Billing & Administration (7)

Frequently Asked Questions relating to billing or administration matters.

How is the service charge spent? 

In general terms approximately 60% is for ecological management, monitoring and general maintenance as per the prescriptions in the Management Plan for Biodiversity for the site, 20% is for legal costs, administration, collecting payments/agent fees, etc., and 20% for insurance, repairs and development. Itemised accounts are available annually.

How will we hear from Betts Estates? 

For convenience, and as a result of the fact that the majority of our residents are out at work during the day, we provide information relating to site activities via the website https://www.bettsecology.co.uk/registration/.

You will need your ENVIR number to register.

On this website you will find your site profile, the management plan, monitoring reports, photo gallery, and the billing information. Our policies, other FAQ’s and updates can also be found here. During the course of the year details of the works undertaken will be published on this site. 

What are Administration and Liaison Charges? 

Administration and liaison charges cover a manner of desk-based functions within the business that form part of the service we provide to our residents. These include provision of the online helpdesk, web site and email/telephone support services, as well as standard and financial administration relating to your site.

Please note, our charge-out rates include not only the hourly wage cost of staff involved in your affairs, but also additional costs in enabling these staff to perform their roles, for example an allowance for statutory bank holidays and annual leave, pension payments and employers’ National Insurance – all of which are required to be paid by law.

In addition, the hourly cost charged includes an element of overhead allocation, including office rent and rates and the cost of IT systems which allow the staff to perform their roles, as well as the salary costs of senior staff who direct and supervise the administration function.

We remain committed to keeping such time to a minimum.

What is "Routine Maintenance"? 

Routine maintenance is a term used for a variety of activities which are undertaken regularly. These include tasks such as litter picking, pathway edging removal of supports and guards from hedgerows, shrubs and trees and seed sowing.

What is the "Managerial Overview" cost? 

As part of the work that is required to manage the site it is often necessary to involve the management team as in any business. Additionally, liaison with residents is part of the cost that is factored into the charges as standard. We expect a certain amount of liason to take place between our staff/ management team and the residents and that is all part of the overall package. These items are listed on your bill for transparency.

Who are Environmental Biology Limited? 

Environmental Biology Limited is the company name and Betts Estates is the trading name. They are the same company.

You’re only doing ground maintenance — why isn’t the Service Charge cheaper? 

You may only see someone mowing, strimming, cutting hedges or clearing up every so often but, a bit like the tip of an iceberg, that is only a relatively small part of what we have to do as an ecological estates management firm. It is often not appreciated, quite understandably, just how much else we must account for. In the early days of professional ecology and biodiversity work thirty or more years ago, much of what we must now include as a responsible business keeping up with the times, did not exist or was far cheaper (Health & Safety, Statutory Agencies, Best Practice Guidelines, etc.). There has been a revolution in administrative procedures and a snowstorm of multi-level regulation and law-making since the 1980s. Also, what we now sometimes call the “blame culture” has necessitated more extensive professional indemnity insurance cover which is expensive. The combination of these has led to greatly increased costs for almost every professional service in Britain.

Don’t forget our main aims for your open greenspace are not only to enhance the value of your home by improving the environmental and the integrated ecological aspects of your estate, but particularly the protection and promotion of biodiversity. This is in compliance with national and international policies, including climate change and United Nations’ halting the loss of biodiversity to which Britain is a signatory. It takes very many years to acquire adequate ecological field and other skills: personnel must be experienced and possess the relevant knowledge of science and business to perform to the demanding standards of modern ecology-based estates work.

