This report presents the Housing Revenue Account (HRA) capital and revenue budgets for 2021/22 and provides details of proposed rent and service charge levels for 2021/22. The report also contains the latest revised forecasts of the HRA Business Plan. The comments of this Committee will be reported to the Cabinet on 2 February 2021 and Council on 18 February 2021.
The Committee considered a report presenting the Housing Revenue Account capital and revenue budgets for 2021/22 which provided details of proposed rent and service charge levels, and raised the following questions and comments:
· Void management – It was important to acknowledge that vacant properties were sometimes unavailable for rent because they were in need of repair or refitting.
· Garage rents – The proposed increase of 5% in garage rent seemed high given that the occupancy rate was only 73% and it was suggested that more should be done to increase occupancy levels. In noting this, the Head of Strategic Housing reported that the policy on garages had been relaxed to allow the storage of items other than cars.
· Proposed social rent increase – It was questioned whether an increase in social rent of CPI plus 1%s was reasonable in the current circumstances. The Head of Strategic Housing advised that the Council’s social rents were the lowest in Medway and that there had been a four-year rent freeze despite an increase in costs. He outlined the safeguards that were in place to support tenants on low incomes.
· Rent arrears in the last year due to the pandemic – The Head of Strategic Housing advised that there had been no noticeable increase in rent arrears during the pandemic and that there had been no evictions due to rent arrears.
· Backlog of housing repairs due to the pandemic – The Head of Strategic Housing reported that the backlog in housing repairs from the first period of lockdown had been cleared although a further backlog was building during the current restrictions as non-emergency works had again been suspended.
· Delay in the HRA development programme due to the pandemic – The Head of Strategic Housing advised that a re-tender exercise was underway for phase four of the development programme. The housing market was responding well during the pandemic and there was currently no impact on the programme as a result of the pandemic.
The Committee recommended to the Cabinet:
a) A proposed social rent increase of CPI plus 1% for the housing stock as set out in Appendix A of the report (based on 52 collection weeks) with effect from 05 April 2021.
b) A proposed affordable rent increase of CPI plus 1% for the housing stock as set out in Appendix B of the report (based on 52 collection weeks) with effect from 05 April 2021.
c) A proposed rent increase of 5% to be applied to all garage tenure types with effect from 05 April 2020 as stated in section 4 of the report.
d) That the service charges increases/decreases as set out in Appendix C of the report for 2021/22 be approved.
e) That the revenue budget for the HRA service for 2021/22 as per Appendix D of the report be approved.
f) That the proposed 3 year planned maintenance capital programme budget and the funding be approved as set out in section 8.5.3 & 8.5.4 of the report.
g) To approve the reduction in 2020/21 planned maintenance underspend capital budget of £1.4m as set out in section 8.5.6 of the report.
h) That the provision for the repayment of debt based on annuity-based payment of £0.410m, on the HRA’s outstanding debt for 2021/22 be approved.
i) That Members approve the revised 30-year HRA Business Plan model as attached at Appendix E of the report.
(In accordance with Council Rule 12.6, Councillors Khan, Maple and Andy Stamp asked that their abstentions be recorded).