Rent rise for council tenants

Waltham Forest Town Hall
Waltham Forest Town Hall

Higher rate will take effect from 5th April, reports Victoria Munro, Local Democracy Reporter

Waltham Forest Council will increase its council home rents from April this year.

The increase was agreed by the cabinet at a meeting last week. The council is increasing rent for council homes by 1.5% and slightly raising garage rents, estate parking fees, traveller site pitches and heating charges.

Louise Mitchell, cabinet member for housing, said such increases would allow the council to invest £137million in housing over the next few years. This includes £40m of “necessary building and fire safety improvements” to existing buildings, of which £5.5m is to replace fire doors, according to a report for the meeting.

She said: “Council rent has always been extremely good value and in Waltham Forest more so than many other boroughs, particularly in London.

“Our rents average around just over £100 a week for a two-bedroom property, roughly a third of the cost of properties within the private rented sector.

“We do know private rents may fall as a result of Covid-19 but the council rent still remains by far the best value for money, which is why it’s so important that we channel our resources.

“These proposals are designed to enable the council [in]… supporting homeless households and improving its homes, while remaining financially stable.”

For those in temporary accommodation, who are deemed homeless, their rents will now be linked the rents to the local housing allowance, which is a little lower than private rents.

The cabinet heard that, where tenants are eligible for housing benefits, the contribution they pay will not change after Monday 5th April, with the council instead claiming the extra rent from the government.

However, an estimated 3% of the borough’s temporary accommodation tenants are not eligible for housing benefits. A “minority” of an undisclosed size will also find the increase pushes them above the highest amount their household can claim in benefits, although the council believes its “established processes” will be able to support such cases.

Cllr Mitchell added that 97% of those in temporary accommodation were eligible for housing benefits but did not elaborate on the expected impact on the remaining 3%.

A report prepared for the cabinet on the changes reads: “The current rent regime for temporary accommodation rents is complex and outdated. 

“Linking rents to local housing allowance will increase both simplicity and transparency… [and] ensures that the local authority can maximise the rent that it is able to recover through housing benefit. 

“This helps to narrow the gap between the rent recoverable and the cost of providing temporary accommodation, which reduces the average loss made on each week.”

Regarding households where the increase will raise rents above the benefits cap, it adds: “These cases are in the minority… and established processes are in place to support households that are already affected by the cap, including the application of discretionary housing payments.”

The council plans to spend almost £5m on sheltered accommodation and hostels over the next four years. It has also budgeted more than £84m for building new homes, of which more than £35m will be on developments built by the council-owned construction company Sixty Bricks.