3 March 2023

There are numerous challenges when it comes to managing large service charge portfolios on spreadsheets. Errors and instability mean that professionals often wonder whether they should remove service charge spreadsheets from their processes.

But is it possible to get rid of them altogether? And even if you can, should you?

Spreadsheets sit on almost every computer in the world, they’re flexible, and there has been a distinct lack of alternative options. It’s easy to see how they have been the backbone of service charge management for thirty years.

But as time has gone on, portfolios have grown, through stock transfers, development of new homes, S106 and mergers. New developments, often with third-party involvement, multiple cores and modern equipment, are harder to manage and charges more difficult to apportion. The flexibility of spreadsheets, once a positive reason to use them, has now become a failing due to a lack of controls and standardised practice.

Meanwhile, specialised systems have become more sophisticated and genuine alternatives now exist. The reasons to continue to manage service charges in a spreadsheet have started to disappear.

So let’s get rid of spreadsheets then?

It is, as I’m sure you know, a little more nuanced.

Firstly, to blame spreadsheets is to blame a tool. We’ve chosen (historically out of necessity and a lack of other options) to use spreadsheets the way we do. Some organisations want to make the shift away from spreadsheets but struggle with unstructured data and clunky processes. The lack of controls a spreadsheet offers is, for some teams, a necessity, to allow them to perform. A new system won’t help if the underlying data and processes are sub-par.

Secondly, there are still good uses for spreadsheets in the wider process. They can be used as an output of your system to budget holders, or as an input for budgets. It’s not always feasible or cost-effective to provide access to specialist systems to everyone, so spreadsheets still have a place to provide information and break down silos.

However, for the calculation and management of service charges, the argument to move to a specialised system is far too great to ignore. Every organisation with even a moderate portfolio of service charges to manage should consider using tools to reduce risk, add controls and standardise their processes. Having a solution that integrates with your main systems will reduce errors and significantly improve accuracy and cost capture. Managing thousands of transactions in spreadsheets all linking with one another shouldn’t be the standard.

So can you remove spreadsheets from the calculation of service charges? Absolutely. Should you? In my view, every organisation should be looking at the options available to systematise calculation and management.

However, there’s no reason that spreadsheets and systems together cannot strengthen one of the widest-ranging and most important processes in your organisation. Together, they can provide a solution that is safe, cost-effective and enables greater collaboration.

Dan Oehlman

Dan is a Service Charges Lead at Ad Esse Consulting

Dan has worked in the housing sector for 17 years, specialising in service charges for much of this time, as well as organisation-wide transformation programmes.

A passionate advocate for transparency, Dan has focused much of this work on improving the customer experience of service charges, while maximising recovery for organisations.

Now working at Ad Esse Consulting as a Service Charges Lead, Dan helps organisations transform their service charge processes and implement systems solutions.

Can you ever get rid of Service Charge Spreadsheets?