Here is a listed summary of the main reasons for the costs behind what we do that you may not always see. The list is not exhaustive but when you consider what must be done, the Service Charge is very good value:

  • Staffing which includes sufficiently competent ecological scientists and field operatives doesn’t come cheap and can be hard to find;
  • Training and research needs are exacting and extensive — and must continually be updated;
  • Laws and regulations about wildlife, environment, greenspace and planning have increased dramatically since 1980 when wildlife legislation broadly began;
  • There are over 650 legally protected species in Britain and many more that are “notable”, plus many categories of protected habitats and landscape; some of these are relevant to our urban greenspace and we take our duty of legal and policy compliance seriously;
  • Detailed requirements and agreed guidelines published by the British Standards Institute, statutory authorities, other professional bodies and councils must be carefully followed to ensure there is no criticism of non-compliance or variation of defined standard methods;
  • Health & safety rules are far-reaching and detailed — this means more training, more administrative systems, special clothing and equipment and costly specialised insurance (two people may also sometimes be required to do site work that used to be accomplished by one);
  • Insurance costs, with new taxes placed upon premiums, continually increase;
  • Computers, scientific instruments, office machines and communications equipment are dear and date quickly, but are essential for a responsible business in our sector to function;
  • The road network is seriously inadequate and congested — traffic density and travel time, and resultant delays and costs, have escalated;
  • Like any business, we must allow funding for significant cash flow and financing challenges caused, for example, by slow payment and bad debt; also, as well as wages to pay, there are administrative, rent, rates and overhead costs, record keeping, customer service, public relations, accountancy, budgeting, repairs, estates equipment servicing and replacement, cleaning, general maintenance, vehicles, fuel, scheduling, planning, project management, purchasing, estimating, certification, risk assessments, CPD, corporation and other business taxes, agency & legal fees,

So … that person you may see on the mower is only a very small part of the costs which the Service Charge must meet.

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Debt Recovery and how we can help (5)

This FAQ offers you help and advice because we realise that money can be an issue at certain times. If you are having difficulties, please read the following paragraphs below explaining how we can be of help and the procedures we will follow. If you have issues regarding the service provided, please contact us as quickly and as fully as possible.

How do I dispute my account? 

If you do not agree with the amount you have been charged, it is essential that you contact us. So that there is a written record, it is preferable for everyone that you do this either by letter to our Head Office or by email to residents@bettsestates.com, citing your customer reference, and giving full details of your reason(s) for disputing the account. This makes it easier to follow up and helps everyone in the process of resolving the problem which is our aim.

If you don’t tell us quickly that you disagree with a bill, certainly within a month of the problem arising, it makes it much more difficult for everyone as you may receive further bills that you dispute. Our aim is to respond to you within one working week but please note that disputes are handled by our appointed solicitors and agents. Particularly in complex cases, this can take a little time.

How do you deal with defaulted payments? 

It is the responsibility of Betts Estates and our appointed Solicitors and Agents, Waldrons, to act fairly, properly and reasonably, recognising our duty of care.

You have a contractual obligation to pay Service Charges and it is very important to understand that residents benefiting from the greenspace we manage are a community.

If one or several people do not pay their due Service Charges, it affects everyone else adversely. Betts Estates has a duty to all homeowners to ensure all revenue owed to is collected efficiently and effectively for the benefit of all homeowners. If you or others withhold payments, our services may have to be reduced or ultimately other residents may have to pay more if there is joint-and-several liability as is the case on some sites.

Non-payment may also result in the formal debt being pursued through the courts and the debt being registered against your property which may affect your credit rating and ability to sell without our consent unless payment is brought up to date.

Please email residents@bettsestates.com, citing your customer reference number. We respect your privacy but reserve the right to hold the relevant information and inform other residents of a shortfall in Service Charge payments, subject always to existing Data Protection legislation.

I am having problems paying, what should I do? 

Rule number one: please contact us straight away. You can do this by telephoning to 01886 888445, or by email to residents@bettsestates.com. Please cite your customer reference. You will be answered by friendly and understanding staff who want to help. Don’t ignore the problem. Don’t worry. Contact us.

We have several ways in which we can help to solve payment difficulties; for example, by arranging more frequent, smaller instalments over a reasonable time-period. Before we start, we will check your account carefully and ensure you are paying the correct amount and are using the best payment method for your circumstances. We prefer Direct Debit and this is the default method, but there are other methods you may prefer that we can discuss with you. Again, please don’t try to ignore debt as that just compounds the problem.

