Councils to approve big rise in rents

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MASSIVE housing rent rises are set to be approved by two South Yorkshire councils in line with Government recommendations - but plans to cut Sheffield Homes’ funding could be defeated by opposition councillors.

Coalition ministers are pushing ahead with a policy introduced by Labour to raise council rents to levels charged by housing associations because current income is not high enough to cover costs.

Rotherham Council has already voted to bring in an 8.69 per cent rise and a 6.8 per cent increase is set to be approved at a full meeting of Sheffield Council today.

And Barnsley Council is set to approve an 8.1 per cent average rent increase of £4.82 per week, £2 above inflation, at its meeting on Wednesday.

Ruling Liberal Democrats on Sheffield Council appealed to Grant Shapps, the housing minister, for permission to implement a smaller rise but he has not replied. Similar appeals by other councils, including Rotherham, have been rejected.

Opposition Labour councillors in Sheffield, who can defeat the Lib Dems if they can attract the support of the three minority party councillors, say they cannot oppose the rent rise because it is being imposed by the Government - although they have expressed concern about its size. Inflation is 3.7 per cent.

But Lib Dem plans to reduce the amount Sheffield Homes is paid to manage council estates by £600,000 to £29.9 million in 2011/12 and put the money saved into the ‘Your Community, Your Choice’ scheme for community projects are at risk of defeat. Groups bid for funding through the initiative and tenants vote on which projects should be supported.

But Labour leader Coun Julie Dore said: “We are not convinced that tenants’ money is being spent on the right things.”

Lib Dems said the £600,000 is to be saved through Sheffield Homes staff not receiving incremental pay rises not service cuts.

The two Green councillors are undecided but Independent Coun Frank Taylor said he will support Labour because he wanted to “respect a democratic decision” by the tenants’ forum.

Lib Dems said ‘Your Community, Your Choice’ has been a success with 264 community projects benefiting last year, including £21,000 for football activities for kids, £15,000 to Mosborough TARA for mobile security cameras and £17,430 for Chapeltown Community Centre for a new kitchen and toilets.