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There are fears that a plan to increase council tenant rents in Southend will push the borough’s most vulnerable residents into debt and force some onto the streets.
Council tenants may have to find more than £100 extra each year after council bosses agreed to a rent increase of 2.7 per cent from April.
The increase will mean families living in an average three bed council house will be paying £2.75 extra each week – the equivalent of £143 each year.
The council claims all the extra income will be reinvested into its housing stock but residents say they are already struggling and the council plans will make things much worse.
Alexandra Waite, 34, a resident of the Chiltern tower block on the Queensway Estate, said: “I know for certain that a lot of mums on the Queensway estate are going to struggle with this. Many are already in rent arrears because sometimes they face the option of feeding their children or paying the rent.”
She said the council has not communicated with any residents about the increase and there has been no public consultation to ask the views of residents.
“This is the first I’ve heard about it,” she continued.
“No information has been given to us at all and to be honest I feel it is unfair when they make these decisions but have no experience of the lifestyle. Most don’t know what it is like to live in council housing and to be unemployed.
“They make decisions based on the lives of people they have no relationship to.”
She added: “I think the homeless problem in Southend is going to get worse if they increase the rent.”
The council is looking to raise council rents after the end of a 2015 government policy that called for the charges to be reduced by one per cent each year over four years.
In addition to a rise in rent, South Essex Homes is also boosting services charges which relate to estate maintenance. This will involve average increases of 6.36 per cent in service charges and a 16.69 per cent hike in heating charges, which the council said reflects “the actual costs incurred”.
Council leader, Councillor Ian Gilbert said: “Rent has been falling by one per cent for a number of years now and that is not sustainable if we are going to properly maintain our housing stock to a good standard in the future.
“I understand that no rent increase will be welcome but for 55 per cent of council tenants this will be covered in full by housing benefit.”
He added the council has published details of the proposed changes, which will be voted on in February, but acknowledged no letters had been sent to residents.
“South Essex Homes has tenants and residents federation where they can talk about these thing but perhaps if they’ve not been as involved as they should, it is something we could look at,” he added.