What is the Debt Recovery Procedure? 

Homeowners whose bills are not fully paid (or have not agreed a payment plan with Betts Estates) by the due dates will be subject to the debt recovery procedures set out below.

Definitions:

Debtor: means the registered proprietor (homeowner) of the property where the Annual Service Charge remain outstanding for more than 28 days from the date of issue of the request for payment of the Annual Service Charge.

Joint Debtor: means a homeowner who is jointly liable with co-owner(s) to meet non-paying homeowners’ debits as per the terms stipulated with the Deed of plot transfer/Title Deed pertaining to that property.

Late Payment Charges mean: enforcement costs and interest as covenanted in your plot transfer under deed in paragraph 1 of the Fifth Schedule. Currently the interest rate is 4% per annum above the base rate of HBOS plc from such date if not paid within 28 days of date of the Annual Service Charge document. Enforcement costs are defined in paragraph 12 of your plot transfer as the reasonable and proper costs incurred in connection with the enforcement of performance and observations by the Transferee (i.e. you) of its obligations and liabilities concerning payment of the Annual Sum applicable to the Property.

All late payment charges are reviewed annually.

Additional costs may be incurred by Betts Estates when engaging a Third Party to recover the Annual Service Charge.

Debt Recovery Procedures

  • The Annual Service Charge (ASC) is due for immediate payment on the first day of the ASC year.
  • 28 days from the immediate payment date, should an Annual Service Charge amount remain outstanding, a Debtor will be issued with a Late Payment Notice. This notice may incur an administration fee plus VAT.
  • On, or after 7 days, from issue of the Late Payment Notice, the outstanding account will be passed to our Solicitor and Agent’s internal debt recovery team who will issue the Debtor with a Debt Recovery Letter inviting payment or contact to discuss reasons for non-payment. This Debt Recovery Letter may apply late payment charges.
  • On, or after 14 days, from the issue of the Debt Recovery Letter, if no payment is forthcoming the Debtor may be issued with a Seven Day Notice. This document alerts the homeowner to enforcement action by Betts Estates to recover the amounts outstanding plus additional administration involved in the recovery of their debt. The options available to Betts Estates are:
  • Mortgage Lender – Contact will be made with your mortgage lender to advise of breaches in relation to the terms of your Title Deeds and your Mortgage Conditions.
  • Debt Recovery – Your account will be transferred to an independent external collection agency who may consider it appropriate to contact you to arrange a home visit to discuss your debt and their collection procedures.
  • Court Action – Proceedings will commence through the court and County Court Judgement will be registered against you, your outstanding debt may then be subject to fees and further legal costs incurred by our Solicitor in pursuance of your debt. This information is used by Credit Reference Agencies.

Who can help me if I am in debt? 

There are several agencies to whom you can turn for help and advice if you are in debt. Below are some of them. You should check online for the details of your nearest contact point or telephone their head offices. Some of these have helpful fact advice sheets you can download.

Citizens' Advice Bureau           www.citizensadvice.org.uk                                          Contact your local Branch Office

Debt Advice Foundation          www.debtadvicefoundation.org                                                               0800 043 4050

Debt Advisory Service              www.debtadvisoryservice.co.uk                                                                0800 019 1278

Legal Aid Agency                        www.gov.uk/government/organisations/legal-aid-agency             0300 200 2020

Money Advice Service              www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk                                                             0800 138 7777

The National Debt line             www.nationaldebtline.org                                                                           0808 808 4000

Your Local Authority/Local Council                                     Contact your local Branch Office.

 

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Ecology (1)

How can I make wildlife records of what I see, and where should I send them? 

