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Swansea Council pays over £400K disturbance allowances when upgrading properties

Council flats on Matthew Street, Swansea (pic by Richard Youle and free for use for all BBC wire partners)

SWANSEA Council gave people living in its houses, flats and bungalows £409,240 over the last three years for disturbing them when upgrading the properties, but it said the money didn’t come from council tax.

These disturbance allowances, as they are known, were made to 2,881 council house tenants from 2020-21 to 2022-23 when major work was carried out. That works out as an average of £142 per tenant, although the payments differed.

The highest individual allowances to tenants were £730 in 2020-21, £600 the following year, and £350 the year after that. The figures were disclosed following a Freedom of Information request by the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

Swansea Council has around 13,600 properties on its books and said it has invested £126m in them over the last three years.

Its response said: “Disturbance allowance is paid to tenants who are having major works carried out to their homes, such as new kitchens and bathrooms, rewiring and external ‘enveloping’ works, to provide financial support to manage this disruption, for example not being able to access their kitchen or cooking facilities, cleaning etc.

“During the Covid-19 period, the payments were higher in some cases because the way the improvements were carried out took longer in order to keep tenants and the workforce safe, so tenants were without access to their facilities for longer.”

The authority said the disturbance allowances were funded primarily from tenants’ rents, and not from council tax, and that they were budgeted for in the £126 million upgrade programme.

The council has upgraded its properties in recent years to comply with a Wales-wide housing quality standard. It also builds new homes, and wants to construct 1,000 of them between 2022 and 2032.

The authority expects to spend just under £51 million this financial year on upgrading and building new council properties, with £11 million of that on new homes. It also anticipates spending £33.4 million managing and maintaining its housing stock.

Much of the funding to do all this work is via tenants’ rent, plus grants and borrowing. Rental income was £64.6 million, £65.7 million and £68.2 million respectively over the last three years.

Like all authorities which have retained control of their housing, Swansea has rental arrears to consider. Arrears were £3.1 million in 2020-21, £3.5 million in 2021-22 and £3.6 million last year.

The council said: “We robustly pursue the recovery of rent arrears; our approach is to support and advise tenants who are in arrears through financial difficulties.

“We recognise the issues our tenants have faced during the pandemic and in the cost-of-living crisis, so we do this at the earliest opportunity, to help them manage their debt and remain in their homes.”