Guildford Borough Council increases tax, rent and fees as it fights off bankruptcy threat

Council tenants struggling in a cost of living crisis will be hit with a triple whammy of rising tax, fees and rent.
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Guildford Borough Council approved a 7.7 per cent rent increase for its social tenants as well as a 2.99 per cent hike tax for all its residents.

Fees will be going up, including for bins and parking charges, as the council looks to bring in a balanced budget and avert the risk of bankruptcy, the Thursday, February 8, council meeting heard.

This is on top of the 4.99 per cent levied by Surrey County Council and 4.2 per cent imposed by Surrey Police.

Guildford Borough Council increases tax, rent and fees as it fights off bankruptcy threat. Picture by Emily Coady-StempGuildford Borough Council increases tax, rent and fees as it fights off bankruptcy threat. Picture by Emily Coady-Stemp
Guildford Borough Council increases tax, rent and fees as it fights off bankruptcy threat. Picture by Emily Coady-Stemp

Those living in areas with parish councils may see additional increases.

The council also confirmed it would cut capital expenditure by £100m and release £50 through the sale of assets.

Councillors said the drastic measures were needed to close a budget gap of £3m on last year and to help scale back its £300m debt that had been projected to hit £600m by the end of the decade.

Councillor Richard Lucas, portfolio holder for finance, said: “The alternative to not passing this budget would increase the risk of 114 this would mean that all councillors are removed from the decision making process..

“It also means that all non statutory services would be under the knife.

“If you want to see what this entails, look at our neighbour Woking Borough Council. This budget gets us out of that mess.”

The council is also set to sell millions of pounds worth of assets, although details remain unclear – save that about 75 sites have been identified for disposal. It said more could be sold if this fails to bring in the requisite income.

The council also owns and manages more 5,200 houses that it rents as social housing. It is forecast to have a surplus of £7.816 million in the fund next year.

Rents will be increased by 7.7 per cent.

By the narrowest of margins an amendment to see tenants’ rents increase by only 5 per cent was defeated when the borough’s mayor sided with the ruling group – as per tradition.

Councillor Joss Bigmore (RA; Merrow) introduced the failed amendment.

He said: “To follow the (Government) guidance, and that’s all it is, of 7.7 per cent is wrong.

“Universal credit is only going up by 6.7 per cent.

“Last year we ignored the guidance, the actual guidance was 11 but the government capped it at seven. We decided that five per cent was fair.

“That was a way of protecting some of our most vulnerable residents in social housing from the cost of living crisis and to be frank I don’t see what changes this year.

“We should think again, we should look at a social rent increase of 5 per cent.”

Leader of the council, Councillor Julia Mcshane said: “Obviously we are concerned in the current economic climate that we are able to support our tenants as much as we can.”

Around 92 per cent of the council’s tenants are on social rent, 60 per cent get housing benefit or universal credit to cover rent payments.

Cllr George Robert (LD; Burpham) said rent went up last year by five per cent when inflation was more than double that.

He told the meeting: “Over the past two years council tenants rents will have, in real terms, risen by less than inflation over the same period. Unlike most people in the private sector council tenants will be seeing a real term reduction in their rents.”

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