Anger over rise in Cranbrook’s estate rent charge

PUBLISHED: 06:55 12 January 2018

The Estate Rent Charge meets the cost of maintaining the town's public open spaces, including Cranbrook's Hayes Square. Ref mhc 0716-40-15AW. Picture: Alex Walton

The Estate Rent Charge meets the cost of maintaining the town's public open spaces, including Cranbrook's Hayes Square. Ref mhc 0716-40-15AW. Picture: Alex Walton

Archant

A bill for just over £230 – delivered just three days before Christmas – has left Cranbrook residents fuming.

The Estate Rent Charge meets the cost of maintaining the town's public open spaces, including Cranbrook's Country Park. Ref mhc 1067-29-15TI. Picture: Terry Ife The Estate Rent Charge meets the cost of maintaining the town's public open spaces, including Cranbrook's Country Park. Ref mhc 1067-29-15TI. Picture: Terry Ife

The unexpected demand for payment caused uproar on social media, distressing many during the festive break.

One resident said the company which sent the letter was using ‘scare-mongering tactics’.

Another said the matter was a ‘disgrace’.

The estate and asset management company Blenheims sent the bill on behalf of the Cranbrook Consortium and FPCR (which provides the town’s landscape and horicultural services).

In the letter – delivered to all Cranbrook households on Friday, December 22 – Blenheims explained that the annual Estate Rent Charge (ERC), which meets the cost of maintaining the public open spaces and amenity areas had been reviewed.

Previously set at £150 per annum – based on an ‘historic and initial assessment of the annual costs’ – the Consortium had increased the ERC to £231.76, to reflect actual accounting figures. These suggested that the total costs of the 2017-18 ERC were £370,816. Split between 1,600 properties, this came to £231.76 per household.

In many cases, the £231.76 demand was reduced to £194.26, taking into account an initial quarterly ERC instalment paid by residents of £37.50.

The letter implied that the £194.26 needed to be paid in one sum. There was also confusion about when the money needed to be paid, with some residents believing it had to be within 10 working days.

There was no suggestion of being able to pay in instalments (although Blenheims has since said that there are three payment dates – January 22, February 1 and March 1).

Having received their bills, Cranbrook residents found Blenheims had shut for Christmas, and initially there was no one available to discuss the issue.

At the request of Cranbrook Town Council (CTC), the Reverend Lythan Nevard – Cranbrook’s minister and a Belonging to Cranbrook Facebook moderator – offered advice for residents, posting her thoughts on social media.

On January 2, CTC posted its own advice on its website, describing the timing of the letter as ‘unfortunate’, and Blenheims has since issued a ‘frequently asked questions’ (FAQ) document.

“I think the timing of the Blenheims’ letter was poor at best,” said a Cranbrook resident, who did not wish to be named. “Some people were concerned that if they just cancelled their direct debits, they would end up with bailiffs at their door after Christmas.”

“It was a disgrace to receive a letter demanding payment of £231.76 within ten days, and especially at this time of the year,” said another resident.

In its FAQ to residents, Blenheims said the payment demand was issued on December 22 in advance of the next collection date, December 25, and was ‘in accordance’ with residents’ ERC deed.

It also issued advice for those that had cancelled their direct debit or hadn’t returned their mandate and explained why the ERC was being increased and why residents – who are already paying council tax – were being charged for ERC.

Neither Blenheims nor the Consortium have provided the Herald with further comment on this matter.

CTC is currently finalising details of taking over the town’s ERC. If draft agreements are approved, from April 6, 2018, the ERC will be paid as part of EDDC’s council tax, with any increase in the element of the council tax payable to CTC.

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