Council to lose £13 million through Government-enforced rent drop

Council house rent will go down one per cent in Sheffield in 2017.
Council house rent will go down one per cent in Sheffield in 2017.
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A Government-enforced drop in council house rent will cost Sheffield Council up to £13 million, the authority has revealed.

The one per cent reduction - equivalent to 76p per week for tenants - is the second in two years the council has had to put in place as a result of the new Welfare Reform and Work Act that came into force last year.

It is one of several Government housing policies the council is trying to deal with while also putting together a business plan for housing in the city.

Presenting that plan to cabinet members yesterday, director of housing Janet Sharpe said it was difficult to predict whether the plan would work because the council was still waiting for national regulations on fixed term tenancies and right to buy for housing association homes.

“There are a number of risks included in the report,” she told councillors.

“That’s because of the scale of the Housing and Planning Act, and the welfare and benefits changes that have been introduced or are being proposed.”

Mrs Sharpe said the council’s housing department could make savings over the next five years.

But she admitted the business plan may have to change if the Government announced more new policies.

Council leader Julie Dore had few kind words for those making decisions in Westminster.

Referring to the idea of forcing councils to set fixed tenancies of between two and 10 years, which could be introduced this year, she said: “It’s not just that they are treating tenants like commodities. It’s not common sense.

“Within a tenancy agreement, people have a responsibility to maintain the internal decor.

“If you have a two-year tenancy, why would you do that?”

Investment backlog

Social housing tenants are waiting for up to £101 million of repairs, according to Sheffield Council figures.

The backlog on investment needed immediately was identified in the authority’s housing business plan, which was approved by cabinet members yesterday.

Of the £101 million, £47.2 million is needed for roof repairs, £26.3 million for electrics, £8.5 million for bathrooms, kitchens, doors and windows, £4.7 million for heating, and £14.3 million for other repairs.

However, the total figure is down significantly from the £257 million identified in 2011.

The business plan makes clear that responsive repairs - those needed when something that needs replacing or maintaining breaks - are more expensive than planned work, so earlier investment is therefore cheaper.

In approving the business plan, councillors pledged to continue investing in council house repairs in an attempt to reduce the backlog further.

The council’s director of housing Janet Sharpe said the council was committed to improving social housing.

Included in the business plan is a renewed pledge to create 1,000 new council houses, but with a switch of focus to building rather than buying properties.

The council will change garage rents to a single rate for plots and for sites, simplifying an inconsistent system. The change will apply immediately to new tenants, and to existing tenants once improvements have been made.

The charge for community heating, which applies to tenants with a metered heating supply, will come down by 10 per cent to 3.04p per kilowatt hour.

This reflects a drop in gas prices, and also covers the weekly hot water charge used in some sheltered schemes, taking it from 70p to 63p.

The charge for heating communal areas in sheltered schemes will go up, however, from £14.89 per week to £15.54. This will be an eligible charge for housing benefit.

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