Rents set to go down for Harlow Council tenants

RENTS are set to go down for Council housing tenants but there will be less money for housing services under budget proposals published by Harlow Council.

From 4 April 2016 the average weekly rent for Council tenants will go down from £93.60 to £92.66 to meet Government legislation which will see rents decrease by 1 per cent over the next four years. However the Council has said the move will leave it with a budget gap of £12.8m up until 2020.

As part of the Council’s 2016/17 Housing Revenue Account budget proposals the Council has begun to re-prioritise what it does due to the projected gap. The proposals will be considered at Cabinet this Thursday (28 January 2016) and Council on 4 February 2016. The Council’s Housing Revenue Account budget is funded by income from Council housing rents, tenant garage rents and service charges.

The budget proposes not to cut any services but less money will be spent on the external garage programme, garage painting and repairs and project management fees for modernising homes as improvement programmes are scaled back.

However the Council is making provision to carry out essential works to improve fire safety in flat blocks, energy efficiency, replacing aged communal heating systems and installing carbon monoxide alarms to meet new legislation.

With uncertainty surrounding the future funding of and planning for social housing, the Council’s long term housebuilding programme is currently on hold and will be reviewed annually. Further announcements from the Government on social housing are expected shortly under the Welfare Reform and Work Bill 2015 and Housing and Planning Bill 2015.

Other housing-related charges under the Council’s budget proposals are:

Garage rents to increase by 42p a week to £8.78.

The average weekly service charge for tenants will be £2.05.

Communal heating charges for tenants on average will go down £5.30 a week. For leaseholders the average charge for communal heating will go down by £2.73.

The average communal heating charge for supported housing tenants will go down £3.82 and no homes will have charges above the fuel poverty gap.

Councillor Rod Truan, Portfolio Holder for Housing, said: “While tenants will welcome a reduction in their rent it will mean less income for the Council over the next four years starting from this April. Our priority has been to do what we can to minimise the impact on our 12,000 plus tenants and leaseholders and this will remain our priority. Over the next four years we face a number of difficult choices due to changes proposed by the Government to social housing. As a result of having less money we have started to reprioritise what we do and how we do it. The reality is that there will be less money for housing services, modernising Council homes and building new Council homes in the future.

“In the last three years some of the Council’s achievements include a five-year £100m Housing Investment Programme which has so far funded 34,688 improvements to Council homes helping to improve tenants’ lives. This programme will now be reduced. We’ve also started the first programme for more than 25 years to build new Council homes for rent with 18 homes completed. However our long term ambitions to build more Council homes is currently on hold.”

“There will be also be a £188,000 reduction in the annual supporting people grant funding from Essex County Council and other grants will be ceasing. As a result starting this year there will be gradual changes to the weekly service charges our supported housing tenants receiving housing benefit will pay. This is an extremely sensitive issue for those affected and the changes will be phased in. We will work and consult with all service users and their families to explore other funding options and support tenants through these changes.”

The Housing Revenue Account budget reports can be viewed by following this link: http://moderngov.harlow.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=121&MId=633&Ver=4

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