County council news: Rent concerns and tackling staff sickness

County Hall in Morpeth.
County Hall in Morpeth.

The development of a rent-setting policy has been deferred temporarily due to proposed Government changes.

Northumberland County Council is in the process of developing a county-wide policy, which will apply to all of the residential properties it owns.

‘The policy will apply to the supported and general-needs tenants of all county-council housing,’ a report explains. ‘It will cover social and affordable rents across the social-housing tenures operated by the council’.

The policy, once adopted, will form part of the tenancy strategy, required by the Localism Act 2011.

One of the main proposed changes, which is being consulted on now, is Pay to Stay – where a tenant has a household income of more than £30,000 per annum, the landlords can charge full market rent.

On Monday, Coun Allan Hepple said that £30,000 a year is roughly twice the minimum wage and that the difference between market and social rent amounts to about £45 per week.

He added: “It’s crazy. We are asking people on two times the minimum wage to pay £45 extra a week.”

Tackling worsening rate of staff absence

A new occupational health service provision has been approved by the county council in a bid to tackle an increasing problem.

The absence rate is worsening and has moved from 9.12 days lost per full-time employee in 2012/13 to 10.05 in 2014/15 – this represents an annual cost to the council of £6.9million, which is likely to be higher due to under-reporting.

The new shared service with Northumbria Healthcare Foundation Trust will cost the council an extra £148,000 a year, but will be offset by an expected saving of £50,000 to £80,000 in the first two years.