The chairman of a group representing tenants of Mid Suffolk District Council council houses is angry that the authority has not consulted widely enough on proposals to put up rents by as much as 5.5 per cent on average.
Mid Suffolk’s top Executive Committee, made up of councillors, will meet on Monday to discuss its financial plans for 2014/2015 and will consider a strategy to increase rents on its 3,400 council properties, with the main aim to use that money to build more council houses and maintain existing ones. No final decision will be made at the meeting.
Keith Wykes, of Fressingfield, a council house tenant, and chairman of the Mid Suffolk Tenants’ Forum, is worried that such a high increase will leave some tenants worrying about how to pay the bills.
He said: “People have had reductions in their wages and benefits, so there isn’t much money spare.
“I’m angry that tenants haven’t been consulted as much as they should have, because that’s the key to everything. If you want to work as a team, you have to talk to each other.
“They (tenants) haven’t yet been given the full picture.”
Mr Wykes said a meeting is planned for January 30, but over two weeks after Mid Suffolk’s Executive Committee starts to make their view’s known at their meeting on Monday
In a statement, Marilyn Curran, Mid Suffolk deputy leader and housing portfolio holder, said extra money paid in rent by council house tenants would be reinvested in council houses: “We have been liaising with the Mid Suffolk Tenants’ Forum and the Joint Housing Board in working up these options.” She said the council was “mindful” of balancing tenants’ ability to pay with demand for investment.
“Our tenants have appreciated that rent and charges increases will be needed to support future investment in our housing stock,” she said.
But Mr Wykes questioned how she could draw the conclusion that tenants were accepting of rent increases, when they had not yet been told how much it might go up, or why it needed to.
He said: “Mid Suffolk has always had a superb relationship with the tenants, and that is well-deserved.” But, he said: “They have misjudged the feelings of tenants.”
He said a rent increase would be acceptable, if it was nearer three per cent.
Councils now have complete control of their housing budgets and incomes, called the housing revenue account, part of a central government policy.
Mid Suffolk, like many other authorities, had to borrow, in its case, an additional £57m in April 2012 to take on its share of the national housing debt, forced by the Government.
A 30-year business case for supporting the new borrowing was developed. The ability to repay debt was based on the rental income from homes. The Government changed its guidance on the formula for working out rents, meaning Mid Suffolk is suggesting it needs to re-assess its rent charges to meet demands for servicing that debt, and investing in housing.
Lomiah Nicholls, of Burgate, is a tenant representative of Mid Suffolk and Babergh Council’s Joint Housing Board, which is also made up of councillors.
She said rent increases should be “realistic” given that those on lower incomes are already facing tough times.
She is urging all tenants to go to the meeting at Mid Suffolk Council’s offices in Needham Market, in the council chamber, 2pm, on January 30, to make their views known.