WDC Public Rent Setting Consultation Meeting,
Tuesday 24th November 2020, 2 pm via zoom.
Councillor Diane Docherty (Housing Convenor)- chaired meeting, Frances McGonagle - Littleholm TRA + WDTRO, Rita Howard - Scrutiny Panel + Interested Tenant, Fiona McClymont - Scrutiny Panel + Interested Tenant, Alex McMillan - Scrutiny Panel + Interested Tenant, Billy Neeson - Westbridgend TRA + WDTRO, Harry McCormack - Tullichewan TRA + WDTRO, Mary Paton - Willox Park TA, Georgia McCambley - Central Radnor Park TRA +WDTRO. Gavin & Angela Lawson - N&S Drumry TRA, Peter Barry (Strategic lead, Housing & Employability), Janice Rainey (Finance Business Partner), John Kerr (Housing Development and Homelessness Manager), Jane Mack (Snr Housing Development Officer – Tenant Participation), Hanne Thijs (Housing Development Officer – Tenant Participation), Stefan Kristmanns (Housing Development Coordinator).
Councillor Diane Docherty welcomed everyone to the rent setting consultation for 2021/22 and explained the basic controls on zoom and everyone was asked to mute during presentation until discussion.
Copy of presentation was shared on screen and copies are available from Tenant Participation staff.
Peter explained how Housing Services had focused on minimising the impact of the challenges posed by Covid-19 pandemic and the improvements that were able to be implemented during the year so far. Commitment to keep WDC rents affordable and are below Scottish average but above some other Local authorities’ rent levels. In tenant satisfaction survey, 34.8% found their rent very or fairly easy to afford, 46% just about affordable and 19.2% fairly or very difficult to afford so focus is on minimising any rent increase.
Handed over to Janice Rainey, Finance Business Partner
Janice explained the estimates and budget setting process which involve a review of financial assumptions in Business Plan. Business Plan income and expenditure estimates shows a 1.9% annual increase needed to balance the Housing Revenue Account. Breakdown of HRA costs show that loan charges are biggest portion, followed by repairs and then staffing costs.
Peter then outlined the rent options. The HRA is projected to have a surplus at the end of 2020/21 due to the COVID-19 restrictions resulting in reduced repairs costs. Number of ways this money could be used and rent options reflect that,
Options outlined as;
Option 1 – 1.5% By using a proportion of this surplus in 2021/22, rather than reinvesting it into future Housing Capital Programmes, it would be possible to reduce the rent increase to 1.5% (from 1.9%).
This would not affect the current New Build and Capital Investment Programmes and the wide range of services that tenants receive.
Option 2 – 1.9% By using a proportion of this surplus in 2021/22, rather than reinvesting it into future Housing Capital Programmes, it would be possible to use this for a one-off credit to tenants’ rent accounts of 1 week's rent, assisting with reducing rent arrears in many cases.
Would not affect the current New Build and Capital Investment Programmes and the wide range of services that tenants receive.
Option 3 – 2.2% This option would result in additional income for the Housing Revenue Account over 2021/22 and would allow the Housing Service to increase and accelerate the delivery of certain works or services based on tenant priorities in 2021/22.
The additional income would allow an additional capital expenditure of £1.2m on priority areas for spend which will be decided by tenants in early 2021 allowing these to be delivered fully in 2021/22.
Following today's meeting, the rent options would then be open to all tenants to vote for their preferred option. Voting would be open until 20/1/21 and final decision would be made at Council meeting on 3/3/21. All tenants will be sent out information on the options and details on the different ways to vote. Will be able to vote online – quickest and easiest but also have other ways to assist those who don’t have online access. The information being sent out includes a free post voting card, also giving texting option and will be encouraging Housing staff to assist tenants vote online.
Q – A surplus due to repairs not getting done was mentioned but is this money being saved by not doing repairs tenants want done?
A -. Peter confirmed that no it wasn’t, and they have been working on clearing backlog of non-urgent repairs and will restart that whenever we out of Tier 4. Been a reduction in tenants reporting repairs and that is where money is being saved. No tenant will be without a repair they’ve reported.
Q – 3 questions posed together - First Minister letter says that repairs have to be dealt with. Rent raised last year by 1.9% so how was that used. And concerns about homelessness as knows of 10-15 people sleeping rough in West Dunbartonshire so how is the Council going to help them?
A – Peter agreed that the Council had received a letter from Kevin Stewart the Housing Minister that they could do all repairs and so had started a programme for non-essential repairs. Further Guidance was then received from the Scottish Government clarifying that non-essential repairs couldn’t be done in Tier 4 so plans had to change.
It is from the rent collected during the year that the surplus is coming from as we haven’t spent as much on repairs as predicted when budgets were being set last year.
Not aware of any rough sleepers in WD and Homeless team would accommodate and support anyone in that situation. Gavin to provide more specific locations so that contact can be made.
No further questions were raised, and Peter asked if tenants were happy with the wording of the options before they get printed and distributed to all tenants. No concerns were raised.
Councillor Docherty thanked everyone for joining the meeting and for their input. The meeting then finished.