Lambeth, along with a number of other local authorities, had lobbied the government for extra funding to maintain and improve council housing without being forced to raise rents. But, following a consultation last year, the government announced in November that there would be no additional funding to support councils and rent increases would instead be capped at 7%.
In response to this rent increase and the continuing cost of living crisis, the council has earmarked an extra £500,000 to help protect those tenants who are already suffering most from the impact of rising prices.
A report to the council’s Cabinet has proposed a 7% increase in council rents, in line with the government’s announcement, from 3 April.
The below-inflation rent increase will help fund the council’s repair and maintenance work, alongside the major works and home improvement programme that keeps Lambeth’s 33,000 council homes at a decent standard. Lambeth’s Housing Revenue Account (HRA) – which pays for this work – lost over £28m in four years up to 2020, due to nationally-enforced reductions in council housing rental income.
The Housing Revenue Account Budget, Rent and Service Charge setting report said the four years of enforced rent reductions had resulted in “a permanent loss of income to Lambeth and its tenants” estimated at £28.5m. This is in addition to the withdrawal of Decent Homes grant funding and cuts to local government services by central government.
The council is required by law to set a balanced housing budget, which has been historically made more difficult by central Government over the last decade, and increasingly difficult in the face of rising inflation. Lambeth is doing all it can to bear these cost increases and not pass them on to vulnerable tenants.
Word from the Cabinet
Cllr Tim Windle, the council’s Cabinet Member for Better Homes and Reducing Homelessness, said: “Our request for reasonable Government funding to improve our homes has fallen on deaf ears. But this Government decision not only reduces our ability to make necessary improvements to homes, including energy efficiency improvements to reduce bills, but also impacts on tenants in the form of higher rents during a cost of living crisis.”
“I know that for many people this rent rise will cause some financial hardship, and we don’t take that lightly. That is why we have made it a priority to provide an extra half a million pounds in funding for our most vulnerable tenants, who are already suffering the most from this crisis. We will continue to push the Government to provide more financial support.”
The report to Cabinet recommends that £500,000 from the HRA contingency budget should be set aside to ensure that additional hardship support is available to council tenants impacted by the rent changes. This money will be available to the most vulnerable council tenants and aligned with Lambeth’s comprehensive support programme for residents caught in the grip of the cost of living crisis. For example Lambeth offers help to:
- Access funds in a crisis – an Emergency Support Scheme for residents facing a crisis, emergency or disaster
- Maximise your income – Discretionary housing payments or targeted payouts to the most vulnerable
- Minimise your outgoings – campaigns to increase residents’ take-up of eligible benefits e.g. pension credit and Free School Meals and support to distribute surplus food at scale via Healthy Living Platform
- Access money guidance advice from a range of different support services including Brixton Advice, Centre 70, Citizens Advice, the Income and Rents Team and the Every Pound Counts team who offer support around debt management and ensuring that people get the benefits they are entitled to
Cllr Windle added: “Despite the unprecedented funding cuts we’ve endured from central government, and the financial challenges still facing us, Lambeth still has ambitious plans for home improvements.
“In the absence of government support, these proposals are the only sensible option we have to maintain investment in the upkeep of our homes.”