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Edinburgh councillors only agreed to the moratorium in June, following a successful motion by Green Party councillor Chas Booth, but council bosses are now set to begin eviction and formal debt collection proceedings.
Due to councillor Booth’s motion, no new notices of proceedings for court action due to rent arrears, requests for decrees in court or enforcement of decrees were actioned by the council between June 24 and the Scottish Government moving Edinburgh to level 0 lockdown restrictions on July 19.
However, councillors have now reversed that ban, after saying that formal proceedings are sometimes the only way to get heavily indebted tenants to engage with the council.
The average level of debt for tenants in arrears at the end of March 2021 was £1,184 – but the level of individual debt varies significantly – with over 500 tenants with a history of non-payment and debt levels of over £4,000, and 20 tenants with debts of over £10,000.
Councillor Kate Campbell, convener of the housing, homelessness and fair work committee, said: “As a social landlord we are required to do everything we can to support tenants in arrears – to make sure that they are getting all of the financial support that is available to them, and to help them to plan a way to manage their finances and stop them getting further into debt.
“We’ve put in an extra step and have a multi-disciplinary support team which we refer people to before taking court action.
“Eight in ten tenants have had positive engagement with this team, so don’t go onto the court process. And we’ll keep looking for more ways this team can intervene even earlier and expand the work they do to help more tenants.
“We have served no notices since moving to level zero. We will only ever go to court as an absolute last resort, to prompt engagement with tenants who have accrued a very high level of arrears.
“Even once we’ve gone to court we’ll still try to put in support and prevent eviction.
“Nobody wants any tenant to be evicted, and we take very seriously our role and responsibility to put in support to help tenants from falling further into debt and to resolve any arrears.”
The council’s housing service is funded from tenants’ rents, fees and service changes for services provided, and improvements to tenants’ homes and the council’s house building programme are funded primarily from rental income.
A report, presented to councillors at Thursday’s housing and homelessness committee meeting, reads: “There are potential risks to income collection if formal debt recovery processes were not to be not utilised as one of the essential measures used to help tenants meet their rent payment responsibilities.”
Betty Stone, Edinburgh Tenants Federation convener, said: “We know that the last year has been a difficult one, but it is essential that tenants pay their rents wherever possible and contact the City of Edinburgh Council if they are struggling.
“We urge that if you are having difficulty paying your rent that you come forward to get the advice and assistance from the council to avoid getting into debt.”
The council has also struggled to support tenants in the private sector rental market.
Between 1 April 2020 and 30 June 2021 there were 2,550 homeless presentations, with 286 (11%) of households presenting to the council after losing their tenancy in the private rented sector.
Councillor Mandy Watt, vice convener of the housing, homelessness and fair work committee, said: “All we ask is that tenants reach out to us as early as possible if they are struggling with their rent or finances. Even if it’s the first time they’ve had difficulties paying their rent, we can offer advice and support in managing it.
“We don’t want anyone to fall into a situation where their debt levels become unmanageable.
“We’ll continue working with tenants’ representatives to find out what else we can do to support tenants and get them all the help that’s available.”