HC Deb 27 April 1988 vol 132 cc336-7
5. Mr. Graham

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received about the Scottish Special Housing Association's recent rent increases.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton)

None, Sir.

Mr. Graham

Is the Minister aware that SSHA rents are among some of the highest in Scotland? Is he further aware that the recently imposed rent increases are way beyond three times the level of inflation? Is he also aware that in the same number of weeks we have seen horrific cuts in housing benefit? Will he assure us that he will move to stop the SSHA from levying such an appalling burden on its tenants?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

The increases are not out of line with the increases for local authorities. SSHA rents increased by 11.1 per cent., compared with 11.6 per cent., which was the average increase for Scottish local authorities, and the rents paid by new towns tenants are higher. It is important that the appropriate mechanism for lowering the effective rents of those on low incomes or the unemployed should be through the revised housing benefit arrangements, which take account of household circumstances. The SSHA expects to spend 10 per cent. more on management and maintenance, which is the reason for the increase.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does my hon. Friend agree with the evidence that a substantial number of people who are at present in council properties would be happy and delighted to transfer to SSHA properties because of its better record on maintenance and repairs?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I am convinced that the SSHA is regarded as a model landlord throughout Scotland.

Mr. Steel

Given these rent increases, does the Minister accept that, because of the changes in social security benefits and the relatively modest increase in the pension, large numbers of SSHA tenants will find themselves poorer this year than last year? That is the responsibility, not of the SSHA, but of the Government.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I have said that for every pound by which the rent of those who are on income support rises, their housing benefit will increase by a similar amount. Further, a housing deficit subsidy is payable to the SSHA. That subsidy was increased to £24.4 million this year. The purpose of the subsidy is to ensure that rents do not rise beyond a certain level.

Mr. Allan Stewart

Following the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker), does my hon. Friend agree that it is significant, first, that he has received no representations about these rent increases, and, secondly, that 1,000 local authority tenants in Castlemilk have recently voted to go into the SSHA, despite higher rents, because they would receive higher standards of repair and maintenance?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

It is significant that I have had no representations. I think it is valuable that the expertise of the SSHA should be involved in urban regeneration projects, and we would like to see more of that.

Mr. Tom Clarke

Does the Minister accept that those of us who have SSHA tenants in our constituencies recognise that there is a great deal of anxiety about the higher rents and the social security changes? Does he also accept that he would have received representations had the SSHA been an elected rather than an appointed body?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman has to say. There is to be a full debate on the social security arrangements and housing benefit later this afternoon, when the hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity to put forward that point.

Mr. Home Robertson

Are not these unwarranted rent increases a bitter foretaste of what is in store for tenants in Scotland under the Scottish Homes organisation? Will the Minister stop playing cat and mouse with 80,000 SSHA tenants and give them a genuine choice, including the possibility of maintaining fair rents and security of tenure by transferring to local authorities when the SSHA is abolished under the Housing (Scotland) Bill?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I am glad to confirm—because there has been misinformation in certain areas—that SSHA tenants, when they become tenants of Scottish Homes, will retain all their existing rights. They will be secure tenants and their rents will be set according to the present procedure. As the hon. Gentleman asked about the setting of rents, I should point out that the council of management will determine the rents. In advising the SSHA of the annual deficit subsidy, the Scottish Development Department shows a range of possible increases. It is ultimately for the SSHA to determine rent levels which, with the deficit subsidy, will generate the revenue to maintain its stock in good order.

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