Inflation-busting 7.5% rent increase blamed on government guidelines

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A RENT rise well above the inflation rate is on the cards for Doncaster’s council house tenants.

Residents are faced with weekly rents going up by close to 7.5 per cent - more than one-and-a-half times the national inflation rate of 4.6 per cent - from the beginning of April.

The big rise is being blamed on new Government guidelines for calculating fair rents and the abolition of a subsidy system next year.

Higher rent for council garages and a slight increase in district heating charges is also on the way for St Leger Homes tenants.

Doncaster Federation of Tenants and Residents’ Associations say they are not happy about the rent increase - which equates to an average of £4.14 per dwelling each week - but accept there is little choice because of Government cutbacks.

Coun Patrick Wilson, Cabinet member for housing, warned his colleagues at yesterday’s cabinet meeting that if the council set a lower rent than was recommended the Government subsidy would not be enough to cover the shortfall.

“I don’t think we have got much choice when looking at it long term,” he said.

If a full meeting of the council approves the rise later this month, the average council house rent from April 4 will be almost £60 a week, and will bring in extra revenue of £4.33m.

Government guidance to local authorities this year is that rents should increase by 5.1 per cent plus an extra amount arrived at by a complicated formula involving the value of each property, the number of bedrooms and regional earnings.

In Doncaster this brings an average of 7.49 per cent.

Andy Kerr, chair of the Federation of Doncaster TARAs, said: “We were totally against the rise but after it was explained to us that unless St Leger implemented the rise they will lose a considerable amount of money, we couldn’t see there was any other option.

“Other councils are in the same boat and some are worse - we understand Barnsley is eight per cent and Rotherham is 8.8 per cent - so it’s a matter of biting the bullet.

“I think it’s the second biggest rise in the 40-odd years I’ve been a council tenant and for people not getting a wage rise above inflation it will mean a lower standard of living for a lot of people, especially older people and those on benefits.”

Charges for council garages - many of which are used by non-council house tenants - will shoot up from £2.90 a week to £5 a week, which will bring in an extra £175,000 a year.

It is the first time garage rents have gone up in five years and Coun Cynthia Ransome said the increase was “well overdue”.

Meanwhile, the cost of redundancies and early retirement for St Leger Homes staff is expected to be £2.8 million this year, with a salary saving of £2.7 million a year.

The organisation, which employs around 750 people, has to make £4 million of savings and needs to lose up to 110 employees, who are on the same terms as Doncaster Council staff.

Because St Leger Homes has no reserves of its own, the council is funding the redundancies from its reserves.

The Cabinet meeting also approved a proposal to freeze council tax for the forthcoming financial year but Mayor Peter Davies predicted a rise of around 2.5 per cent for each of the three years after that.