REDUCTIONS in housing rent demanded by the government over the past four years have ‘cost’ Swindon Borough Council a staggering £20m.

That’s the amount of money the authority could have raked in had it been able to keep rent at the same level of inflation.

And because rent on council housing can only be spent on the upkeep of those flats and houses, it means the maintenance budget of £10m per year has missed those millions.

Housing finance officer Karl Read made the revelation as part of the council’s public consultation about a proposed 2.7 per cent rent increase this year.

That’s the maximum allowed by Whitehall, calculated on being one per cent above the rate of inflation. The council has had to cut the rent by one per cent every year for the last four years following rules handed down by central government

He said: “We had projected to have an income of £50m from rents by this year, but it will now be just over £43m, and over the last four years, the gap between what we might have had and what we received has widened and will total £20m.”

A 2.7 per cent increase will put up the average rent for a a council home from £78.60 to £80.72.

The lowest weekly rent for a bedsit would be £59.32 and the most expensive four-bedroom property the council lets will cost £132 to rent a week.

Mr Read told the meeting that the costs for the council’s housing department will rise by £2.57m in the next financial year starting on April 1.

He said: “Inflation will increase costs by £460,000 and staff changes by £1.18m. The rent reduction moving from 53 to 52 weeks will cost £825,000.

The proposed rent rise will only cover £1.23m of that increase in costs.

Spending less on empty properties – and on external contractors to bring those properties back into use – will save £860, 000.

But the housing department will have to take £253,000 from its reserves to cover the shortfall.

Mr Read said: “We haven’t had to borrow money for the housing revenue account since 2012.”

He added the Queens Drive scheme, which will see 149 affordable and social rent houses built, will need the council to borrow.

The council’s head of housing Mike Ash said most tenants who had responded to the authority’s consultation saw the need for the rent rise.

He said: “They understand that with rent decreases, if we aren’t getting the money in, we don’t have the money to spend on housing. Most have been pretty amenable.”

The Labour group’s spokesman on housing in the council chamber Emma Bushell said the missing millions could have really helped the council improve its homes.

“The council is behind with its programme for upgrading and improving kitchens and bathrooms, and it’s housing stock is deteriorating," she said.

“My inbox is filling up with complaints from residents who want repairs and maintenance done and it’s taking too long.

“This £20m could have really been of use to the council in sorting out the kitchen and bathrooms and fixing things like broken windows more quickly.”

The secretary of Swindon Tenants Voice, Martin Wicks said he was concerned at the rises being above inflation: “The undoubted underfunding of council housing is a problem which cannot be resolved by increasing council rents year after year above the level of inflation.”

The consultation is running until January 31 and responses can be made via and searching for ‘rent consultation’.