Social and affordable housing tenants in Watford will be hit with new annual bills of up to £600 after the Watford Community Housing Trust announced it was introducing a weekly service charge.

The trust sent out letters over the weekend saying it would be rolling out weekly charges of up to £12 a week to claw back £2.5m it says it spends on communal services.

However, the move has left tenants shocked and upset at facing steep rises in their rent costs.

One tenant, who asked not to be identified, said: “It came as a shock. We are in the worst recession in living memory and they expect people to stump up £50 a week.”

The trust has said the new charges will come in from April and will be gradually introduced over three years.

In the first year tenants will pay 30 per cent of the overall charge, then 70 per cent from April 2014 and the full service charge from April 2015. The service charge is being capped at a maximum of £12 a week for those three years.

The trust said the service charge will cover services including grounds maintenance, CCTV, door entry systems, caretaking, fire alarms and looking after communal areas.

The majority of services are incurred by residents living in flats and those tenants will be charged on a block by block basis. However service charges for green spaces – such as grass cutting, litter picking, hedge trimming and tree pruning – will be split between all trust tenants and lease-holders.

The decision to introduce service charges was made in October by the Trust’s board, which is made up of five tenants, five independents and two Watford Borough Council nominees. Diane Lee, chairman of Watford Community Housing Trust, said: “The services we will be charging for are not covered by the rent and they are currently costing us £2.5 million per year to provide.

“Charging for these services will enable us to continue providing them in the future as well as continuing our investment in our homes and neighbourhoods. However we know that this is a difficult time to start adding charges to the rent, so that is why we are phasing in the full charge over three years.”