This is a letter to the Swindon Advertiser

The number of council homes available in Swindon today is around 200 less than in 2011. This is bad enough but now the ruling administration is proposing a policy which will increase the number of unaffordable homes to rent. As part of their ‘regeneration’ of Queen’s Drive they are proposing to cut the number of council homes which charge a council rent (or ‘social rent’ as it is called in the jargon) and charge instead so-called ‘affordable rent’. This can be up to 80% of the market rent.

This would mean that some council tenants would have to pay up to twice the rent that other council tenants pay in a similar property with the same number of bedrooms. Probably the only people who will be able to afford such rents are those who qualify for full housing benefit. However, even they could come unstuck when they have to go over onto Universal Credit. When they do, they will be thrown into arrears as a result of their housing benefit being stopped, whilst their UC claim is being processed. We already know that 75% of tenants on UC have rent arrears compared to 25% of tenants overall. Arrears for ‘affordable rent’ will be considerably higher than ‘social rent’.

In order to pay for the new building the council is planning to convert anything from 191 to 312 existing council homes from ‘social rent’ to ‘affordable rent’. This administration is planning to progressively cut the number of homes with genuinely affordable rent.

Already there are people who are so poor they cannot afford a council rent. The council’s Green Light for Housing policy means-tests people and denies them a tenancy, even if they have come top of the bidding for a property, because they are deemed not to earn enough to cover the rent. If this is the case with council rents, then even more people will be unable to afford ‘affordable rent’.

When people apply to go onto the housing waiting list they are means-tested. They will not be allowed on the list if they “can afford a suitable property on the open market”. So there are no high earners on the list. It’s unlikely, therefore, that there will be people on the list who can easily manage ‘affordable rent’.

The crisis of housing affordability in this town will not be helped by driving up council rents to unaffordable levels. This administration is adopting policies which can only make the housing crisis worse.

Martin Wicks

Secretary, Swindon Tenants Campaign Group