EXPECTED hikes to council tax and council rents could hit Bankies on the lowest incomes, warn campaigners and politicians.

West Dunbartonshire Council said last month it expects to raise council tax by three per cent to help meet a budget shortfall, with the tax freeze being lifted by the Scottish government after a decade.

Discussions with tenants groups are also underway on the potential rent increase of more than two per cent, meaning some residents could face a double hit of price hikes.

Campaigners fear struggling families could be worst affected, though hoped increased investment in the housing stock could ultimately reduce fuel bills, one of the biggest burden on residents.

Shelter Scotland warned last week that four in 10 Scots would struggle with £50 increases to their rents or mortgages, indicating the delicate finances facing many each month.

One in four said they worried about not being able to pay their rent or mortgage at some point in 2017 while some admitted using their credit card or savings to cover their bills.

Dalmuir Community Council chairman Danny Lennie said the council tax freeze was never going to last indefinitely and its end would mainly hit those on low incomes.

On rents, he said residents were informed they would have to rise if they rejected a stock transfer.

He said: “When you are struggling financially to support and bring up your family a combined increase of about six per cent is a shattering blow. Even a 2.5 per cent increase is a hard one to take.

“Wages are stagnant yet bills continually increase. These increases alone will ensure even more families struggle. In the case of the rent increases we are at least seeing investment in our housing stock, about £100 million so far and the same planned again. This will be of little comfort for most but at least you can see money being spent and put back in for the residents.”

Mr Lennie said fuel costs were the greater cause of poverty in West Dunbartonshire and he hoped new central heating systems would improve finances.

He added: “As much as these two increases are not welcomed and will cause hardship, it is the fuel costs that are trapping people in poverty. Rent increases are needed to improve housing stock so there is little we can do. But we can do something to prevent fuel poverty and that should be the number one priority Scotland wide.”

Councillor Jim Bollan of the West Dunbartonshire Community Party said: “It comes as no surprise to the Community Party that 26 per cent of local people at some stage in 2017 will be unable to pay their rent or mortgage essentially because they will be too poor to do so.

“There is no doubt homelessness will increase as a result in West Dunbartonshire.”

Leader of West Dunbartonshire Council Martin Rooney said: “We’re doing everything we can to increase the supply of social housing in West Dunbartonshire and have committed to building 1,000 new rented homes over the next five years with our partners.

“We’re committed to keeping rents as low as we possibly can while still maintaining investment in our housing stock. Our rents are set in consultation with our tenants and at most the increase for 2017-18 will be three per cent or around £2.16 per week.”