Council House Rents

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 6 May 1981.

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Mr. Dormand as:

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what representations he has received on the Government's statement on council rents increases for 1981–82.

Photo of John Stanley John Stanley Minister (Department of Environment) (Housing & Construction)

Some 570 letters on the subject of council house rent increases have been received since my right hon. Friend made his housing statement on 15 December.

Photo of Mr Jack Dormand Mr Jack Dormand , Easington

Why has the Secretary of State been so strangely and untypically quiet recently, particularly about rent increases? Could it be that, although county councils have no direct responsibility for rents, he believes that what is said on the subject might rub off and have an effect on the county council elections tomorrow? Will the Minister come clean and be honest and admit that the vast increases in rents, which many people in the Northern region will find difficult to meet, are due entirely to Government policy?

Photo of John Stanley John Stanley Minister (Department of Environment) (Housing & Construction)

The hon. Gentleman must realise that the previous Government's policy was to increase rents in line with earnings and that they failed to discharge that policy. In four out of their five years the increase in rents was below the increase in earnings. As a result, the relationship between earnings and rents is now one of the lowest on record. In 1980–81 rents were 6·5 per cent. of earnings. If the hon. Gentleman is exercised by the number of letters that we have received—about 570—he should know that we have received nearly 10 times that number from council tenants wishing to buy their council homes. That suggests that council tenants are less concerned about the level of rents than about being frustrated by Labour councils in their right to buy.

Photo of Mr John Heddle Mr John Heddle , Lichfield and Tamworth

Will my hon. Friend confirm that at least 45 per cent. of council tenants do not have to meet any rent increases in full, and that 25 per cent. do not have to meet any increase at all?

Photo of John Stanley John Stanley Minister (Department of Environment) (Housing & Construction)

My hon. Friend is correct. About 46 per cent. of local authority tenants receive help with their rents. Of those, more than 1¼ million will have to pay no increase in rent because they receive supplementary benefit. More than 1 million tenants will have about 60 per cent. of any increase met because they receive rent rebates. The Government extended the rent rebate system in the Housing Act 1980. More recently, we increased the maximum ceiling for rent rebates in London to £35 a week and to £30 a week outside London. That provides real protection for people on low incomes.

Photo of Mr Joseph Dean Mr Joseph Dean , Leeds West

On the subject of council house rents, will the Minister reflect on an answer that he gave during the previous Environment Question Time, on 1 April, when he said that last year Manchester provided £37 million for its housing revenue account from the rates? As a Manchester ratepayer, I know that that figure is wrong by £10 million. The figure is £27 million. Will the Minister take this opportunity to correct that error?

Photo of John Stanley John Stanley Minister (Department of Environment) (Housing & Construction)

I assure the hon. Gentleman that I shall look into the matter, but the figures that I gave were closely checked by my Department. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the burden of rates in Manchester over many years has had a serious effect on small and medium-sized businesses in that city.