THE cost of renting a council property in Southend is set to rise by £4.54 a week after opposition councillors intervened to keep the increase low.

Senior Tory councillors are expected to agree to raise the average weekly rent for council tenants of £78.85 by 5.76 per cent tomorrow after the Liberal Democrats and Labour called for the rise to be as low as possible.

The council was considering a rise of between £4.32 and £7.08 from April 7 as the Government has demanded it brings council rent in line with housing associations and private landlords, known as converging.

Finance officers have recommended the lower rise, which was proposed by Lib Dem members of the cross-party policy and resources scrutiny committee and supported by Labour, last month after new information from the Government showed the authority could still converge rents within four years.

Council leader Nigel Holdcroft said: “This recommendation reflects the discussion at scrutiny where members were concerned about the effect on residents of a higher rent increase.

“The majority view was that while we should not necessarily prejudice our ability to achieve convergence, we should use the full period potentially available to reduce the burden on tenants.”

Lib Dem leader Graham Longley said: “We were keen to see housing tenants had the lowest possible increase and we are delighted the administration looks like it is going to accept that proposal.

“As a group, the Lib Dems put forward the proposal and we are pleased the increase is at the lowest recommended level.”

Of the council’s 5,904 tenants, just over half – 3,171 – have their total rent covered by housing benefit.

However, the other 2,733 will face higher bills. Tenants are likely to face rises well-above inflation until at least 2019, as the council could face a £22.7million black hole in its finances unless it brings its rent in line with housing associations.

Rose Chapman, who already pays £99.10 a week for her flat in council tower block Quantock, in Chichester Road, believes the hike is still too high.

The 81-year-old said: “I can’t do much about it.

“We are paying for the other people who don’t pay rent – all the people who are lodging here without paying. They should chase them out and fine them.”

Labour leader Ian Gilbert added: “I’m pleased it’s at the low end of the rises. I’ve always said we want the smallest increase practical.”

Independent chairman of the policy and resources scrutiny committee, Ron Woodley, who favoured a higher rise if necessary to meet the funding gap, said: “It’s a good compromise and I think that’s OK.”