Rent owed by Bolton at Home tenants to the local authority has reached an all time low.
Bolton Council is bucking the national trend with more tenants than ever before keeping their rent accounts clear, helping the local authority to collect around £46.5m in rents in the last financial year (08/09). The rents can only be used to repair, improve and manage tenants' homes.
Total rent owed by former and current tenants of Bolton at Home – the council’s arms length housing management organisation - at the end of March totalled around £1.73m, which is less than four per cent of the total collectable rent.
Former tenants’ arrears have decreased to £873,000, a reduction of £900,000 in the last four years. And the level of rent owed by current tenants has fallen by more than half in the last nine years and now stands at £855,000.
The number of evictions due to rent arrears over the last year has also fallen from 77 to 60.
The improvements have been achieved by a range of measures including the creation of a specialist income management team, which was set up two years ago to provide more support for tenants on how to pay rent and help them claim welfare benefits and discounts.
Close working with a range of partners across housing benefit, debt counselling and financial advice, such as the Citizens’ Advice Bureau, has also helped get rent arrears down.
Customers also have access to a specialist debt advisor for free independent advice.
The council’s Executive Member for Housing Councillor Nick Peel agreed to write off around £421,000 of the outstanding debt at a meeting held today (June 2).
Debt is only written off as a last measure after all other methods of collecting it have failed. If a tenant leaves a property in arrears, collection agencies are involved and if there are no payments on the account after a period of 12 months, and there is no forwarding address, the debt is recommended to be written off.
Councillor Peel today praised the officers who have helped reduce arrears. He said: “The amount we’ve written off is less than one per cent of the total rental income owed to the council. This is a great achievement and it’s largely down to officers acting early to give advice and guidance to tenants in the early stages of rent arrears. We’ve gone down the preventative route and concentrate on helping the can’t pays rather than the won’t pays which has also resulted in evictions falling. All the rent we collect goes into repairing, improving and managing tenants' homes as council tax cannot be used for this purpose, which is why it’s so important we continue to build on this.”
Councillor Noel Spencer, Chair of Bolton at Home, said: "Brilliant work has gone on to get arrears levels down to what they are now. Customers have engaged with us and it's been a real team effort between the partner agencies, who work as a partnership very effectively and are improving support services all the time."
Any Bolton at Home tenant having difficulty paying their rent can contact the income management team on 01204 335395.