Voluntary sector chief warns against change in Norfolk County Council rent system
- Credit: Archant � 2011
A leading figure for Norfolk voluntary and community organisations has expressed concern after councillors agreed to stop offering cheap rents for its buildings.
Norfolk County Council will no longer grant so-called peppercorn rents - very small payments as low as £1 a year - to organisations using council-owned property.
The decision to 'regularise' the system and get all groups of businesses to pay full market rents was passed by the council's policy and resources committee this week.
Rents on council-owned buildings, including village halls to Scout huts, will be reviewed when leases are due to expire.
They can vary in length, including one, five and 25 years, and current peppercorn rates will not be withdrawn until leases finish.
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Jon Clemo, chief executive of Community Action Norfolk, a trade body for Norfolk's voluntary sector, said: 'Rent and insurance costs make up the majority of groups' costs and any rent increase is likely to have a huge impact on their finances.
'The voluntary organisations in Norfolk are hugely important. Most of our services are targeted at the county's most vulnerable people and with the decline of the public sector we are at the sharp end of that.'
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Out of the current 721 council leases across Norfolk, 40pc or 291 are on a raised rent.
The remaining leases are based on peppercorn rents.
And out of 143 agreements for community groups and charities, 77 pay higher rents.
During this week's council meeting, committee members heard money from rent payments under the new system could go back to groups who meet council priorities through grants.
A council spokesman said the policy would allow the rent collection process to be more transparent and not all community groups will suddenly face increased charges.
Organisations coming up for a rent reviews will be flagged up to relevant council committees who can consider making a grant.
During this week's policy and resources committee meeting, councillor Cliff Jordan said: 'We are trying to regularise the system. It is a change that puts people in the driving seat. Everybody will have to pay market rent assessed by a district valuer.'