‘Should I stay, or should I go?’ – The case against ‘Pay to Stay.’
By Martin Kerin
WHEN you are elected to public office – from parish council all the way up to Parliament – you should have two overriding priorities: to enable people to pursue the aspirations and ambitions they have for their lives, and to ensure that the services you are charged to deliver provide the best value for the taxpayers funding them. On these two measures, the recent Housing and Planning Bill, which is currently making its way through Parliament, fails miserably.
Brought before Thurrock Council’s Housing Overview and Scrutiny Committee on 21st July 2016, the so called ‘Pay to Stay’ provisions require ‘tenants earning above determined thresholds to pay higher rents.’ To my mind, these bland words hide what is the most radical and regressive step taken against social housing in a generation.
When it comes to aspiration and ambition, the provisions of the Bill are an unjustified imposition on hard-working council tenants. Outside of London, the arbitrary threshold of a ‘higher income’ is Â£31,000 – this applies to the joint household income. This means that a couple working full-time on the minimum wage of Â£7.20 will have a joint household income of Â£29,952. If they agreed to an overtime shift, they would be pushed over the threshold. How is this going to enable aspirational and ambitious council tenants to get on in life? Where is the incentive to work the overtime and seek the promotion if your reward is a potential doubling of your rent?
In order to try and make the provisions more palatable, an amendment to the Bill introduced a taper of 15p, along with the annual up-rating of thresholds in line with inflation. Even with these amended provisions, ‘Pay to Stay’ is, for all intents and purposes, a stealth tax on Council tenants potentially earning as little as the minimum wage.
When it comes to providing good value for taxpayers, ‘Pay to Stay’ will land social landlords with an entirely avoidable, bureaucratic nightmare. With deepening Government cuts to Thurrock Council, our Local Authority could face the burdensome task of collecting and verifying the incomes of all the Council tenants within Thurrock. At the same time, a system will need to be in place for when people’s incomes fluctuate up or down, when they gain or lose hours, or, in the worst case scenario, actually lose their jobs. In unstable times, with zero-hours contracts and the rest, is this a commitment for our Council (constrained, as it is, by the many statutory obligations it is obliged to deliver) that will provide value to taxpayers? ‘Pay to Stay’ will raise little more than it collects, so, what is the point? Where is the value to the hard-working taxpayers of Thurrock?
Being one of the three elected Councillors for Grays Riverside is an honour. As a Ward with a high concentration of Council properties, it is a grave concern when I see legislation that will have an undue impact on my residents. People on lower incomes should never have to fear seeing their rents rise as a result of working harder. Hard work should be rewarded, not punished.
The famous refrain is ‘should I stay or should I go?’ This regressive policy should go; hard-working Council tenants should stay.