THURROCK Labour have rejected claims by Thurrock Conservatives that they have “dragged their feet” over a downsizing scheme for tenants.
Conservative Housing spokesman Cllr Rob Gledhill said: “In October, the Council’s Housing Overview and Scrutiny Committee recommended introducing help for residents to downsize to a smaller home. This could include one-off payments covering moving costs, or help organising moving for elderly residents. The scheme would help increase the availability of larger properties for those who need them.
“It is now nearly March and the proposed incentive scheme is still not in place. I have had residents call me saying they want to downsize but cannot afford to do so and are being told that the Council is not going to help them.”
However, deputy leader and portfolio holder for housing, cllr Val Morris-Cook has rejected the Tory criticisms.
Cllr Morris-Cook said: “For Conservative councillors to complain that we are not acting fast enough to respond to the hardship caused by their own government’s Bedroom Tax is not only inaccurate but breathtaking in its cynicism.
I take this issue very seriously indeed and, since last October we have made over 1200 visits to those residents who will be directly affected by the government’s Bedroom Tax to explain what the changes will mean to them and outline the help we can offer.
As a result of these visits 131 households expressed an interest in downsizing their property so they would avoid the Bedroom Tax.
“Thurrock Council is already offering £1000 per bedroom downsized or the potential to live rent free for a year – vulnerable residents also get help to move home, including with removal costs.
“The biggest problem Thurrock, and most other councils face, is that we, simply, don’t have a sufficient supply of one and two bedroom properties for those effected to move into.
“Far from building council home being merely an attempt to “grab headlines” it is a very real effort to find a sustainable solution for those who need help to avoid the Bedroom tax and give a decent home to those who need it.”
Ockendon Councillor Barry Johnson has also expressed his frustration at the lack of action, adding “Not only are Labour dragging their feet in implementing a relatively simple scheme, they are blocking residents already in financial problems from helping themselves out of debt.
“I have residents stuck in a catch-22 situation where they are told that they are over housed and so will have to pay out extra, but because they are in rent arrears they cannot move to a smaller, less expensive property. This dogmatic approach is causing residents unnecessary stress, will lead them getting into further debt with no hope of change. It’s this kind of action that is driving residents into the arms of loan sharks and high interest loan merchants.
“It’s clear that when it comes to housing Labour have no strategic approach and are too busy trying grab headlines over building new Council homes rather than trying to help the residents they already have.”
Cllr Morris-Cook replied: “Finally Cllr Johnson critics the council for nor doing more to find people in arrears with their rent a new property. It has long been the policy of this council – under Conservative as well as Labour – that people with rent arrears must make arrangement to clear them before they will be offered a new property.”