July 25 2014 Latest news:
Friday, April 25, 2014
The total amount owed to a council in unpaid rents is more than £220,000 – a rise of more than 20% on the previous year.
The figures were presented in a report to Mid Suffolk District councillors which revealed the authority was due the six-figure sum.
Mid Suffolk Citizens Advice Bureau said many households in Suffolk are facing hard times with the combined impact of high food costs, high rent, changes to support and job losses.
Steve Kozak, welfare benefits specialist at the bureau based in Stowmarket, said: “People in Mid Suffolk are finding it increasingly hard to keep a roof over their head.
“Tenants in social housing are often on low incomes or face acute challenges such as disability and the impact on these people of rent arrears can be particularly damaging.
“The impact of welfare reforms is beginning to take its toll. In the past year, 23% of Mid Suffolk Citizens Advice Bureau clients have had issues either directly or indirectly with the Under-Occupancy Penalty within the last year.”
Marilyn Curran, Conservative housing and environmental health portfolio holder and deputy leader for Mid Suffolk, said the council was “actively” working with tenants to help them manage their money and added that the figures had been improving recently.
“We are trying to do whatever we possibly can to support the tenants to manage their money and help get people into work,” she said.
“We are not just relying on people to come to us, we are actively working to help tenants.
“Obviously we assume some of it to be connected with the welfare reforms but cannot guarantee it.”
Andrew Stringer, opposition leader and Green councillor, claimed the council should have started a multi-million pound project which will see solar panels fitted to 900 properties sooner. The scheme will mean council home owners will receive a cut of the money paid for the energy production.
“Obviously with all the Government changes to the benefit system and the economy only showing glimmers of recovery, people are falling behind – we did say this would happen.
“Although we welcome the project to put solar panels on roofs of some of the council houses – which is helping people with their bills, we think this should have been a while ago. Perhaps then people would have been able to pay more of their bills.”
But Mrs Curran dismissed that claim arguing the project was being done as “quickly as possible” and had the “full support” of tenants.
The council has a new team which is developing a plan to improve its rent collection for 2014/15.
Mid Suffolk received the report in its full council meeting at its offices in Needham Market last night.