TENANTS will have more money in their pockets after Swindon Council’s plans for an above-inflation increase in rents were scrapped in a last-minute U-turn.
The Conservative administration had proposed to increase rents from April by the RPI (Retail Price Index) measure of inflation, plus 0.5 per cent plus a maximum of £2, which would have increased average rents to £77.82 a week – a rise of 4.8 per cent.
However, following opposition from tenant groups and the Labour group, the administration agreed just before last week’s budget meeting to propose to peg the rise at RPI in 2013/14 – a plan that was passed by the full council.
This means the average weekly increase per household will be £1.93 instead of £3.59, giving residents an extra £1.66 a week to spend in a year when welfare cuts start to bite.
However, the council will have about £900,000 less cash than it would have had to improve homes.
Coun Russell Holland, cabinet member for One Swindon, Localities and housing, said he changed the proposal at a late stage because a proposed Labour motion to peg rents at RPI was only shared with him on the day – and his main priority was to achieve a consensus as there are council houses in each ward.
He said: “The key message from my speech is that I want to do my best for tenants. There’s good arguments for or against the rent increase but I think it’s best for tenants that we have a unified decision.
“There are 57 councillors and there are tenants that live across the whole of Swindon, so if we can reach a decision upon which all 57 of us can agree, that’s best for tenants, because otherwise we have political arguments about rents.”
Coun Des Moffatt, Labour’s finance lead, said: “I would imagine tenants will breathe a sigh of relief. They would have been happier with no increase but I’m not sure that would have been the responsible thing to do.
“The responsible thing to do is think long-term and put through an increase that keeps the housing rents account strong and allows the council to continue repairs and renawals of existing housing stock, and is manageable for the tenants who have always to rely on their wages to pay their rents – or quite a few of them who are retired rely on quite small pensions.”
Derek Fry, a member of Swindon Tenants’ Voice, said: “It’s a good thing for tenants, I think. Right up to the council meeting we thought there was going to be an increase by RPI plus 0.5 per cent plus £2, so in this time of austerity I think it’s a very good thing for tenants that rents are being pegged at inflation.”
Martin Wicks, secretary of the Swindon Tenant Campaign group, said: “The problem is if they continued pushing rents up beyond the level of inflation, there could have been an increase in arrears. We were particularly annoyed at the proposal for a 4.8 per cent increase because this year, of all years, tenants are going to get harmed by the bedroom tax and minimum 20 per cent council tax.”