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Harlow Labour put pressure on Tories over housing rents and heating

Politics / Mon 10th Apr 2023 at 12:38pm

THE SHADOW portfolio holder for Housing asked a number of searching questions on housing at last week’s cabinet meeting.

The questions and film are below.

Councillor Mark Wilkinson to Councillor Alastair Gunn (Portfolio Holder for Housing):

Despite the 7% increase on council rents being a maximum increase and not a requirement the Conservative administration have nevertheless ploughed ahead with it despite warnings from the opposition of the effect it will have. What evidence will the council collect to the impact of this 7% increase and what additional support will they give tenants unable to cope with this increase?

Reply from Councillor Alastair Gunn (Portfolio Holder for Housing):

I welcome the Conservative Government’s introduction of a ceiling on social rent for 2023/24 and note that it is estimated capping rent increases at 7% will save social tenants £200 this year compared to what would otherwise be the full permitted increase of CPI+1 percentage point (11.1%).

Harlow Council’s decision to freeze Council Tax for three years, in addition to last year’s £50 efficiency dividend will also be of direct help to many of our social tenants.

Moreover, I note that 7% represents a ‘real terms’ reduction in social rent and falls below this year’s 10.1% increase to the State Pension due to the Triple Lock, the minimum 9.7% increase to all rates of the National Living Wage and of the Apprentice Rate, and the 10.1% increase to Universal Credit, Personal Independence Payment, Carer’s Allowance, Income Support, Jobseeker’s Allowance and Housing Benefit.

However, I do recognise Cllr Wilkinson’s concern about the financial wellbeing of Harlow Councils’ tenants and can assure him that the Council continues to monitor rent recovery performance monthly to identify any trends or contributing factors.

The Council has a designated page on its website to provide support and advice to all Harlow residents on dealing with the rise in the cost of living. A link was included in the last three quarterly rent statements sent to all Council tenants and the site has been advertised on social media and in the last edition of Harlow Times. It links to local and national support providers and advice agencies, details of financial help and support available, and information for tenants struggling to pay their rent or Council Tax. It also includes information on health and wellbeing support services.

In addition, Rent Officers are highlighting available support to tenants wherever possible and additional information is being made available as part of rent recovery process of the support available, similar to the support letters used during the Covid pandemic. As well as directing tenants to support

agencies and charities who may be able to assist, the letters highlight the extra short-term help with rent available via Discretionary Housing Payments, administered by the Revenues and Benefits department.

Tenants continue to be encouraged to contact the Council as soon as possible if they are experiencing financial difficulties, to enable officers to work with them to address issues impacting on them paying their rent.

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Councillor Mark Wilkinson to Councillor Alastair Gunn (Portfolio Holder for Housing):

With an increase in heating bills hitting Harlow families only made worse by the Conservative government’s failed economic policy rising inflation to 10%, what is Harlow council doing to look at improving insulation of council house stock and sign posting to those in the private rented/home ownership sector?

Reply from Councillor Alastair Gunn (Portfolio Holder for Housing):

Harlow Council recognises the difficulties rising heating bills are having on our tenants and the affect high energy costs are having on the cost of living. The Council is committed to help by delivering energy efficiency improvements to its housing stock and is targeting its Housing Asset Management Programmes towards properties with the lowest energy ratings.

Current works include the replacement and renewal of the Council’s Communal and District Heating Systems, including moving the charging of heat and hot water to an individual household basis through the installation of heat meters within properties. We are also improving the energy efficiency of the poorest performing properties which pose the clearest risk of fuel poverty to our tenants by improving insulation.

Through obtaining grant funding, additional insulation works to 181 properties has been completed.

Work to ensure the Council is fully compliant with its obligations under the ‘Heat Network (Metering and Billing) Regulations 2014’ continues, through which district heating renewal programmes are being delivered that are also helping tackle fuel poverty.

Housing is undertaking major refurbishments to its poorest performing flat blocks, for example the recent refurbishment of the Hides which has resulted in reduced energy costs for residents.

During 2023/24, a retrofit pilot of a shared temporary accommodation unit, with a further two other pilots in Foldcroft and Milwards will take place to give understand how we can go further in future to make our housing stock energy efficient, and better protect our tenants from high heating costs.

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2 Comments for Harlow Labour put pressure on Tories over housing rents and heating:

Edward bird
2023-07-27 12:40:52

I would like to know how Harlow council may have increased council rents by 7% but the charges for the communal heating ( heat networks ) are being charged at 50% over the ofgem recommendation for usage and 40% over the ofgem recommendation for daily charge especially when the majority of these systems are used by low income family's and sheltered accommodation occupied by pensioners and disable people I give as examples manor hatch close ,risdens,barley croft ,lower meadow ,barn mead to name a few

Linda Croxson-Hicks
2023-10-05 10:39:54

I live in Halling hill and the community heating charges went up this year by 50% and no sign of the coming down. We are all disabled and rely on the heating through the winter, and most of s are pensioners, I am expecting a gas bill of at least £180 a month this year and I only use the hot water every other day to keep bills down. When is it going down.

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