Agency warns of ‘massive pressure’ on families as Stevenage rent rise talks begin

Social housing tenants in Stevenage could be forced to pay nearly eight per cent more in rents next year if finance chiefs cannot find a way of reducing it - putting “massive pressure” on working people.

Council residents would have to find on average another �337.48 a year if figures worked out by Stevenage Borough Council according to government guidelines go ahead in April.

The increase, which would put an extra �2,842,290 a year in the council’s housing revenue account, was initially recommended by finance officers to cabinet members at a meeting on Tuesday night.

But in a dramatic turn of events, leading councillors at the Labour-controlled authority rejected the plan and asked officers to see if they can find a way of cutting the average 7.8 per cent hike.

Housing portfolio holder Ann Webb said she will write to housing minister Grant Shapps, expressing the council’s “grave concerns” about the effect of potential rent increases on tenants. She also criticised the use of the Retail Price Index to calculate it, rather than the lesser Consumer Price Index the government has introduced to increase pensions.

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Kate Farquhar, social policy coordinator at Stevenage Citizens Advice Bureau, said any rise at a time when wages are frozen or barely rising would lead to families losing their homes.

She said: “It will put massive pressure on the budgets of working people and the borough council’s housing benefit budget for those in receipt of full or partial housing benefit.

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“Repossession will be inevitable. People seeking help in trying to keep their homes will be assisted by the CAB as best we can, however we anticipate massive pressure on our resources and those of the courts.”

She added that private renting would be the only alternative for those who lose their homes, but would then face higher rents and low availability.

“People losing their home may therefore find they cannot find affordable private rental property either, increasing homelessness or the need for families to relocate out of the area,” she said.

Finance officers will report back to cabinet on January 17. Its recommendation will be considered by full council eight days later.

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