Rent for West Lothian council homes set to increase

Average weekly rents for council homes in West Lothian are set to rise to £80.70 a week when the full council meets to agree the final budget of its five-year term.

The rise – of £2.35 a week – is at the three per cent per annum strategy level agreed in February 2018.

According to the deputy chief executive Graeme Struthers it: “will enable high quality and responsive housing services to be maintained for tenants and allow key priorities to be delivered.”

The decision will be taken by councillors on Tuesday morning.

In a report to the council’s Services for the Community Policy Development and Scrutiny Panel (PDSP) Mr Struthers said: “Consultation on the three per cent strategy included housing network meetings, tenants, the tenants’ panel and social media.

“The consultation carried out in 2017 as part of the strategy process showed that 69 per cent of respondents were in favor of building more council houses even if this meant an increase to rent, 81 per cent were in favor of investment in existing stock even if this meant an increase to rent, 73 per cent felt that their rent was affordable, and 85 per cent noted a preference for a three per cent rent increase.”

Mr Struthers added that the three per cent increase compared favorably with other Scottish council rent rises and with rent increases by registered social landlords within West Lothian.

Housing staff embarked on further engagement with tenants in November 2021.

This was designed specifically to determine views on the proposed rent increase for 2022/23, and targeted tenant networks and the tenants’ panel, and was heavily promoted over tenants’ news and social media on a rolling program of open feedback.

The report added: “This provides reassurance that for the majority of tenants their rent remains affordable and that, for those who may struggle, available support can then be more accurately targeted. This also demonstrates how the views of tenants continue to play a key element of key strategic decision making in the service.”

The budget for the Housing Revenue Account for the next year is £58.684million.

The increase will bring in an extra £1.6m.

That is met by £57,683m receipts for rent and also from garage rentals and miscellaneous income.

The report outlined assumptions on expenditure for the coming year including: a pay increase of two per cent in 2022/23; An increase to employers’ pension contributions of 2.3 per cent in 2022/23; inflation of six per cent per annum for repairs, gas servicing and transport costs; a range of inflationary pressures of two per cent to three per cent per annum for insurance costs and void property costs and capital financing charges which will fund ongoing borrowing required to support a core housing maintenance and refurbishment program for existing stock and an increase in the housing .

Councilor Frank Anderson, deputy group leader of the opposition SNP group asked how many tenants were in rent arrears, which total £3.8m.

It equates to 5400 tenants. The figure relates to a cumulative arrears over a number of years.

The council has been running an affordability pilot scheme discussing rents one to one with tenants and helping them with advice and information through other council agencies such as the Advice Shop.

Councillor Anderson said that a report on the pilot scheme showed that a quarter of those questioned thought their rents were not affordable and that figure rose to a third when it came to the question of whether they could afford the three per cent rise.

Mr Struthers pointed out that the number of tenants taking part in the affordability pilot project was a “subset of 400” over half of whom are in receipt of benefits including Universal Credit.

The panel heard that around 3400 tenants on full housing benefit would not be affected by the rent rise. A Tenants Grant Fund was set up during the pandemic to help tenants with arrears.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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