Sheffield tenants furious over rises in council rents

General view of Wybourn estate taken from Manor Lane 25/5/13
General view of Wybourn estate taken from Manor Lane 25/5/13
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Sheffield’s 42,000 council tenants are facing rent rises up to double the rate of inflation over the next five years to pay for a £230 million investment programme.

A report set to be approved by Sheffield Council’s cabinet today proposes increases of 4.6 per cent in 2014-15 and 4.8 per cent in 2015-16.

The average rent per household is currently £70.42 a week.

A 4.6 per cent rise next year will push that up by £3.24 to £73.66 a week.

But the increases are far lower than the 7.8 per cent rise enforced in 2012-13 – and will fall back to 3.1 per cent in 2016-17 and 2.9 per cent in 2017-18.

Rent increased by 3.9 per cent in the current financial year.

Inflation stands at 2.4 per cent according to the consumer price index, and 2.2 per cent based on the retail price index.

Sheffield Council says it has no alternative means of funding the investment programme, which includes completion of the Decent Homes modernisation, supposed to have been finished in 2010.

But tenants are angry about the rises, which come at the same time as some are paying council tax for the first time and the ‘bedroom tax’ cut in housing benefit for people with spare rooms.

They warned some tenants might not be able to afford the extra rent – potentially jeopardising the investment plan.

Winnie Smith, of Arbourthorne TARA, said: “Relying on steep increases in rent puts the investment programme at risk if people can’t pay.

“I don’t know what the council is going to do – it’s such a mess.

“They have written off £10m of unpaid rent in recent years so we know there have been problems collecting rent as things stand.

“The houses will deteriorate if there is not the investment. The council has investment for other things – they ought to see if there is another way of funding it.”

Stephen Rich, of Greenhill and Bradway TARA, added: “The rent rise is a total disgrace, especially coming after the bedroom tax.

“Other councils like Leeds are doing things like finding a way for tenants to avoid the bedroom tax by reclassifying spare rooms so they are not bedrooms.

“Our council says there is no money, but what about the millions being spent on the Town Hall? If people can’t pay the bedroom tax or extra council tax, how are they going to pay a rent rise double the rate of inflation?”

Sheffield Council said its plan for housing over the next five years includes funding to pay for improvements, plus £88.3m interest on £300m of debt from past housing improvements.

The Government has written off £500m of the debt owed by Sheffield for Decent Homes modernisation work in the last decade.

Coun Harry Harpham, deputy leader and cabinet member for housing, said: “We have no option but to put rents up because a condition of our settlement with the Government - including the writing-off of a large part of the debt - is to be self-financing.

“Housing has to cover its costs. There are hardship funds available for the bedroom tax and council tax.”