Highland Council today agreed a modest increase in council house rents, in what many described as a careful “balancing act”.
Highland has among the cheapest rents in Scotland, averaging £79.25 a week.
Councillors agreed to increase this by 1% in the next financial year, adding 79p a week to the average rent.
The below-inflation increase takes account of the rising cost of living and escalating fuel bills. Highland Council says it’s the lowest increase in years, with rents increased by 3% in 2020.
The 1% rise allows the housing service to balance the books without needing to make any service cuts. The council faces increasing costs from loan charges, staff pay rises and tenant arrears.
‘Many of our tenants live in poverty’
Some councillors were concerned that the rent increase was not enough.
Andrew Jarvie queried whether it created sufficient income to keep up with repairs, pointing out the escalating cost of materials.
Councillor Duncan MacPherson went further, highlighting the disparity between council and private rents, and between Highland and the central belt.
“Highland is the happiest place to live if you’re renting at £347 per month when everyone else in private rent is paying double or more,” he said. “Are we being prudent?”
Housing officers accepted it was a difficult decision, but claimed a 1% rise is the most sustainable option for tenants.
“Many of our tenants live in relative or absolute poverty,” said executive officer Mark Rodgers.
Councillor Allan Henderson added: “Anyone who comes up to the Highlands for a cheap rent will soon find out we’ve got acute fuel poverty, high distribution costs to put up with and difficult IT solutions.”
Consensus of opinion
Mr Henderson referred members to a tenant survey which showed that 63% felt a 1% rent increase was reasonable.
“The Highland Council is of the people and the people have suggested that 1% at this moment of time would be the right amount. There’s a consensus of opinion from the members this morning.”
The rent increase will apply to all Housing Revenue Account properties and rents to Gypsy/traveller sites. Non-HRA rents will also increase according to contract terms.
Councillor Mike Finlayson, vice chairman of the housing and property committee, said: “We recognise that many tenants are going to be facing higher costs of living and energy bills in the coming year.
“We listened to the responses we received through consultation on rent levels. This small rent increase in 2022-23 will allow us to maintain current levels of service whist minimising the financial impact on Council tenants.”