Tory plan to hike council rents up to 80% of market rents

Labour councillors have slammed Conservative plans to hike council rents up to 80% of market rents.

On 1 December Barnet Council will be launching a consultation on the draft Housing Strategy which seeks to set council rents for existing tenants and current empty council homes that are re-let at either Local Housing Allowance (LHA) levels or 80% of average market rents whichever is lower.

The council is also proposing to charge 80% of average market rents for all new council homes it builds.

Labour councillors recently highlighted that hundreds of council tenants were in rent arrears and struggling to pay their rent as a result of the Conservative government's bedroom tax, and believe any move to increase council rents to near market rent levels would force even more council tenants into debt.

Housing charity Shelter has defined market rents in Barnet as "extremely unaffordable" and even the council admit that Barnet has some of the highest rents in outer-London.

The Labour Group have started a joint petition with Andrew Dismore AM, Sarah Sackman and Amy Trevethan - Labour's parliamentary candidates for Hendon, Finchley & Golders Green and Chipping Barnet which they will be publicising on Monday 10 November at the Barnet Alliance for Public Services public meeting on public housing.

Labour's Housing Spokesperson, Cllr Ross Houston said: "80% of market rents is not an affordable rent, and we oppose any move to increase the rents of existing council tenants and existing council homes that are re-let to near market rent levels.

"We also do not believe that the Conservative-led government's 'affordable rent model' of up to 80% of market rent for new homes is either affordable or sustainable.

"The council's plans will cause misery for the poorest people in our community."

Labour's parliamentary candidate for Hendon, Andrew Dismore AM said: "Even before they impose  their 80% of the open market rent rate, Barnet Conservatives' high rents already mean 11,374 Barnet working families - a 71% increase since  2010 - now have to claim housing benefit.

"These are families in work, who can't otherwise meet their outgoings due to the cost of living crisis that has seen average families £1,600 a year worse off under the Conservatives.  We saw what happened after only a year of the Tory unfair and cruel Bedroom Tax -  618 households in Barnet were trapped by it and 62% ended up in arrears. This is going to be even worse if they get away with it.

"The Conservatives' definition of 'affordable' is beyond the means of most of those in council homes. In their ivory Town Hall and Whitehall towers, the Tories have no idea of what is affordable and within the means of ordinary hard working families, here in Barnet. The inevitable outcome will be yet more benefit claimants, yet more tenants in arrears, and yet more evictions due to this ill thought out, economically illiterate and heartless ideological scheme thought up by the far right faction who run Barnet Council."

Sarah Sackman, Labour's parliamentary candidate for Finchley & Golders Green said:

"We know that renting a home in Barnet, as in London as whole has become unaffordable for most working people. Hiking social rents to 80% of market rent will mean that even those in social housing will be reliant on housing benefit to help pay the rent. Barnet Council's plans will hit some of the poorest people in our community hardest. London should not become a city where only the wealthy can afford to live."

Underhill councillor and Labour's parliamentary candidate for Chipping Barnet, Amy Trevethan said: "These proposals show what a misnomer the word 'affordable' has become under this Tory-led government. Provision of genuinely affordable housing is crucial in an area like Barnet where rents and house prices are significantly above the national average, and thus out of reach of working people who perform essential jobs in our local businesses and industries.

"As the plans will also affect existing tenants, I fear we will see an increase in the number of tenants who have lived in Barnet for many years being pushed out of the Borough, through no fault of their own. 

"The reality is that 80% market rate is not genuinely affordable for many of those who rent from social landlords. We will resist proposals that make a mockery of 'affordability' and that threaten to force residents to give up their homes in the Borough."

Notes:

1. The extract on council rents can be found on p10-11 of the Housing Commissioning Plan: http://barnet.moderngov.co.uk/documents/s18647/Appendix%20C%20-%20Housing%20Committee%20Commissioning%20Plan%2017-10-14.pdf

2. The full Housing Committee Business Plan and Housing Strategy can be found here:

http://barnet.moderngov.co.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=699&MId=7936&Ver=4

3. Labour's petition:

We the undersigned demand that Conservative Barnet council drop their scheme to increase rents to 80% of average open market rents for both existing council tenants and empty council homes when they are re-let. Barnet has the highest market rents in outer-London which housing charity Shelter has defined as "extremely unaffordable" and we do not believe that the Conservative led Government's so-called 'affordable rent model' of charging up to 80% of market rents is either affordable or sustainable. We believe this is false economics that will lead to serious hardship with some tenants being forced to claim benefits where they do not do at present, others being forced into arrears and others at risk of losing their homes, all at a time when the cost of living crisis is already hitting families hard. This unfair and ideological increase in rents must be withdrawn without delay.

4. Details of council tenants in rent arrears:

http://betterbarnet.nationbuilder.com/339_residents_struggling_to_pay_bedroom_tax_as_rent_arrears_top_160_000

5. For details of the BAPS public meeting on housing see:

http://barnetalliance.org/2014/10/16/public-meeting-public-housing-in-barnet/

For more information contact Cllr Ross Houston: cllr.r.houston@barnet.gov.uk

To contact the Barnet Labour Group: 020 8359 2568

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