We are very keen to receive your wildlife records to help us build up as many biodiversity data as we can for our sites. Please send in your records to residents@bettsestates.com, or via this helpdesk and always include time, date and description, a photograph if possible (and sound recording if appropriate), details of the habitat and any information on numbers (we are interested in abundance as well as individual sightings) and behaviour. If you or your family would like to be involved in wildlife projects generally, or would like specialist information about a species, habitat, or topic such as wildlife gardening or ecosystem services, please tell us.

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General Questions (7)

General questions asked by residents.

Can I pick the blackberries? 

Yes, and other fruits, etc. But you must please stick to our Foraging Policy which can be found at https://www.bettsecology.co.uk/policies/.

How can I stop my cat killing birds? 

Cats are predators by nature. Keeping them in at night and fitting them with a bell on an elastic collar will help. Please see our Pets Policy at the link at www.bettsecology.co.uk/policies/.

Reporting Issues & Putting Things Right

Although our team always try their best, we know things can go wrong sometimes.  So, if you are not happy with our service, we’ll do our best to put things right.

This document explains what to do if you have a complaint.

Please give us the opportunity to put it right.

When you contact us, we will aim do all we can to resolve your complaint quickly.

Step 1: Let us know what’s wrong.

Get in touch with our Customer Services Team, giving the fullest information possible of your complaint. Remember to include your own contact details so that we may reply effectively. We will ask you to put your complaint in writing, either via email or in letter format, following any initial verbal discussions.

You can raise your concerns in the following way:

  1. Via our online residents’ helpdesk at www.bettsestates.com/help
  2. By calling our head office on 01886 888445 – please note, this is a general number, but if nobody is available to take your call, please leave your details and we will call you back as soon as possible.
  3. By emailing residents@bettsestates.com
  4. By writing to Customer Services, Betts Estates, Bank House, Martley, Worcestershire WR6 6PB

Step 2: What happens next?

Many issues can be resolved straight away, and we will always try to deal with communications in a timely manner, keeping you up to date with the progress of your complaint.

If we are not able to resolve matters straight away, we will pass your complaint to the relevant person within our team for their input and assistance.  We aim to resolve complaints within 28 working days and we’ll keep you updated on progress throughout.

Step 3: If you are still unhappy?

If you remain unhappy, or we haven’t been able to resolve your complaint, we will refer the matter to the Director responsible for review. 

We sincerely hope that this process will ensure matters are resolved. However, if you have received our Final Position letter, or we just have not been able to resolve your complaint within the estimated timeframe, you have the right to take your complaint to an Independent Office.

Independent Advice:

The Citizens Advice consumer service provides free, confidential and impartial advice on consumer issues and can be contacted at any stage during your complaint.   

Visit: www.citizensadvice.org.uk

CTSI (Chartered Trading Standards Institute):

https://www.tradingstandards.uk/consumers/support-advice

There has been vandalism on our Open Space, what should I do? 

Gather as much information as you can, if possible and without placing yourself at risk, with photographs and any evidence of the perpetrators, and report it to the police and/or your local Council without delay, and contacting us too.

What about safety or if there is an accident 

Everyone entering any of our open or green space areas does so entirely at their own risk and must be aware of their own safety and the safety of others. The countryside and green spaces are generally safe in Britain, but they are not without risk. Please also see the Policies at the web page link at the top of this page, particularly those for Play Areas, Water/Aquatic Habitats, Pets and Paths/Estate roads. Near the front of our Management Plans for Biodiversity you will find a page about site access and safety. Please read this carefully. We also try to indicate the nearest hospital on this page, but for accidents, remain calm, apply First Aid if you confidently can and know how, and call the emergency services if serious or if in doubt.

The main principles everyone should observe when out in the field are:

  • Respect other people;
  • Consider the local community and other people enjoying the outdoors;
  • Leave gates and property as you find them and follow paths unless wider access is available;
  • Protect the natural environment;
  • Leave no trace of your visit and take your litter home;
  • Keep dogs and cats (which should always have bells) under effective control;
  • Dog fouling is a crime (Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005) — always clean up and dispose hygienically;
  • Enjoy the outdoors by planning ahead and being prepared;
  • Follow posted advice and local signs.

