Social housing rent rise dilemma

Kevin Dodd

Kevin Dodd

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COUNCIL chiefs say government plans to increase social housing rents to pay for new homes are “appalling”.

Coun Denise Jeffery condemned the coalition government’s new rent plan at last week’s full Wakefield Council meeting, saying she was “distraught” when she heard about it.

Under the proposals, the government can withhold grants to build new social housing unless a number of empty properties owned by social housing providers – such as Wakefield and District Housing (WDH) – are re-let at a higher rate. The “affordable rents” plan – which will not affect existing tenants – could see landlords increasing rents on these properties by an average of £15 per week.

Coun Jeffery said: “We desperately need new houses but unless Wakefield and District Housing puts the rents up far higher than their target rent, it won’t get a single grant to build a house in the district.

“Rents are going to go through the roof and I think it’s appalling. We were distraught when we heard – this is the latest thing against social housing.”

Kevin Dodd, chief executive of Wakefield and District Housing, gave an exclusive interview to the Express this week to explain more about the proposed changes and allay tenants’ fears.

He said: “I do agree with Coun Jeffery that social housing providers are being put in a no-win situation. If a housing provider wants to build more homes then it will be required to increase some of the rents on properties that it lets to the new affordable rent level.

“We need to maximise house building in the district and the waiting list is going ballistic. We need to increase the scale of housing and it might mean converting some of our properties to the affordable rent to actually build new homes.

“It doesn’t affect existing tenants, it doesn’t affect anyone’s entitlement to housing benefit and it only affects properties we get empty that we decide, in conjunction with the council, to convert in order to stimulate new housing growth in the district.”

According to WDH, properties will still be made available through its Homesearch letting scheme, which means tenants will still be able to choose which accommodation they apply for to best suit their circumstances.

But with more than 23,000 people on the waiting list, Mr Dodd admitted that WDH faced a dilemma over raising rents in order to build new homes.

At present, he said WDH aimed to build 250 new homes this year, meaning that around 1,000 empty properties needed to be converted to affordable rents. He said: “It’s a catch 22, we have a situation where people who have been waiting for housing could be waiting longer if we don’t enter the new regime. If we do, people will be slightly paying more.

“The rent levels here are not going exceed the local housing allowance, it would be daft as a business for us to put rents up to something people can’t afford.

“Although rents maybe higher than social rent or target rents in this area, the affordable rent level is still taking housing benefit. Nobody will be disadvantaged.

“WDH plans to make sure that all new tenants would be eligible for housing benefit, and through the choice-based letting system, make sure that individuals make their own choices to suit their circumstances.”