More council tenants are benefiting from budgetary advice and support designed to help prevent them from getting into debt with their rent.
Stoke-on-Trent City Council has taken a proactive, early intervention approach to tackling issues with rent arrears – while ensuring tenants are fully supported in the financial decisions they make.
This includes contacting tenants who have applied for Universal Credit to talk them through the process and to support them to make rent payments either through an ‘alternative payment arrangement’ (direct from the Department for Work and Pensions) or by setting up a direct debit.
In addition, tenants who go into rent arrears are immediately contacted to offer support and to make arrangements for them to clear the debt. In the last 12 months, the council’s income advice team has received 1,342 referrals from housing officers to offer budgetary support to tenants and to help them maximise their income. There have also been 486 referrals to the Citizens’ Advice Bureau (CAB) for debt advice, as part of the authority’s contract with the organisation.
Stoke-on-Trent City Council currently has the lowest number of arrears cases since 2014, at 3,301 – of which 80 per cent (2,653) owe less than £500. The total debt equates to £1,060,294, which is the third lowest since 2014. During 2018/19 the authority collected 99.77 per cent of the rent due.
This money can now be reinvested into housing development and improving housing conditions across the city – to the benefit of all residents.
A city council spokesman said: “This is fantastic news for all, as it demonstrates the level of financial support that is readily available for all tenants.
“We work with all tenants who find themselves in financial difficulty with rental payment, providing advice and support to get them through difficult periods. This is more significant since the introduction of Universal Credit and the changes this benefit system brought with it.
“The early intervention approach has meant we have not needed to take as much formal possession action, reducing the number of cases we enter to the county court by 22 per cent (132 cases) in the last 12 months.
“This reduction in rent arrears also means that we have more money to reinvest where it is needed the most. We are responsible for the collection of around £66 million in rent per year. This pays for the key services such as repairs and maintenance and allows us to borrow money to pay for major works to the authority’s homes and communal areas.
“Our message for anyone in rent arrears is to talk to their housing officer at the earliest opportunity and not to ignore the situation. There is a range of support we can offer tenants to make paying rent easier if they are experiencing financial difficulties.”
Council tenant Angela Fairgrieve, of Abbey Hulton, said: “I have gone over to Universal Credit and it's been mentally tough as I suffer with anxiety. But the housing officer has been helpful, supportive, reassuring and easy to get along with, he exceeded my expectations and nothing has been too much trouble.
“It was really refreshing for me to get this kind of help. I was scared about claiming Universal Credit but my housing officer reassured me that it would get sorted.”
The city council is keen to make paying rent as easy as possible, and can set up either weekly or monthly direct debits on a day to suit individuals.
Payments can also be made on our 24-hour payment line 01782 234123.
For all media enquiries please contact the Press Office at Stoke-on-Trent City Council on 01782 232265 (Journalists only)