Housing rent arrears climbing in Carmarthenshire

HOUSING rent arrears are climbing in Carmarthenshire as some council tenants experience life on the “breadline”.

Tenants owed the council £1.8 million in October this year, compared to £1.5 million in October 2019.

Council chiefs said an increase was expected, given the difficult year, and that the rise was lower than that of other authorities.

Cllr Linda Evans, executive board member for housing, said some furloughed tenants who were missing up to 20% of their normal income were “on that breadline”.

She said: “We need to support them. It’s a very, very thin line between being able to manage and not being able to manage.”

She added: “We are helping people with white goods when they are really struggling. What we give we will hopefully get back. We don’t want people to lose their tenancy.”

Carmarthenshire has more than 9,000 council house tenants. Council officers are notified now by the Department for Work and Pensions when a tenant moves onto Universal Credit.

Speaking at a community and regeneration scrutiny committee, Cllr Evans said it was important that tenants in difficulty sought help at an early stage.

They may, she said, be eligible for council tax and water bill discounts.

The council’s housing department receives around 3,500 phone calls from council house and private renters per month, compared to 2,500 before the coronavirus crisis.

Jonathan Morgan, head of homes and safer communities, told the meeting that the increase in arrears was “inevitable”.

He added: “We are in a good position compared to the rest of Wales.”

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He said the current debt was manageable and should not impact on new building projects which were funded by council rent.

Mr Morgan also said tenants were given six months’ notice to leave before any action was taken, compared to one month pre-Covid.

Like all authorities in Wales, Carmarthenshire Council has been helping more people who are at risk of homelessness.

Regardless of a person’s previous history, councils must now temporarily accommodate and re-house all single people that present as homeless, including prison leavers.

There are currently 119 people in temporary accommodation throughout Carmarthenshire – 101 single people and 18 families.

The majority of these people are in flats or houses, with 30 in bed and breakfast accommodation. This latter group are provided with a packed lunch every day.

The council’s homelessness response is costing an extra £109,000 per month, which can be claimed back from the Welsh Government for now.

Cllr Evans said said it wasn’t healthy for anybody to be in temporary accommodation.

“We get support services in on a daily basis so all kinds of support packages are put in place to prepare them for a full-time tenancy,” she said.

“We are doing the very, very best we can.”

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