by DAN GRIMMER
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
More than 14,000 council house tenants in Norwich look set to have their rents hiked by between £16 and £22 a month from April.
"It is with a heavy heart that we are recommending this rent increase... We recognise that people are facing all kinds of pressures and to increase rents by this amount is not something we want to do, but we really have no option."
Norwich City Council’s cabinet is next week set to agree an average rent increase of just under 7.6pc for the city’s 15,000-plus council tenants.
And that means almost 90pc of council tenants will have to find between £4 and £5.50 extra each week to pay for their rents.
The level of rent is set by the government, but last year the city council successfully lobbied Whitehall to keep the rent increase down – so the average rent for council tenants is currently £60 a week.
The city council had spearheaded an attempt to convince housing minister Grant Shapps to think again over the guideline rent increase for this year. Norwich’s MPs supported an attempt by Brenda Arthur, deputy leader of Norwich City Council and cabinet member for housing, to convince the government to put in place an alternative plan.
Councils pay rents to central government, which then redistributes the cash according to those most in need.
New government proposals will see councils keep all rent they collect, but that has yet to come in, so in the meantime the city council says the calculation used for this year means an extra £2.8m of rent from tenants will need to go into the government pot.
Mrs Arthur wrote to Mr Shapps and pointed out that the government stood to gain a £280m windfall through the rent increase.
She said that if the government’s receipt was capped at £100m, that would have allowed the rent increase to be pegged back.
But the government is pressing ahead with its proposed hike and the city council’s cabinet will meet on Wednesday next week to reluctantly agree the increase of an average of £4.70 a week.
Mrs Arthur said: “It is with a heavy heart that we are recommending this rent increase. We did write to Mr Shapps and got a letter back from one of his Liberal Democrat colleagues saying ‘thanks, but no thanks’.
“We did our best and if they had gone with it, we could have kept the rents down to a 3.1pc increase. They said they had take account of all taxpayers, which was effectively them saying this money is going into a communal pot which is what we have argued against.
“We recognise that people are facing all kinds of pressures and to increase rents by this amount is not something we want to do, but we really have no option.
“If we do not then it would have a knock-on effect on our 30 year plan for social housing and it would mean we would not be able to meet our liabilities for maintenance in the future. We are not happy about it, but we have no choice.”
Geoff Lowe, chairman of the Norwich Citywide Tenants’ Board, which represents council house tenants, said the board had also written to Grant Shapps and had only had an acknowledgement. He said they would continue to lobby the government.
“The problem, as usual, is that it’s those that are just over the borderline of getting benefits are really going to feel it. All I can say is the Citywide Board tried, but did not succeed. But we will keep on trying.”
Just over 60pc of council house tenants get housing benefit, which will increase to cover the rent increase, so those who do not get benefits will be hardest hit by the increase.
A further 127 council tenants who live in what are known as general fund dwellings - council homes which are more valuable than the majority of council homes - are likely to see an average increase of 7.66pc, which is £5.35 a week, on their rent.
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