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Agenda item

Housing Rent Income

Decision:

(a)       That the Committee notes the latest financial position for rent arrears in 2018-19 in the context of the UK Government welfare reform programme;

 

(b)       That the Committee endorses the new measures and interventions being taken to maximise rent income but which also supports tenants to maintain sustainable tenancies; and

 

(c)       That the Committee supports the robust steps that are necessary to recover arrears from tenants who, despite all interventions, make little or no effort to pay.

Minutes:

The Chief Officer (Housing and Assets) introduced an update report on rent income collection and the financial impact on rent arrears within the Housing Revenue Account (HRA) as a result of UK Government led welfare reforms, in particular the full service rollout of Universal Credit (UC) from April 2017.

 

The Revenues Manager gave a presentation which covered the following:

 

·         A look at the wider context of welfare reform

·         Exploring the data further

·         Looking at the cash flow issues

·         Plotting the current position

·         Plotting the way ahead - managing the risks

 

During the presentation, reference was made to a number of national key headlines highlighting the impact of UC on rent arrears.  Comparison of year-end figures showed that rent arrears were starting to reduce in 2016/17 prior to the UC full service rollout and that as rent yield increased year on year, rent arrears also tended to increase.  Whilst this position was being managed, rent collection remained a significant challenge.  To demonstrate the impact of UC on the cash flow position, an example was given of how rent arrears could escalate by week 8 at which point the Council could apply to the DWP for managed payments.  However this involved a complex process and likely delays.

 

A range of measures had been adopted to support tenants, particularly the vulnerable, to manage the reforms and tackle rent arrears.  A more robust approach was being taken to engage with tenants at an early stage to understand the reasons for non-payment and encourage them to manage their finances to help prevent escalating rent arrears.  Additional resources on the Housing Intervention Team (HIT) had assisted 362 tenants to bring their arrears up-to-date.  Investment in new data analytical software currently used successfully by many other housing providers would help to better predict risk cases.

 

Councillor Attridge gave assurance of the Council’s commitment to provide this support to tenants in genuine need of help, whilst a zero tolerance approach to ‘fast track’ the recovery process applied for those in arrears who refused to engage.  He gave a reminder that rent collection levels benefitted the HRA which in turn helped to build much-needed new homes.

 

In response to questions from Councillor Dolphin, the Revenues Manager provided clarification on the officer team dealing with rent arrears and the recovery of some arrears through managed payments over time.  He agreed to provide follow-up information on the number of new tenants (in the first 12-18 months of their tenancies) who were in rent arrears.

 

The Chief Officer gave a reminder of the checks and balances undertaken by the Housing team when allocating properties which helped to identify sustainable tenancies.

 

The Service Manager (Customer Support) said that the UC full service also affected private landlords.  The additional resources allocated by her team to engage with tenants at an early stage was helping individuals to manage their tenancies.

 

Following points raised by Councillor Hardcastle, the Revenues Manager reported that the Council had applied for managed payments for around 71 cases and that this number was rising.  Councillor Attridge agreed that consideration would be given to the suggestion for a Task Group to tackle rent arrears.

 

During the debate, officers spoke about the Council’s duty to prevent homelessness and the sharing of good practice between neighbouring authorities.

 

Information was circulated on current banded arrears levels with the respective total values.  In response to comments by Councillor Wisinger on dealing with tenants who refused support, Councillor Attridge reiterated the zero tolerance approach.  The Revenues Manager gave a reminder that each case had a background story which could involve a household with complex issues.

 

Councillor Ron Davies asked that the presentation slides be shared with all Members.

 

Councillor Banks suggested that monthly rather than weekly payments should be pursued for those in receipt of UC to help prevent arrears escalating further.  Officers noted his suggestion for a name change to the Housing Intervention Team (HIT).

 

RESOLVED:

 

(a)       That the Committee notes the latest financial position for rent arrears in 2018-19 in the context of the UK Government welfare reform programme;

 

(b)       That the Committee endorses the new measures and interventions being taken to maximise rent income but which also supports tenants to maintain sustainable tenancies; and

 

(c)       That the Committee supports the robust steps that are necessary to recover arrears from tenants who, despite all interventions, make little or no effort to pay.

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