Posted: Thu 2nd Jul 2020

Updated: Thu 2nd Jul

Flintshire council pledges to take ‘soft approach’ with tenants falling behind on rent during coronavirus pandemic

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales

A local authority has pledged to take a “soft approach” with tenants falling behind on rent payments despite the level of arrears increasing during the coronavirus pandemic.

Flintshire Council said the amount owed by residents had risen by approximately £107,000 in the first quarter of the current financial year, the start of which coincided with when the outbreak began.

Officials said they would normally expect to see people in receipt of either Universal Credit or Housing Benefits encountering difficulties paying their rent.

However, they highlighted a “concerning trend” where arrears have increased more significantly for those who don’t get government support.

Neal Cockerton, the council’s chief officer for housing, said he believed workers being placed on furlough or having their hours reduced may have contributed.

In a report, he said: “Inevitably, rent arrears during 2020/21 have started to rise again as a direct result of the emergency measures in the same way as collections for other debt types have risen.

“Other landlords are facing the same challenges for rent collections.

“The rent income service has been issuing letters with a ‘soft enforcement’ approach to housing tenants who are falling behind with arrears and have not made recent contact.

“We are receiving a positive response from some recipients with some payments coming in to address arrears on accounts.

“Early predictions show these resources will be required throughout 2020/21 and during 2021/22 to meet additional demands being placed on the service to support tenants, especially for those who are facing additional money worries over and above the anxiety caused by the emergency situation we are in.”

The council receives rent from around 7,300 tenants and last year collected around £40m.

The report shows arrears had started to fall before the outbreak began, with a subsequent reduction in evictions for non-payment with 26 people kicked out of their homes in 2019/20.

The Welsh Government introduced measures to protect renters during the pandemic in late March.

As a result, no tenant either in social or private accommodation will be forced to leave their home while the emergency situation is ongoing.

Mr Cockerton added: “As a responsible and caring landlord, the rent income service continues to support and engage proactively with tenants who are falling into arrears to find solutions.
“Flexible payment arrangements are being put in place with tenants to spread arrear payments throughout the year.

“However, not all tenants are engaging with the council and some tenants have stopped making payments to the council without getting in touch and without explanation.”

The report will be discussed by members of the authority’s community and enterprise scrutiny committee at a virtual meeting on Tuesday,  July 7.

Liam Randall – Local Democracy Reporter (more here).

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