Housing continues to be a top priority for Southend-on-Sea under the budget proposals for 2023/24.
The council’s cabinet will discuss the plans for the Housing Revenue Account (HRA) as an essential part of the 2023/24 budget and the paper outlines how the council proposes to meet the housing needs for residents in Southend-on-Sea (Cabinet item 7, 12 January).
Most council-set rents are set to rise by a below inflation seven per cent as nationally agreed by the Government*. So, from 3 April 2023, general council housing rent will go from £94.22 to £100.82 per week, a rise by £6.60, and for sheltered accommodation, from £82.08 to £87.82 per week, a rise of £5.74.
Almost three quarters of the residents in council rented housing, shared ownership, hostels and sheltered accommodation, are in receipt of housing benefit or universal credit, to help with these increases.
Garage rents will rise by 10.1 per cent, from £12.70 to £13.98 per week for residents and £15.24 to £16.77 per week for non-residents.
Cllr Ian Gilbert, cabinet member for economic recovery, regeneration and housing, said: “We are duty bound to maintain a balanced budget for the HRA. Although no rent increase will be welcome, this increase is below the rate of inflation and comes at a time when South Essex Homes and the council are facing double digit increases in costs.
“As South Essex Homes see increased day to day costs maintaining our housing stock and with energy bills predicted to rise a further 104% in April 2023, added to additional responsibilities quite rightly introduced following the Grenfell tragedy, to keep residents safe, there is no doubt that there is a real challenge to strike the right balance between all these pressures.”
The paper also asks cabinet to agree a core management fee for South Essex Homes of £7.9million. This has risen from last year, mostly due to the rise in staff costs and inflation, however the core management fee has been offset at the same time as they are set to deliver circa £1m of efficiencies in their day-to-day budgets. They in turn will be raising service charges by almost 45% to reflect their estimated cost increases and a further 104% increase for heating charges in sheltered housing and for hostel tenants (see previous press release).
The rise in energy charges follows updated Government guidance about bills being fair to both tenant and supplier and keeps bills in line with the costs being incurred, so tenants pay the true cost of energy whilst also benefitting from the Government support currently on offer.
These rises will help ensure the council’s housing meets all legislative changes relating to the Fire Safety Act and the Building Safety Act 2022, brought in following the Grenfell tragedy.
The HRA Capital Programme will fund £49.5m of investment into providing decent homes over the next five years, while our temporary accommodation services will continue to provide help and support, backed up by the Housing, Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Strategy.
Cllr Gilbert said: “We recognise there is a great demand for homes in Southend-on-Sea and this proposed HRA budget works to meet that demand by continuing to invest in meeting new legislation, maintaining the homes we have, purchasing additional ones using receipts from those sold under Right to Buy legislation and building new ones through our housing pipeline.
“We still believe in our ambition for everyone in Southend to have a good quality, sustainable home that meets their needs, and I want to assure residents we are doing all we can to achieve that ambition.”
The draft budget will be considered by the council’s cabinet on Thursday 12 January, the council’s policy and resource scrutiny committee on Thursday 2 February, with the final budget to be discussed and approved at full council on Thursday 23 February.