Swindon Council is proposing to raise Council rents by 2.2% in 2015-16, 1% above the level of inflation. Under the government’s new guidance for ‘social rent’ Councils can raise the rent by the level of the Consumer Prices Index last September – 1.2% plus a maximum of 1%. In the presentation to tenants we were given three options: a 1.2% increase, 2.2% or 3.2%. According to officers they can raise rents above the maximum prescribed by the government because the ‘guidance’ isn’t binding. The government document actually says:

From April 2015 we expect local authorities to increase rents by no more than CPI (at September of the previous year) + 1 percentage point in any year.”

We have sought clarification on this from the Department of Communities and Local Government, and await a reply. At any rate the inclusion of the 3.2% increase as one of the options was purely for presentational purposes. It makes the 2.2% increase look more palatable. We don’t believe that a 3.2% increase was ever seriously considered by the Council.

Swindon Tenants Campaign Group is pressing for the increase to be kept to the inflation level of 1.2%. Over the last 9 years our rents have risen by around 52%, way above inflation. Over the last four years they have increased by nearly 24%1. Ironically, the Council has operated different approaches to Council Tax payers and Council tenants (although we pay Council Tax as well). While our rents have risen by nearly a quarter a CT freeze has been applied, ostensibly because of the administration’s recognition of the financial pressures that people are facing.

Of course, Council tenants are facing the same pressures, which have been made worse by decisions of the government and of Swindon Council. Some of them have been subject to the ‘bedroom tax’, forcing them to pay 14% or 25% of their rent, even if they have the miserable income which Job Seekers Allowance provides (£72 a week). Some have also been obliged to pay 20% of their Council Tax, whatever their financial circumstances; a decision of Swindon Council. Although we don’t have a figure for Swindon the English Housing Survey gives an indication of the extent to which many of the ‘social housing’ tenants who are in work are on low wages. From 2010 to 2013 the number of working households in Council homes on HB rose significantly from 20% to 32%.

Anecdotally we know that some tenants really do have the choice of ‘eating or heating’. So much so that there was an increase in damp and mould which was to some extent the result of heating not being put on because tenants can’t afford to pay the heating bills. The Council actually created a job specifically for dealing with this problem.

The main argument of Council officers for increasing rent above inflation in 2015-16 is that an increase of 1.2% would mean that the Council would be £400,000 short of the ‘required’ budget. However, what they failed to mention was that the December Cabinet papers said that there would be an expected underspend in the Housing Revenue Account this year, including an estimated £229,000 of the special fund2 set up to add to Discretionary Housing Payments to tenants who are said to be ‘under-occupying’.

Council propaganda masquerading as ‘consultation’

On its Housing at Swindon Facebook page Swindon Council is operating a survey via Survey Monkey on what option tenants would prefer. However, the information that is provided is minimal and the wording is designed to draw people to the conclusion that a higher rent increase is needed. There is no information provided only the assertions of the Council. They say that “many” homes will miss out on new kitchens, bathrooms and central heating improvements”, but they neglect to mention any numbers. This is the crudest propaganda masquerading as consultation.

Judge for yourself by going to

www.surveymonkey.com/s/SBCRentConsultation2015_16

where you can tick one of the option boxes.

Consulting who?

Today’s Swindon Advertiser has an article on the ‘consultation’. We are told that Swindon Council wants to hear from “all residents”. So the general public can be consulted on what our rents should be? Publishing the address of the survey means that anybody can express an opinion, whether they are a tenant or not. No doubt those people who who partake in the online discussion on the Adver website, and abuse Council housing and Council tenants, will appreciate the opportunity of calling for our rents to raised as high as possible. They will only be disappointed that the highest they can call for it to be raised is 3.2%.

As well as filling in the survey you might also like to email the Lead Member Emma Faramarzi and Head of Housing, Mike Ash, calling of them to increase rents by no more than 1.2% and telling them what you think of their ‘consultation’ methods. You can email them at:

efaramarzi@swindon.gov.uk

mash@swindon.gov.uk

Martin Wicks

December 17th 2014

1RPI inflation was 16.9% over these 4 years and 30.6% over 9 years.

2In 2013-14 only £12,101 of the special fund was spent. This year an estimated £171,000 will be spent. The money is not from government but is simply taken from the income from tenants’ rent, and central government gave the Council permission to use the money for this purpose.

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