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Admin fees and paper trails.

Discussion in 'Allotments Discussion' started by Steve R, Jan 31, 2018.

  1. Steve R

    Steve R Soil Furtler

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    I'll cut a long story short and omit much information for ease

    Our allotment plots prices are going up and I am in the middle of the muddle trying to sort a lot of things out, along the lines of forming an association. For various reasons this will take a year or two, but I am working towards it.

    In the meantime new plot costs have been totalled and one third of those costs are admin fees £2.5k from £7.5k toal costs. This is a lot of money as a cost for essentially banking the plot fees that our clerk insists are paid by cheque or postal order, she insists plot fees are paid this way as it leaves a paper trail necessary for her accounting.

    Surely this is rubbish and payments could be accepted by card, BACS transfer or paypal..a digital payment. This could be paid direct into the parish council account and so provide the necessary paper trail.

    I have asked this here before and the answer was of course, that digital payments is a paper trail.

    But next week I have organised a chat with the chair of the parish council and need to make sure my facts are correct, I want to go to that meeting and confidently tell her we can go digital with plot rents, so saving the admin fees and lowering plot rents.

    I know there are a few experts here, can anyone offer any advice or point out anything I may have missed, even though I have provided scant info?

    Thanks in advance.

    Steve...:)
     
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    • HarryS

      HarryS Eternally Optimistic Gardener

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      I am sure someone with admin knowledge can advise on this . I can't remember the last time I wrote a cheque , and not seen a postal order for 30 years.
       
    • toppington

      toppington Tiny garden, always on the cheap!

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      What exactly is being paid for in that £2.5k cost, Steve? Do you have a set of Accounts for the allotments to see what this would be?
       
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      • Steve R

        Steve R Soil Furtler

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        The £2.5k is an admin fee, breakdown of which we have not yet seen, but we are working on it. The other £5k of costs comprise of water bill, some period fencing, some saved for future capital expenditure (large projects) and some for maintenance etc.
         
      • shiney

        shiney President, Grumpy Old Men's Club Staff Member

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        Local authorities have made a fine art out of bureaucracy so they have admin fees on top of the fees for doing the admin :heehee: The only people that have managed to raise that to a finer art are government officials in India.

        There's no way you can guess how the breakdown of their fees are worked out and I think you would be lucky if they told you. To be partially fair to them, banks charge them for electronic payments but it shouldn't be that much. It wouldn't be in excess of 2%. It's now illegal to add a percentage on a customer's bill (and you are the customers) for credit or debit card transactions. But it doesn't stop them from increasing their admin fees.

        How many allotments are there? How often do you pay the rent? This would give you a breakdown of how much admin per transaction was being charged. If you are paying rent once a month then you should be able to reduce the admin charge by paying annually (in advance).

        Of course, charging admin fees gets around the need, and aggro, of putting the rent up.

        Let them know in advance that you would like a breakdown of the admin. Otherwise they will say that they don't have the figures available. Keep in mind that if you look at it logically, and councils rarely do that :th scifD36:, you are probably paying for one month's work for one reasonably well paid clerk. Let's say they earn 30k. Then 2.5k is one twelfth of that amount. So you are paying for one month of their salary.

        You can use that calculation as part of your argument and ask if they really do spend at least a 145 hours per year handling your payments. Calculated on a year of 52 weeks, five days per week (less 28 days holiday - 20 days holiday plus the 8 statutory days, [Bank Holidays]), 7.5 hours per day. You're being generous and taking into account all their holidays.

        Don't expect them to even contemplate that type of calculation but it will make you feel better about your discussion with them. In the end, you have no choice but it doesn't stop you questioning them and putting your point forward. I wouldn't be surprised if they then say that there are other things they could be charging you for. They're good at that type of arm twisting - even if they can't do it.

        Do I sound cynical? :scratch:
         
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        • JWK

          JWK Gardener

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          It does depend on what sort of account has been set up. Some of the old fashioned "Treasurer's Accounts" only accept cheques and BACS transfer. Assuming it's been set up as a charity it is possible that such an account would be used as they still pay interest, albeit at a very tiny rate.

