Double whammy

Big changes have recently come into force with regard to council house rents in Pembrokeshire.
For anyone with a hour or two to spare the details can be found in the Housing Act (Wales) 2015, though I can’t promise you a page turner and if you get past 30 minutes without nodding off you have a longer attention span than me.
However, as there are a large number of council tenants living in my ward who are likely to be adversely affected by this legislation, I felt I had to do my duty.
One of the biggest changes concerns what is known as the “depooling” of service charges (grass cutting, warden services, communal areas etc).
Currently these charges are aggregated/pooled together and the costs shared across everyone’s rents.
So, tenants with  no grass in front of their houses still have to pay a small contribution to grass cutting.
Addressing last Monday’s meeting of cabinet the member with responsibility for housing, Alison Lee, outlined the situation thus:
“As everyone should know by now, all social landlords must now depool service charges. In other words, if a household receives additional services only they and their neighbours receiving them should pay for them. For instance if you live in a block of flats with communal services all those residents should pay, but no one else.
This is from Welsh Government and is not a PCC decision and also depooling costs are to cover expenditure – there is no profit to Pembrokeshire County Council . . .”.
That is an accurate account, except for the eight words at the end.
Unfortunately this depooling process turns out to a bit more complicated than it seems at first sight.
As I have warned at the two seminars on the subject any attempt to allocate grass cutting costs to individual households is fraught with problems.
Indeed, as I have pointed out on more than one occasion, the outlay required to measure all these plots of grass; work out how much it costs to cut them; and allocate the result to each individual tenant is likely to exceed any income generated.
It seems that the council agree with me because grass cutting charges have been kicked into the long grass.
However, calculations for services at sheltered accommodation are a bit easier and having done the sums the council has told residents that they are liable to pay some £12 a week more.
And that’s where the statement about “no profit” becomes problematic because tenants are already paying for these services through the original pooled system.
The upshot is that the council is collecting the cost of sheltered accommodation services twice – one through the pooled charges and again through the depooled charges.
During my time in business, getting paid once was sometimes a challenge – twice, the stuff of dreams.
Despite my concerns about double-charging, which I conveyed to the Leader and Cllr Lee ahead of Monday’s meeting, the Cabinet nodded through these depooling proposals in seven minutes flat.
The only question came from Cllr Huw George and, though his contribution didn’t match the silliness of “the taxman wins in each and every way” or “there are two sides to every pancake”, it was close-run thing.
Actually seven minutes was quite leisurely because the other three housing items on the agenda were disposed of in a total of five minutes.
Considering that the people most badly affected are those living in sheltered accommodation, the silence of Cllr Simon Hancock who styles himself “Older Persons Champion” was deafening.
I now asked the chairman of the older persons scrutiny committee to take a closer look at this double-charging issue by calling-in the cabinet decision on depooling.
That will at least ensure that the issue is given a more thorough airing than it received from the collection of pathetic yes-men and women who make up the Cabinet.