A KILWINNING councillor has been accused of scoring “cheap points” by attacking private landlords.

John Blackwood, Chief Executive of the Scottish Association of Landlords, has blasted Councillor Joe Cullinane for comments he made about private landlords.

The Times told earlier this month how figures revealed by the Labour councillor showed that North Ayrshire Council dished out £10.8m in taxpayers money to private landlords in 2014/15.

Cllr Cullinane believed it was “shocking” that 184 landlords were being paid more than £10,000 in direct payments for the year.

But Mr Blackwood has taken issue with Cllr Cullinane’s remarks.

He says Cllr Cullinane is wrong to imply that housing benefit is subsidising private landlords and accused him of scoring “cheap and easy points”.

Speaking this week, Mr Blackwood said: “I take extreme issue with the assertion by Cllr Cullinane that landlords are subsidised through housing benefit. When anyone rents property they have an obligation to pay rent, whether their landlord is the council, housing association or private landlord.

“Housing Benefit is paid to tenants to help them pay that rent in all of these circumstances and it is wrong to imply that this benefit is simply subsidising private landlords.

“Cllr Cullinane should perhaps also look closer to home by explaining how the taxpayer is by his definition 'subsidising’ rent increases to social landlords at a much higher rate than local market rents have increased.

“According to the most recent Scottish Government figures, the cost of renting in the Private Rented Sector (PRS) in Ayrshire fell by one per cent in the period 2010-2014 whilst, in comparison, over the fouryear period 2009-2013, social rent (Local Authority and Registered Social Landlords) in North Ayrshire increased by 19 per cent.

“Maybe Cllr Cullinane should focus his efforts more usefully in that direction rather than scoring cheap and easy points by attacking private landlords.” But Cllr Cullinane says he is standing by his comments and hopes to meet with Mr Blackwood to discuss the issue further.

He said: “Mr Blackwood may well have taken exception with me describing the vast sums of Housing Benefit being paid to private landlords as a public subsidy, and as the Chief Executive of the Scottish Landlords Association you would expect him to, but I stick by it.

“After all my priority is getting homes for the 5,000 families who are on the local housing wait and making the private rented sector fairer for the 6,000 North Ayrshire families who privately rent, his priority is standing up for private landlords.

“He is right about one thing, Housing Benefit is paid to low income tenants to help with housing costs no matter whether they are in a private let or social housing. However, that is where the comparison ends.

“Whilst rents received, including through Housing Benefit payments, by North Ayrshire Council and local Housing Associations are used to reinvest in existing housing stock, for example installing new kitchens and bathrooms, and building new social houses, the majority of rents received by private landlords go towards paying off their mortgages or boosting their bank accounts.

“That’s what makes Housing Benefit payments to private landlords a public subsidy. Mr Blackwood, unsurprisingly, doesn’t acknowledge this in his response.

“Mr Blackwood also chooses to take exception to my use of the word “subsidy” but fails to mention the sums that individual private landlords made in Housing Benefit.

“Is he saying it is fair that; in an area with high levels of social deprivation, some of the highest levels of unemployment in the country and where a third of our children are brought up in poverty; 184 private landlords received over £10,000 in direct Housing Benefit payments last year and one private landlord raked in over £145,000? I know I think it’s unfair and from speaking to local people I know that many of them agree with me.

“Whilst I may disagree with Mr Blackwood I would like to thank him for responding.

“When I launched my Home Sweet Home campaign I said I wanted to engage with a range of people and groups who have an interest in housing, including private landlords.

“Rather than having a protracted debate in the local press I have written to Mr Blackwood and asked for a meeting so we can discuss our differences of opinion face to face. I look forward to him accepting my offer to meet."