x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Residents seek clarity over housing fee

Calls for clarity after a 'hidden' Dubai municipality fee, that can be paid in full or monthly, appears on utility bills.

DUBAI // Dubai residents have complained in recent months about a "hidden" municipality fee that has suddenly appeared on their utility bills, and called for more clarity. In fact, officials say, it is a housing fee, collected by the municipality for the services it provides. Introduced in 2005, the rate is five per cent of the yearly rental cost and can be paid in full or monthly along with the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (Dewa) bill.

However, the collection of this fee appears to have been somewhat random and not all residents have been charged, causing those who have seen their bills rise sharply over the last two months to ask for more transparency. A resident of Al Warqaa said he was not charged the fee until he had been in his apartment three years. "It is a hidden fee and it does hurt you," said the Pakistani manager of a private company. He said he was unsure which neighbours also paid the fee but said he had been paying an extra Dh300 (US$81.68) each month since December, taking his Dewa bill to Dh1,500.

"I would prefer not to pay it," he added. Dubai Municipality maintained yesterday that the fee already existed, and that residents were not being charged extra. However, despite repeated attempts, the finance department did not respond to requests to explain why the fee was suddenly added to some utility bills. Christine Stewart, a Briton living in Dubai Marina, moved into a one-bedroom apartment in 2008. Her Dewa bill in January had an additional fee of Dh521, she said. "There was no explanation. It was just there in the bill" as a housing fee.

It was the first time she had seen that charge on her bill. "I have no problem paying the amount but I just want to make sure I am paying the right amount," she said. Her attempts to contact Dewa and the municipality yielded no results. "Representatives at the Dewa helpline kept saying that they wanted to help but they could not. An agent told me that lots of people have been calling with the same problem," she added. Ms Stewart said the fee was more than five per cent of her current rent.

"The rents have fallen but I still get charged on the basis of the tenancy contract of 2008. I am trying to contact the authorities to clarify this but I have been going around in circles," she said. "I still do not know if this is a one-time fee or if it will come in every bill now." Dewa maintained that it served as a collection service for the municipality and had no role to play in the calculation of charges. Abdullah al Hajri, the executive vice president for customer service at the utility, said the housing fees were calculated by the civic authority and then communicated to his agency.

"This is an issue that should be clarified with Dubai Municipality," he said. "Dewa merely includes these charges as per Dubai Municipality instructions." He added that Dewa provided the municipality with tenant information whenever a new connection was established. The municipality then calculates the charges and informs Dewa. pmenon@thenational.ae loatway@thenational.ae