Posted: Fri 18th Dec 2020

Rent arrears backlog ‘under control’ despite coronavirus impact says

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Friday, Dec 18th, 2020

The amount of rent arrears owed by council tenants in Flintshire is under control despite the impact of Covid-19, officers have said. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

The local authority has seen an increase in the amount of rent owed to it since the pandemic began in March, with outstanding payments currently totalling £2.39m. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

The figure compares to approximately £2.34m for the same period last year – a rise of more than £50,000. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

David Barnes, lead officer for revenue collection, said he expected the amount to increase further to between £100,000 to £200,000 by the end of the financial year. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

It comes as more residents have faced money problems since the outbreak began, with a 20 per cent hike in Universal Credit claimants in the county. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Mr Barnes acknowledged it could take up to three years for the council to restore income levels to where they were before. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

However, he told councillors that staff were prepared to rise to the challenge by working with tenants. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Addressing a meeting of the authority’s community, housing and assets scrutiny committee yesterday (Wednesday 16 December), he said: “That might all sound a little bit pessimistic, but on a positive note we do feel as a service that rent arrears are not out of control and far from it. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“There are challenges ahead absolutely, on a professional level I couldn’t say they’re not challenging, but they’re certainly not out of control. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“I’d like to reassure the meeting today that that is the cause in the housing service. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“Our message to tenants is that we’ll continue to work with them through the Covid situation and provide whatever help and support that we can give to sustain tenancies.” ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

A temporary ban was placed on evictions when the pandemic began to prevent people facing financial hardship as a result of the virus from becoming homeless. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

While court proceedings resumed in September, new measures introduced by the Welsh Government mean landlords must give tenants six months’ notice before evicting them. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Before lockdown restrictions were introduced, the council was tackling five cases which were due to progress towards gaining an eviction warrant. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Legal action has since been restarted, but it said the delays had caused the amount owed by those tenants to rise to a total of £26,000, with a significant backlog of cases in the county court system. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Mr Barnes warned that despite the council’s sympathetic approach, it would take firm action against people who repeatedly refuse to pay their rent. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

He added: “We’re not in the business of ending tenancies willy nilly, although in certain circumstances where tenants are not engaging with us then we will take that action and we will continue to adopt a very robust approach for those tenants that are refusing to pay. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“It’s not an excuse, just because the COVID situation, not to pay rent. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“We understand and we sympathise with tenants, but we still expect tenants at the very least to engage with us.” ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Liam Randall – Local Democracy Reporter (more here). ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

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