Always wear suitable footwear and clothing, check your mobile phone’s signal and battery and keep it with you, and make sure someone responsible knows where you are and when you will return. Always supervise children and take particular care near water.

What can be done about litter and fly-tipping? 

These are illegal activities and you should report any instances where you have evidence against a perpetrator to the authorities. We clear litter as much as we can when we make site visits but the answer ultimately lies in better behaviour by the public and an awareness of personal social responsibility.

Why can't we have more lighting in our open space? 

Artificial lighting is a form of environmental pollution and is very disruptive to wildlife because it changes the normal situation and day-lengths to which wild animals and plants have evolved. Bats and nocturnal insects are particularly affected. We have a short explanatory paper about this. Please ask if you would like a copy.

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Site Works (6)

Frequently Asked Questions on Betts Estates site works.

Site Decomposer Facilities 

Site decomposers areas an important wildlife feature on our sites and provide essential habitat for grass snakes and invertebrates etc., which are an integral part of the food chain and site’s overall biodiversity.

Were we to remove grass cuttings on each site visit, not only would this valuable habitat be lost, but the annual charge would have to increase as a result of the regular recycling costs that would be incurred after each cut.

Residents are free to use the decomposers for their own lawn cuttings, but please use them responsibly and only for mowing arisings.

What can be done about the dog mess? 

It is an offence not to clear up after your pet. We will take action against anyone who does not clean up and dispose of their dog’s faeces properly. Simply putting in a bag and leaving it is not enough and hanging it in trees as some do is disgusting as well as a health risk. Please see our Pets Policy at the link at www.bettsecology.co.uk/policies/.

Why don't you always take the grass cuttings and prunings away?

Sometimes we do take grass cuttings and other “green arisings” to suitable recycling waste facilities or to our own decomposer areas. It depends on feasibility, whether there are nearby facilities or whether we have on-site composting/ecological decomposer areas that enhance biodiversity. Some grass is mown with a mulch mower but when arisings of larger bulk must be dealt with, if possible we prefer to make discrete compost or habitat piles in out-of-the-way corners. It is surprising how many species rely on decomposer food chains: they are a vital part of nutrient cycling and energy flow through ecosystems.

Why don’t you “tidy up” trees that have dead wood and ivy on them? 

Ivy, mistletoe, standing dead wood, rot, knot holes, hollows, snags, moss, lichens, etc. are seriously important contributors to biodiversity. As well as adding to species-richness and habitat diversity in themselves, they provide exceptional ecosystem benefits in terms of food, shelter and other resources for a host of invertebrates and other animals as well as those that prey on them. Because it is so damaging ecologically, we never “tidy up” trees unless there is a proven and material safety risk or presence of a serious pathogen verified to our satisfaction by a suitably qualified ecological scientist/silviculturist and biologist. When branches or trees do have to be felled, we like to use these as ecological log pile habitats or, safely upended in the ground, as standing dead wood.

Why is grass left long around the trees? 

Although some people feel it is untidy if grass isn’t cut right up to trunks, posts and other features, in fact these little areas of longer vegetation are ecologically very valuable: they add to habitat heterogeneity, provide over-wintering shelter for invertebrates and other small animals (including inside hollow stems), and important pupation zones for, for example, moth caterpillars descending from the foliage of the tree or shrub for their metamorphosis when fully fed. Nature does not like being manicured and does not thrive when groomed into artificial regimentation; we should learn to love these mini-habitats.

Why is our grass long? 

We manage grassland first and foremost for biodiversity to give you a rich and interesting environment, and our precious and disappearing wildlife somewhere to live (and to enhance the value of where you live). Remember that many of our most beautiful insects and birds rely on weeds, their leaves, roots, flowers and seeds. Please see our Grassland Policy at the link at www.bettsecology.co.uk/policies/.

 

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