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U-turn over rent and service charges rises for sheltered housing complexes

PUBLISHED: 16:30 30 September 2020

Planned increases in sheltered housing rents and utility bills in Mid Suffolk have been frozen for a year. Picture: THINKSTOCK/ISTOCK PHOTO

Planned increases in sheltered housing rents and utility bills in Mid Suffolk have been frozen for a year. Picture: THINKSTOCK/ISTOCK PHOTO

Archant

Sheltered housing residents in Mid Suffolk have been handed a reprieve after planned increases in the rent and utility bills for this year have been frozen.

Mid Suffolk District Council cabinet member for housing and communities, Julie Flatman. Picture: MSDCMid Suffolk District Council cabinet member for housing and communities, Julie Flatman. Picture: MSDC

Mid Suffolk District Council in January announced plans to increase the rent by £2.19 per week, alongside a £2 per week increase in service charges and a further 62p increase per week on the utility bills.

But a procedural error which required external legal advice delayed the plans, and once resolved the coronavirus lockdown had already begun, meaning those planned increases could not be put in place in time for the start of the financial year.

MORE: Mid Suffolk approves rent and bill rises for sheltered housing tenants

Last week, the council unanimously opted to scrap the increase for this year.

Councillor Julie Flatman, Conservative cabinet member for communities, said: “The housing team are required to work to strict deadlines when informing tenants of rent and service changes, and the legal opinion [over the procedural error] could not be obtained before that deadline.

“For that reason, the annual rent increase letters sent to Mid Suffolk sheltered housing tenants made no mention of service charge increases for 2020/21.”

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Ms Flatman said it would have been possible to send updated letters, but fresh priorities from the coronavirus pandemic on home visits, tenant safety and staff procedures had to take precedence.

She added: “It did not feel reasonable to increase service charges at that point when the delivery of the service was having to change.”

The u-turn has been welcomed by the opposition Green and Liberal Democrat group, which raised concerns at the time when it was agreed.

Councillor Sarah Mansel said: “I felt it was the wrong decision back in February, and I think it was a shame there was a procedural error.

“But I think the council is now about to make the right decision.

“We should not be increasing service charges at this time.”

Any planned increases next year will be included as part of the budget setting process for 2021/22, likely to be announced in December or January.

The decision affects 286 sheltered homes in the district, with the council set to receive nearly £35,000 less in income than originally budgeted for in January and February this year as a result.


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