HUNDREDS more people in the Vale of Glamorgan have fallen behind on paying their rent since the pandemic started.
A “bleak and depressing picture” was painted by council officers who said the amount of unpaid rent owed to the council has almost doubled, and is expected to increase further.
As people struggled with money after being placed on furlough, working reduced hours, or losing their jobs, and increasingly number have been placed on Universal Credit in the Vale.
Due to the way Universal Credit is paid, some claimants find it difficult to pay their rent on time, leading to unpaid debts stacking up. This can eventually lead to evictions.
Member of the Vale’s homes and safe communities scrutiny committee heard a report into the huge spike in rent arrears, during a meeting on Wednesday, April 6.
Nick Jones, housing strategic projects team leader, said: “Importantly, universal credit is paid directly to the claimant, not the landlord, and that’s a significant change. The idea is that universal credit mimics a salary and encourages financial responsibility. But over the last two years it’s been a challenging time in terms of collecting rent.
“Covid has had an impact on a lot of people living in the Vale, especially council tenants. Some of the impacts include furlough, reduced hours during lockdown, jobs coming to an end, and it’s speeded up the migration of people onto universal credit.”
Since the pandemic began, the amount of unpaid rent owed to the council has jumped from £367,000 to now more than £695,000. The number of council house tenants claiming universal credit has also doubled, increasing from 452 in March 2020 to 1,093 last month. A few tenants in the Vale have racked up debts of more than £5,000 in unpaid rent.
The council’s money advice service helps people struggling with bills to claim extra benefits, move to cheaper tariffs, or get grants and payments. Over the past year the service has helped 931 households in the Vale get an extra £422,429 income.
After a pause during the pandemic, landlords including councils are now legally allowed again to evict tenants who persistently don’t pay their rent. Mr Jones said this was a last resort in the Vale and doesn’t happen “very often”.
He said: “Eviction is the absolute last resort. Sometimes people think lots of people have been evicted and it’s happening very often. There were no evictions during the pandemic. It’s possible now but only when all other avenues have been exhausted, and it’s very rare. We don’t evict people very often.
“The future is very challenging, with the cost of living crisis, it’s a very difficult environment at the moment. Our services are going to come under some real pressures, but our team is ready and equipped to cope. I would say to people: always seek help, we would much prefer tenants to engage with us and work with us. If people don’t engage, then it becomes difficult.”
None of the members of the scrutiny committee asked a single question about the report into rent arrears. Overall the Vale council receives more than £21 million a year in rent from council housing.