Council rents will rise three per cent to an average of £80.70 for the next year as West Lothian Council set its budget to come into force in April.
It will mean an average weekly rent increase of £2.35.
The minority Labor administration won support of the Tory group and independent councilor to pass the rent increase – the last by the current administration and the last in a five-year rent strategy agreed following a consultation with tenants in 2017.
There has been ongoing consultation every year since then but the SNP opposition group tabled an amendment demanding a freeze in rent rises citing the squeeze on household budgets with the spiraling cost of living and in the wake of the Covid Pandemic.
Depute SNP group leader Councilor Frank Anderson lambasted the description of the three per cent rise in rent and council tax charges as “modest.” Council tax rises and the rent rise would mean most households would lose an extra £155 a year.
“We’re mugging our tenants,” he declared.
His amendment said: “Presently we have 5363 tenants in arrears owing this council almost £4million. Since 2018, this is an increase of almost 1000 in the number of tenants in arrears and an increase of over £2m in the amount of actual arrears.”
It added “The SNP Group are aware that the three biggest outlays facing our constituents are rent/mortgage, Council Tax and utility bills. This council has total control over two of these, for our tenants, and can influence the third, for the better, for our tenants. This is the “Year of the Squeeze”, increasing inflation, astronomical increases in utility bills, freeze and cuts to benefits and many of our constituents are being driven into poverty.”
The SNP group proposed instead a “year of the Freeze”.
The reduction in rental income of £1,680 million in 2022/23 will be offset by use of £926,000 from reserves and a £754,000 adjustment to the level of Capital financed from Revenue funds.
Noting the proposals, head of finance Donald Forrest, told the meeting that the £1,680m would roll on to the following year’s budget.
Councilor Pauline Clark backed up the call for the freeze and was echoed by several SNP colleagues when she pointed out that those hardest hit would be the working poor who were facing the cost of living crisis and spiraling household bills.
Launching a motion in favor of the rise, Labour’s George Paul said: “This minority Labor Administration doesn’t underestimate the challenges for our tenants in these very difficult times, and notes the reported level of cumulative rent arrears. However, with an in‐year collection rate of 97% this year to date, our tenants are to be commended for the priority they are placing on the payment of rent. The ongoing support being provided by Housing Services, the CX Affordability pilot and the Advice Shop will be even more important in the coming year.
“However, there remains a concern on the ongoing impact of Universal Credit, the Covid‐19 pandemic, and other cost pressures. As such the Housing Revenue Account reserve should be maintained at £926,000 to meet with unforeseen demands on resources.”
Labour’s Andrew McGuire seconded Councilor Paul’s motion supporting the three per cent rise. I have paid tribute to the efforts of housing staff and the work that they do supporting tenants, including the “fantastic” record in rent collection.
He added that the “modest three per cent” rent increase would raise funds for the council to allow it to continue its investment and repairs program to improve council stock, to help it to continue to contribute to the new build program and to invest in services to support tenants.
He said that a three per cent rise compared favorably to the levels being considered by registered social landlords and councils.
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