Unemployment blamed for £500,000 rent arrears

MORE than £500,000 in rent arrears is owed to a housing association.

Housing Hartlepool tenants owe £501,581 in unpaid rent, slightly over the housing association’s £495,000 target for the last financial year.

But housing chiefs say they are not far short of their target figure and the amount is down from last year’s overall total of £509,794.

A number of options are open to housing bosses as a last resort when people fail to pay their rent, including court action and eviction.

But Housing Hartlepool is taking a sympathetic approach to retrieving the money by offering support to tenants in financial difficulty.

Rent arrears can lead to higher rents for other tenants, as housing chiefs need to make up their losses elsewhere. Housing Hartlepool bosses say an increased unemployment rate due to the economic climate is a reason for the debt.

At the end of the 2010-2011 financial year, 1,890 of the association’s tenants had rent arrears, owing an average of £265.

In the previous year, 1,814 tenants owed an average of £281.

Andy Powell, Housing Hartlepool’s director of housing services, said: “Housing Hartlepool has a strong track record in working with tenants who find themselves in financial difficulty, including providing household budgeting advice and agreeing a rent arrears payments plan.

In spite of the current economic climate, our rent arrears have continued to reduce and building on this will remain a key focus for the organisation going forward.”

A total of 75 per cent of tenants rely on housing benefits to help pay their rent.

The organisation, which now forms part of Vela Group with Stockton-based Tristar Homes, also states a higher number of housing benefit cases as a factor, and possible delays in the benefits process as a reason.

Housing chiefs say they are having success in getting rent arrears down on not only the average figures but on the total as well.

When people fall into difficulty they should contact an income recovery housing officer, who can discuss arrangements to pay off the debt.