A SWINDON tenants group has expressed disappointment that council housing rent levels will rise above inflation.

Rents for the next financial year are due to go up by an average of 3.7 per cent, which amounts to around £2.82 a week – 0.5 per cent above inflation.

Council leaders said the increase is to help towards the large amount of upgrades and repairs which need to be carried out across the housing stock.

The winter weather was a major contributing factor to the hike as it led to three times as many call outs for repairs compared with the previous year.

A consultation with housing groups and officers was carried out beforehand, with tenants asking for the rise to be no more than 3.2 per cent.

Martin Wicks, secretary of the Swindon Tenants’ Campaign Group, said several group members were spoken to but their requests were not addressed.

He said: “We asked for the rise to be kept in line with inflation so we are obviously a bit disappointed. Over the last five years we have often seen increases above inflation.

“It’s in contrast to their approach on council tax which they have kept frozen for the last four years, yet they don’t seem to take into account the financial concerns of the tenants and the impact this rise will have on them.”

The extra 0.5 per cent, putting the average weekly rent at £79.23, will add an additional £200,000 to the overall income received from rent.

“I don’t think this will make too much of a dent in the account,” said Martin.

“The housing revenue account is in a good condition so we don’t think it was a necessary rise.

“Of course we want the housing to be maintained in a good state but we don’t feel this will be a sufficient amount.

“Some of our members were consulted prior to the rise and I think it’s a shame the council did not take into account their views.”

As well as repairs there is a programme to refit many of the older kitchens and bathrooms in the housing stock. Each bathroom costs the council £3,250 and each kitchen costs £5,250. There are almost 8,000 bathrooms which are still in line for work and 5,400 kitchens.

Coun Richard Hurley (Con, Covingham and Dorcan), cabinet member for housing, said the decision to put rents up by the extra amount was taken reluctantly and influenced by the heavy winter rain.

He said: “No-one wants the increase but unfortunately we were left with little choice.

“If the weather had not been so bad then possibly it would have stayed at 3.2 per cent.

“If we did not put the increase in then we would constantly be falling behind with repairs. Some of the housing stock is not in a very good state and is in urgent need of upgrading, with new kitchens and bathrooms.

“Some authorities are increasing by between five and six per cent, so what we are doing in Swindon is no different to anywhere else. It’s something which needs to be done.”