The service charge dilemma

Jon Slade, Director at Campbell Tickell, sets out the common issues with service charges and what organisations can do to improve them.

A good proportion of the briefs we read are about how service charges limit their scope to variations on the theme of ‘We want to reach a point where we know our sums are accurate.’ I always say in response that the organisation needs to be careful what it wishes for.

Once the service charge sums are accurate, you then harvest a whole world of subsequent issues, being those that matter most to customers: scope, cost, and quality of work.

If you take your car to the garage nowadays they simply plug a laptop in to your car, which tells them everything that is wrong, whether that is engine or electrics.

Well, service charges are like that laptop. Pushing for accurate and fair service charges will bring to the surface all sorts of service delivery issues spanning service specification, procurement, service delivery and contract management.

90% of the service charge issues that matter to customers are about running a good housing business, and lie outside the control of the service charge team.

The ‘Too Difficult’ box


Service charges could/should be like an in-house consultancy: empowered to drive towards good performance across teams they do not control. But instead all-too-often the issues get put in the box marked ‘Too Difficult’ and left alone.

The game-changer is building safety costs.Stack of pound coins on financial figures balance sheet We are seeing examples of significant costs being passed on to service charge bill payers. Without exception, if you sensitise a customer to an issue, you sharpen their focus on that issue. Though it may only be the fire safety costs that have changed, you will awaken interest in where other charges come from. This includes whether each bill item is where it should be in terms of service specification, quality of outcome and cost.

Every time I have seen service charge bill payers become actively unhappy the outcome is the same: scrutiny of many heads of charge; huge volumes of work; shortfalls in specification and/or procurement, and delivery and/or cost revealed.

Getting service charges right


Service charge bill payers want things that every executive team member wants too: an appropriate service specification; procured to achieve the best price; and delivered as per the specification with costs flowing through to bills accurately.

There exists a massive opportunity for service charge work to be a proactive change agent. But first you need to get it out of the box marked ‘Too Difficult’ and be willing to address the issues of practice, structure, influence and culture that put it in that box and left it there.

Strive for accuracy alone and you will reap a whirlwind of discontent. Strive for accuracy and appropriate quality of specification and outcome and service charges will be a beneficial force for change across your business.

To discuss any issues raised in this article contact Jon Slade on:


Campbell Tickell is an established multi-disciplinary management and recruitment consultancy, operating across the UK and Ireland, focusing on the housing, social care, local government, sport, leisure, charity and voluntary sectors.

We are a values-based business and firmly place the positioning of our support and challenge on helping organisations to attain change that is well thought through, planned and sustainable. At CT, we want to help organisations create the landscape within which we ourselves would like to exist: fair, inclusive, diverse, engaged and transparent. We build from our values in how we approach all our work as a practice.

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