At the Council meeting recently councillors were asked to approve a rent rise for Council housing of 5% which is above the rate of inflation. In effect it would mean that the rent rise would be £2.72 a week giving an average rent of £57.10. 64 percent of all tenants currently receive housing benefit and so would be protected from any rent increase and just over 36% pay full rent and so would have to pay the increase themselves. When it comes to those 60 or over a much higher proportion (96%) receive Housing Benefit with only just over 300 pensioner tenants out of 9200 paying full rent.
I was very unhappy to vote for an increase in rents over the rate of inflation especially when it affects pensioners. But I had to look at the consequences if I did not vote for this increase. For every £1.00 under the increase £1 million would be lost to the housing revenue.
The easy answer would be to say that there should be no rent increase at all – as the Community Action Party did at the same Council meeting. Well, this might be a popular policy and one which might appeal to some residents but it does have implications. Not to raise the rent by £1.00 would mean:
- Not finishing the kitchen replacement programme
- Reducing estate improvements such as the fencing programme
- Reducing day to day repairs
- Reducing projects like neighbourhood services and tenant participation
The consequences of a nil percent rise in rents would be catastrophic for the service provided and would have adverse effects on tenants all over Wigan. Voting for an over inflation rise may not be popular but I would not want to see the level of service to tenants suffer to the extent that would happen if I went for the populist option.