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Council crackdown on rent dodgers

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Council bosses are getting tougher on tenants who refuse to pay their rent.

A shake-up of rent arrears comes after Perth and Kinross Council was forced to write-off nearly £300,000 of outstanding debts.

Earlier this summer, the local authority launched its Rent 1st campaign to highlight the importance of making payments and offering extra support and advice for people who are struggling to pay.

Now the housing and health committee has approved a revised policy, which will mean that any debts which have become “uneconomical to pursue” will be passed on to the sheriff court or a debt collection company.

In a report to councillors, housing service manager Michelle Dow said: “The guidelines in the existing policy states that a ‘debt will be written off if we do not have a forwarding address for a customer, nor hold a decree for payment if they remain untraceable for a period of five years from the date of the tenancy ending’.

“However, the practice of holding debts until they become barred by statute means that former tenant arrears are maintained on the current recording system to the five year period of write-off, despite the fact that majority of cases have little opportunity for collection.”

She said the policy had been reviewed in an effort to prevent and reduce rent arrears.

Courts or debt collection firms were only be drafted in after all internal recovery attempts had been exhausted, Ms Dow said.

The Rent 1st campaign introduced a new early intervention system to ensure cases of increasing arrears are dealt with quickly.

The new set-up has offers a range of measures, including giving tenants more face-to-face contact with staff and the introduction of a cash collection point.

There are also monthly welfare rights surgeries held in areas outside Perth.

Meanwhile, the council is working with Perth and Kinross Credit Union to provide tenants with budget cards – known as Cred-E-Cards – to help them better manage their rent payments.

Councillor Kate Howie, vice convener of the housing and health committee, said: “It is extremely important that any council tenant who may be experiencing difficulties in paying their rent contacts their housing office as soon as possible.

“Council staff are trained to support tenants in this respect, but if housing officers don’t know then they can’t help. The worst thing to do is to wait until a large debt has built up.”

She added: “The council’s housing service will do all it can to help tenants with difficulties paying their rent, however if any tenant continues to ignore attempts to contact them and fails to maintain repayment arrangements, as a final resort, action will be taken to evict that tenant.

“Failure to pay rent breaks the tenancy agreement with the council and we must remember that every penny paid in rent goes towards improving the council’s housing stock, building new council houses and providing the best possible housing service.”

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