COUNCIL house rents are to increase by about £5 a week to meet strict Government guidelines.

Anna Waite, the Tory councillor for housing, said the council had to raise rents by an average of 7.2 per cent because of the Government’s rent restructuring scheme.

She said: “The Govern-ment has decreed council rent gets closer to market value. They want us to aim for 80 per cent of the market value.

“In Southend, we are a long way off that at the moment. We are about 50 per cent of the market value. If we don’t increase our rent, then the Government takes the money away from us.”

The average weekly rent in Southend is currently about £64.80 but will go up to £69.44 from April 4.

Cliff Garwood, vice-chairman of the Southend Tenants and Residents Federation, said: “I think the rise is disgusting and it will hit us hard.

“Because I’m a full-time carer for my wife we depend on benefits, which I don’t expect to rise to compensate for the increase. There are a lot of pensioners around here, and I expect it to hit them quite dramatically.”

The council expects to make £21.5million from rent in 2011/12, compared with £20million in the present tax year.

It has also reduced the amount in management fees it pays to South Essex Homes, the organisation which looks after the council’s housing stock.