          I doubt that even if modern digital methods such as Paypal or Cards were used it would significantly reduce that admin fee. I think you need to see the breakdown.

          You are right to be very suspicious though, something smells fishy about those large amounts of money for unspecified things. If someone is acting badly they will obfuscate.
           
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          • Steve R

            Steve R Soil Furtler

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            Yes John, we are suspicious and think it is merely a method for the PCouncil to claw back money it has spent.

            Over the last two years and without consulting plot tenants the PC has spent £12,000 on a breeze block wall, part of the boundary of one of our sites (we have 2), and £6000 on asbestos removal.

            The wall was typical dry stone for here in Cumbria, stand anywhere here look around you will see dry stone walls tumbling down, its part of the character of the county. But if we had of known it was an issue we would have got a working party together and sorted it on a Saturday afternoon, such is how things are done here. We would never have replaced it with ugly breeze blocks.

            As for the asbestos removal, it did need to be done fair enough. But, one of our plots tenants is an asbestos remover and we could have had it done for peppercorn rates, by assisting him or working to his directions.

            There is no communication between the PC and plot tenants and I am aiming to change that, but I need to get rid of this damn admin fee, I wanted to make sure there are no costs that form part of an admin fee that I had not thought of and that it is solely made up for clerks hours as described by Shiny above.

            I am waiting on a few bits of info, but if the plot rents go up as specified, many will give their plots up, around 7 or 8 on each site, and my rough workings out on the back of a cigarette packet suggest the council would lose rather than gain.

            Steve...:)
             
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            • shiney

              shiney President, Grumpy Old Men's Club Staff Member

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              Have they made that legal now? :lunapic 130165696578242 5:
               
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              • Steve R

                Steve R Soil Furtler

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                As long as it is in the minutes..

                Steve...:)
                 
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                • Steve R

                  Steve R Soil Furtler

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                  I went to meet with the chair of the parish council last night. The admin fees comprise of hours spent by the clerk on allotment matters over the last year, It was noticed by the council over preceding years that more and more time was being devoted to the allotments because around 12 years ago the county council gave the two sites to our local parish council to manage, with no fixed procedures or paperwork handed over and subsequent parish council involvement has been minimal at best.

                  So over the last two years they have had a "working group" to solve these issues and this last year the clerks time on the allotments has been written down.

                  I went well prepared though and told the chair she would have 38 empty plots in October if the price rises went ahead, and asked if the council could afford to maintain those fallow plots and possible costs of strimming them regularly to keep weeds down.

                  I suggested a fair rent rise and compared that to losses the PC would have and how tenants could help to cut those for the PC, if they went forward with their rises.

                  Water management and education is one I have put forward along with taking on some of the admin tasks to reduce that horrendous fee. We will need a society to get these things done. But a society was always forefront on my mind to form anyway.

                  It all comes down to communication, the PC have not been very forward with that over the years despite tenants best efforts to connect. I gave the chair an example last night, the PC spent £18k last year on asbestos removal and rebuilding a wall. A tenant led working party could have rebuilt the dry stone wall and one of the tenants is an asbestos remover by trade..we could have cut those costs to less than £3k. Communication is now uppermost in everyone's minds...money always motivates!

                  I've also requested that I become part of the working group moving forward as their next task is setting plot rents and associated budgets.

                  Steve...:)
                   
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                  • shiney

                    shiney President, Grumpy Old Men's Club Staff Member

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                    Great news :blue thumb:. It's a good idea to have a representative of the 'Allotment Society' on their working group. Although they seem happy to have you on the group it looks much better on their books and minutes if they have an official representative (you) of a properly formed organisation. That's how bureaucracy works. :noidea:

                    At least you already have a draft version of the Constitution for the allotment society. :dbgrtmb:

                    Brilliant :yay:
                     

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