CAMBRIDGE City Council has set out proposals in its Housing Revenue Account (HRA) budget to significantly improve energy efficiency for more tenants currently living in council homes, and to continue its successful programme of building hundreds of new council homes.
The full proposals for managing and maintaining more than 7,000 council-owned homes, and building new council homes in Cambridge, are set out in the HRA Budget Setting Report 2023-24.
Under the proposals the remaining 1,700 council homes not yet ‘retrofitted’ to at least a C standard for energy efficiency with the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) will be improved to at least that level.
The budget also outlines the next phase of the council’s ambitious council house building programme, which since 2017 has seen more than 700 new homes either already completed or currently on site and being built.
It is now hoped that in addition over 600 more council homes will be completed in the next 10 years, plus more than 300 new affordable homes which will be available at 80% of the average market rental rate for Cambridge.
In addition, the council will build on successful recent pilot work to ensure homes are visited regularly by housing officers under its tenancy audit scheme.
Regular visits will help the council to check the condition of properties and arrange timely repairs, ensure tenants’ particular needs are being met, signpost people to additional support available, and ensure properties still meet households’ needs.
As with the council’s overall financial situation, outlined recently in the General Fund Budget Setting Report, the council’s housing budget also faces significant financial challenges, including interest rate rises, unexpectedly high inflation, increases in energy prices, and the need to comply with policy changes imposed by the government.
In this financial context, the council is proposing that rents on council properties increase by 5% next year. The rise is below the government set cap of a 7% increase, and significantly below the government’s rent standard of Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation rate plus 1% - or 11.1%.
The 5% rise will allow for the council to invest money so that all homes can be brought up to at least an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) ‘C’ standard by 2035, which will mean all council tenants will be able to live in more energy efficient homes.
This project will complement the council's vision for the city to be net zero carbon by 2030. Currently 31% of carbon emissions in Cambridge come from domestic emissions such as homes.
For tenants who receive full housing benefit or Universal Credit an increase in rent will be met through these routes. For those who pay their rent themselves, there will be an increase in rent to find, but the council will continue to provide financial and budgeting advice to those who require it and will work with tenants to ensure that they are claiming all financial assistance to which they are entitled.
Cllr Gerri Bird, Executive Councillor for Housing, said: “Preparing a budget for expanding and improving our council housing in the current financial climate is extremely challenging. We are aware that things are tough for many tenants, which is why our proposed increase in rents is well below the upper limit set by government, but we have no choice but to invest in making homes more energy efficient. The climate crisis will not wait, and at a time when we’ve seen the impact of increasing energy costs, these measures will also help to protect tenants’ future bills from market forces like those we have seen in recent times.
“Since the start of the cost of living crisis we have been encouraging any tenants and indeed any residents to get in touch with the council so we can help ensure they are getting all the financial assistance and advice they are entitled to – people can find a wealth of support and information at www.cambridge.gov.uk/cost-of-living-help.”
The HRA budget was considered by Housing Scrutiny Committee on 24 January and will then be considered at a meeting of the full Council on 23 February.