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‘Lowest earners’ look set to bear brunt of council house rent rise

Proposals to increase council house rent by two per cent have taken a step forward.

Some of Orkney’s lowest earners look set to be hit by a two per cent rent increase, after a report which was labelled a “tough read” was backed by councillors.

While some said the raise was the most “reasonable” option, some councillors expressed disappointment, reluctance and regret on the need to approve  the increase, when the topic arose at the education, leisure and housing committee meeting on Wednesday, January 3.

The rent rise, if ratified by the full council in March, is planned to take effect from Monday, April 5 — despite a public consultation returning that a majority disagreed with the proposal.

However some councillors said that, setting their reluctance aside, it was the better option.

Councillor Barbara Foulkes said the report was a “really tough read.”

“It’s really indicating to us the impact of COVID on some of the lowest earners in our community I think, and it’s really highlighted that,” she said.

This was further highlighted,  when it was stated during the meeting that approximately 50 per cent of tenants will either be on universal credit, or housing benefit at any one time.

Despite admitting she completely understood the reasons for the proposed rent increase, Councillor Foulkes said she was  struggling to accept the two per cent proposal, and asked the chairwoman if she could “test the waters” with the other elected members, by opening a discussion.

Explaining the controversial position, service manager (housing and homelessness) Lesley Mulraine said: “We’ve really tried to keep the rental increase low this year, in recognition that it’s been a difficult year financially for many of our tenants.

“However, a range of budgetary pressures are impacting on the housing revenue account, including debt repayment, requirements to meet increasingly challenging energy-efficiency standards, and also general price increases, as a result of COVID-19.

“Therefore, a rental increase of two per cent is needed, in order to meet current costs.”

Read the full story in The Orcadian, now available online and in shops.

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