Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Lib Dems push to help council tenants beat fuel poverty

Cambridge Liberal Democrats are pushing for a dedicated fund to allow the City Council to improve the energy rating of more council homes to help tenants beat fuel poverty.

They want £100,000 set aside to meet higher energy efficiency standards thereby cutting fuel bills for tenants.

Cllr Andy Blackhurst, Lib Dem Housing spokesperson said: “We want the council to adopt more ambitious energy efficiency targets for its housing stock. We are committed to improving energy efficiency and tackling fuel poverty among council tenants.

“It is important that the council thinks strategically about how the rental income is invested. Ensuring that a greater proportion of the housing stock meets contemporary expectations about energy performance is a key part of good stewardship.

“Enhancing the stock in this way means that more future tenants can be spared anxieties about energy bills, while showing a commitment on the council’s part to sound financial management.”

Cllr Nick Avery added, “The Housing Revenue Account is under great pressure because the city needs to finance new affordable housing. The city can’t afford to be doctrinaire about how we approach that. At the same time, we need to ensure that the investment decisions we make for the existing stock make long-term financial sense.”

The Lib Dems will be putting forward their plan as an amendment to the City Council budget and propose that the investment will be recouped by allowing an increase in council rents.

The Liberal Democrat Group’s Housing Revenue Account budget amendment addresses a specific key area: 

a)     A focus on accelerating the existing practice to make empty properties more energy efficient, making the housing stock more sustainable, whilst reducing energy bills for incoming tenants.  
b)     A resulting increase in rental income (where it is possible to charge target rent levels), which allows pay-back of the up-front investment over the life of the HRA business plan. This focus on capital investment that will be recouped over time helps to keep the HRA in as strong a position as possible as we look for innovative ways to finance the affordable housing programme.  
Our recommendations refer to the strategy outlined in the HRA Budget Setting Report.  

Review of Rents:  Approve that council dwellings rents be increased in line with government guidelines,ceasing any move towards target rents for existing tenants, but instead applying an individual increase of 2.2% across all tenure, made up of inflation (CPI at September 2014 of 1.2%) plus 1%, with effect from 6th April 2015

Well-established Council policy allows, however, for the transition of energy efficient void properties direct to target rent before re-let. Based upon activity since April 2013, approximately 70% of void dwellings have been re-let at target rents. It is proposed actively to accelerate the approach to targeted investment whilst properties are void, thus improving the energy efficiency of the housing stock as a whole and reducing energy bills for a higher number of households, whilst also enabling the HRA to charge target rents for as many properties at re-let as possible, ensuring consistency in charging across the housing stock. 

The Liberal Democrat Group therefore recommend; 
a)     Specific additional funding of £100,000 per annum from 2015/16 onwards to target energy efficiency works in void properties, thus improving the energy efficiency of the housing stock as a whole and reducing energy bills for incoming tenants, whilst facilitating the ability to charge target rents for more properties at re-let. This funding would allow approximately 12 more properties per annum to be improved and subsequently re-let at target rent levels.  
b)    An off-setting reduction in the recently-increased discretionary budget for the replacement of fencing on housing estates, with a reduction of £50,000 in 2015/16, rising to £100,000 per annum from 2016/17. It is expected that provision for fencing renewal will be included in the new Estate Fund.