Rate rise to pay for new homes

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SCORES of Wigan council home tenants will have to fork out an extra £25 a week in rent than their neighbours in order to help pay for a cheaper housing scheme!

The revelation today caused a huge political row over the irony and injustice of the arrangement but the local authority says it has no choice in the matter because of Whitehall regulations.

As part of the Government’s Affordable Rented Tenancies (ART) scheme, Wigan Council and Wigan and Leigh Housing will raise rent for 160 recently vacant houses (with two or three bedrooms) to 80 per cent of the market value of similar sized properties.

This means that any new tenants moving into these houses will pay approximately £25 a week more than their neighbours living nearby in socially-rented homes.

The extra rental income will then support the cost of building 72 new homes in Wigan, Hindley and Leigh, funded through Homes and Communities Agency grant as part of the Affordable Homes Programme 2011-2015,

Leader of the council’s opposition Gary Wilkes today blasted the scheme, fearing it will hit tenants on low salaries hard.

He said: “I think it is going to have a big impact on social housing in general, We would all like to live in nice council properties, but can the people of Wigan afford to pay that extra rent?

“Many people living in social housing don’t even earn above the national minimum wage, so to pay £25 a week to compensate the affordable homes is ridiculous. It is both ironic and unjust that folk are being made to stump up a lot more money to make an affordable housing scheme affordable.”

The independent politician added: “I feel the Government is punishing Wigan Council, which is a very good landlord, through no fault of its own.

“The previous Labour government did make some good progress, but we have to look forward now and co-ordinate more funding streams to improve the situation.

“What the Government is asking WALH to do with little funding is unfair. We need to reassess how much houses are worth and be realistic by bringing prices down in value.

“We need to start building more housing – 50 new builds a year will not have a big impact – 100 a year could really help.

“There are hundreds – if not thousands – of people waiting for properties and this funding will only go a short way.”

Coun Chris Ready, portfolio holder for housing, said that the council had little option but to adopt the government’s ART scheme in order to create affordable housing.

He said: “This is a government policy and not unique to our borough. All the housing associations are already carrying it out. We are clear that we will not impose the £25 on any existing tenant. When a house becomes vacant, WALH will re-let it out at the new rate.

“We will have anomalies where people are paying different rents, but tenants will know that when they sign up. We are much less affected by the policy than other parts of Greater Manchester by a wide margin.”

The ARTs scheme will be completed in stages, with 20 houses to be converted by March next year, 90 in 2014 and all 160 by March 2015.

Anyone with any queries should visit www.propertyshop.walh.co.uk or visit Housing Options Advice Centre,

Templeton Road, Platt Bridge, or call 01942 487717.