Stoke-on-Trent rents rocket for council tenants
RENT charges for council tenants in the Potteries have soared by 21 per cent above inflation since the turn of the millennium, according to new Government figures.
Stoke-on-Trent City Council's average weekly charge for tenants rose from £38.27 to £60.66, between 1999 and 2012.
Rent for a council property would have reached just £53 a week if the authority's charges had increased in line with the general cost of living.
The authority has since imposed a further 6.91 per cent increase, and planned rises of 3.86 per cent will take the average weekly bill to £67.35 from April.
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But the council's rent increases were still the lowest of all local authority areas in the West Midlands, Black Country and Staffordshire.
Annette Bellyou, from Hamil Road, Burslem, has been a council tenant since 1999.
The 47-year-old said: "I think the service has improved over the years. About 15 years ago it was not good value for money.
"I can understand that they've been getting less money from the Government, but it's a difficult one because it's a tough time for everybody and nobody wants to have to pay more."
The authority has also bucked trends by reducing its housing waiting list from 2,681 in 1999 to 2,366 this year – despite having 5,690 fewer properties. It has been dramatically cut by working with private landlords to help people in urgent need of a home.
Councillor Dave Conway, leader of the opposition City Independents and a council tenant himself, said: "The service has not improved at the rate council rent has increased.
"With rents continuing to go up and benefits being cut, it boils down to how they expect the family budget to cope.
"We are seeing food banks springing up. Next it will be soup kitchens."
The Sentinel reported last week how tenants will continue to face above-inflation rent increases for several years to bring council properties in line with neighbouring housing associations.
Cash will help the authority repair and maintain its 19,100 properties – at an estimated cost of almost £1.2 billion over 30 years – after it chose to mortgage them from the Government instead of offloading them to social landlords.
Critics say thousands of tenants will struggle to meet the payments as charges increase at the same time as the Government's bedroom tax and council tax benefit cuts see welfare incomes plunge.
Mark Kenyon, the council's finance and commercial manager, said rents were set on a 'fair and consistent basis'.
He added: "Stoke-on-Trent's property prices were much lower than other social housing landlords when the rent restructure policy was introduced."