Nearly 18,000 council tenants in Stoke-on-Trent will see their rent go up from April.
Stoke-on-Trent City Council is proposing a 1.5 per cent rent hike in 2021/22, meaning the average weekly rent will rise to £78.13 – a £1.15 increase.
This is expected to raise an extra £113,000 for the housing revenue account, which the council says will support investment in new stock and improvements to existing houses.
But there are concerns that increasing rent for 17,778 council tenants could lead to a further rise in rent arrears.
Between April and September the amount of rent arrears owed by council tenants increased from £1.6 million to £2.2 million, equating to 3.7 per cent of all rent owed, although this has since fallen back to 3.2 per cent. This increase is partly due to a ‘spike’ in Universal Credit claimants resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns.
The government’s £20-a-week UC top-up, which was introduced in response to Covid-19, is due to end in April, which is also when the city council’s rent hike will come into effect.
Simon Harris, chief executive of Citizens Advice Staffordshire North and Stoke-on-Trent, is concerned about the impact of the rent increase, Universal Credit cut and a proposed 4.99 per cent council tax hike on household budgets.
He said: “It’s a big concern. We’re seeing a lot of families who are struggling at the moment to cope with a number of pressures resulting from the pandemic.
“People have seen their wages cut, lost their jobs or have been furloughed, and at the same time they’ve got increased costs due to their children being out of school. A rent increase will add to that pressure, as will the end of the £20 UC uplift.”
Mr Harris believes the government should retain the £20 top-up beyond April, due to the continuing impact of the pandemic on struggling households.
Between 2016 and 2020 the government ordered councils to cut their rents in order to shrink the housing benefit bill, but since last year authorities have been allowed to increase them again.
The city council’s increase is in line with the maximum allowed under government guidelines: one per cent on top of the current inflation rate of 0.5 per cent.
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Charges for services, facilities and garages are also set to rise by 1.5 per cent from April. This would equate to a 13p-a-week increase for a lock-up garage, and 5p-a-week increase for a larger communal garden.
Council chiefs insist that rent and service charge increases are needed to support the HRA’s business plan.
Carl Edwards, cabinet member for housing and environment, says that help is available for council tenants who are struggling to pay their rent.
He said: “We know this is a particularly difficult time for households, with many struggling to keep up with bills and payments due to the impact of the pandemic.
“Our message is we are here to help, so please do get in touch with your housing officer if you find you are struggling – the worst thing you can do is ignore the situation. We are among the cheapest rents for social housing in the Midlands and our staff are supporting tenants wherever possible, including with claims for Universal Credit and to help them maximise their income.
“They have identified £630,000 of additional income for tenants since April and are working closely with the Citizens Advice Bureau where tenants are experiencing debt issues.”
These are the estimated average weekly rents for 2021/22, on a 48-week basis:
|No. beds||2020/21 weekly rent||2021/22 weekly rent||Average increase|
Cabinet members are due to rubberstamp the rent increase at their meeting on Tuesday.