and hot water - £30 a week.

Box 2 - Write: Is the proposed service charge increase lawful and reasonable?

Box 3 - Examples of things you could include:

  • you are being charged for services that you do not get

  • the charge is much higher than the cost of the service

  • the tenancy agreement says service charge increases must be reasonable

You can add a link to the government rent policy statement if your rent increase is more than 7%. See paragraph 2.37.

What happens next

The tribunal might write to you and ask you to send more documents to them or your landlord. Make sure you read letters carefully and do things by the dates on them.

The tribunal tells you the date and time of the hearing if there is one.

The tribunal makes a decision based on information on your form, information from your landlord and what happens at the hearing.

Other tribunals

You can also go to a tribunal if you're:

  • a leaseholder

  • a shared ownership homeowner

  • someone who bought under right to buy

Read about leasehold services charges.

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Last updated: 7 June 2023

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