City owed £600,000 rent arrears as former council tenants vanish

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FORMER council tenants have racked up more than £600,000 in unpaid rent in the past year, leaving city chiefs with the task of trying to track them down to reclaim the cash.

Just over 1000 former tenants have contributed to a total of £606,384 being owed to the city council in rent for 2010-11. That money will be effectively “written off”, with council chiefs admitting that while all householders who have terminated their tenancies with the council but still owe rent are “pursued for payment”, often they cannot get the money back.

A former tenants rent arrears team was set up in 2004 to specifically target those who have moved out of council housing while still owing money.

And council bosses say the efforts of the team have reduced the amount of unpaid rent bills.

In 2009-10, former tenants owed the council just over £627,000, while the year before it was £660,000. The team collected a total of £222,217 in rent arrears last year, but this still leaves a large shortfall.

In a report going before councillors next week, director of services for communities Mark Turley says: “All tenancies terminating with arrears are investigated for a forwarding address and pursued for payment of the rent outstanding. However, despite this, contact is lost with some former tenants.”

Councillor Gordon Buchan, housing spokesman for the Conservatives, told the Evening News that the council had to make the “upmost efforts” to collect the rent arrears. He said: “Obviously we are owed money and it’s not fair on others who do pay their rents. We do need to make every effort to recover that missing cash. It’s encouraging that the figure has gone down from last year but we do need to recover this cost because it does restrict what we can do with the housing stock.

“It does help fund improvements and necessary maintenance and it’s important that we make every effort to collect these rents. This has an impact on other tenants and other vulnerable people.”

A total of 228 former tenants owed rent last year of £1000 or more. Forty-four of these cases related to people abandoning their tenancies without informing the council, resulting in arrears of £64,217, while 113 cases were a result of tenants being evicted due to rent arrears, which has added £215,893 to the total bill.

Councillor Paul Edie, the city’s housing leader, said: “It’s very positive that the amount of rent arrears owed to the council by former tenants has come down year after year.

“This is due to the robust procedures put in place by the council to tackle this problem.”

gfraser@edinburghnews.com