A LOCAL authority with 1,600 families on its council housing waiting list has defended charging its tenants an above-inflation rent increase during the pandemic.

After setting a council tax rise of 4.99 per cent, Darlington Borough Council has also approved an average weekly rent increase of 1.7 per cent from April, giving an average social housing rent of £73.11.

Liberal Democrat councillors told the meeting of the Conservative-run authority they were disappointed council tenants would be facing a combined council tax and rent rise of seven per cent of the outgoings for residents “who could least afford it”.

An officers’ report to the meeting stated some 73 per cent of the council’s tenants would have their rent and most service charges covered by benefit payments.

The report also highlighted the council planned to spend £4.157m in the coming year on general repairs to its 5,293 properties, which averaged £606 per home. It stated: “The continued investment in a good repairs service is essential to maintaining our stock at a good level for current and future tenants.”

The authority’s housing cabinet member Independent councillor Kevin Nicholson said the council planned to spend £950,000 replacing doors and windows on council houses this year as well as £6.9m upgrading kitchens and bathrooms.

He said he had not been “particularly happy about proposing a rent rise for our tenants”, adding that he had made his views known.

Cllr Nicholson added: “However, I very quickly understood that should we not give a very small rent rise of £1.46 average per week it would mean those things which we have celebrated with doors and windows and lots more enhancements wouldn’t be able to go ahead or we’d be doing them at a reduced rate.

“Sixty per cent of residents tell us that they want to see this investment and they have been supportive when they’ve been consulted of this rent rise.”