May 20 2013 Latest news:
Thursday, February 14, 2013
Thousands of council house tenants in Norwich are facing a steep rise in their rents, with city leaders saying the increase is needed to help maintain existing homes and build new ones.
Council leaders last night edged nearer to an average rent rise of 5.1pc for the city’s 15,000 council house tenants from April, which will see an average of £3.69 added to weekly rents.
More than 10,400 people will see their rents increase by between £3.50 and £4.49 a week and council leaders acknowledge some tenants will be hit hard by the increase and could even be forced onto benefits as a result.
But they say the increase is vital to generate cash so the authority can keep investing in council homes to bring them up to scratch, such as by putting in new windows, kitchens, bathrooms, boilers and doors.
And they say, by increasing the rents this time around, it makes it more likely that any rises can be kept down in 2014/15, when the council fears housing benefit reforms will lead to more people finding themselves in arrears.
Officers, in the report which came before councillors last night, warned: “The financial impact of the increases will fall hardest on those just above the benefit entitlement threshold, either impacting on their disposable income or forcing them into benefit.”
And Victoria MacDonald, cabinet member for housing at the city council, said: “We are very much aware that in straightened times increasing rent is difficult. But this year’s recommendation falls below that of the previous two years.
“It’s very important that we maximise investment in the housing stock and that we are able to build our first council houses so we can offer more people secured tenancies.”
She said 59pc of tenants get housing benefit and in most cases that will rise to cover the rent increase.
Other options the cabinet considered, but rejected, were for a 3.8pc increase and a 2.5pc increase. They said that would lead to losses of £749,000 and £1.5m respectively.
The council said it had consulted with tenant representatives. The officer report stated: “Many tenants appreciate that rent increases are inevitable if the level of investment is to be maintained.
“However, there are concerns about the effect of higher increases on those struggling in the current financial climate.”
Claire Stephenson, leader of the opposition Green group questioned whether tenants were happy with the increase. Mrs MacDonald said the council had talked to the Tenants’ CityWide board, which includes tenants’ representatives.
She said: “What we have discussed, and what tenants are content with, is that the increase needs to be reflected in continued improvement to homes.”
She said the council planned to spend more than £34.8m on housing in 2013/14, including more than 1,500 new kitchens, more than a 1,000 new heating systems or boilers and 1,320 window installations.
The rent increase for the next 12 months comes on top of last year’s average rent increase of 6.85pc, which added an average of £4.60 per week to council tenants’ rent.
The cabinet also agreed to recommend to full council that the city council’s share of the council tax should increase by 1.95pc - a fraction below the level of rise which would have triggered a referendum.
Alan Waters, deputy leader of the council, said the increase was needed to help protect council services, with the council’s budget looking to make £2.5m of savings over the next year.
The council says, in consultation carried out between September and December last year, 57.4pc of people supported a council tax hike, with “the most popular” use for it to protect key council services.
The increase would mean, from April, somebody living in a Band D property would have to pay £230.27 into City Hall’s coffers, an increase of £4.40 on the current level.
A final decision on the rent increase and the council tax hike will be made at a full city council meeting next Tuesday night.
• Are you a council tenant with a view on the rents increase? Call Norwich Evening News reporter Dan Grimmer on 01603 772375 or email email@example.com
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