Published: 16:00, 15 February 2018
| Updated: 16:04, 15 February 2018
The number of cases of council tenants failing to pay their rent has doubled in half a year, official figures show.
And Dover District Council’s Labour group fears this could be a sign of poverty-stricken people pushed to the edge because of shortage of benefit money.
The council’s quarterly performance report revealed the amount of rent unpaid across the district went from 1.36% in the first quarter of 2017/18 (April to June) to 2.75% in the third (October to December).
The council target is 1.4% for the year.
Cllr Peter Wallace, said: “I have written to the council asking for information on exactly why this issue is rising.
In months the amount of people unable to pay their rent has doubled.
That should be ringing alarm bells at the council.
“In my ward we are seeing more cases than ever of people struggling to pay their bills. Sometimes they don’t have enough money for food or heating.
If they are on benefits, such as the new Universal Credit, they often don’t have enough money to live.
“People are also being systematically sanctioned, despite having long-term health conditions.
“When their vital benefits, such as PIP or Universal Credit are withdrawn, they are pushed to the edge of collapse. I believe this is reflected in these housing figures.”
The report, put before the cabinet on Monday, February 5, also show that between those quarters the amount of money owed by former tenants went up in that time from 0.48% of the annual budget going uncollected to 0.66%.
The total residual arrears in that period rose from £285,069 to £544,304.
Last month January Labour highlighted a previous council performance report showing the number of households in temporary accommodation had gone up from 104 to 109 in the quarters from April to September.
This had fallen to 97 by December but the council’s target figure is 50.
Labour’s shadow housing portfolio holder, Bill Gardner, said: “We have a major problem on our hands. People can see how many homeless people are sleeping in our doorways and shop fronts in Dover and Deal.
“But there are hidden figures of people living in B&Bs, sleeping on friends’ couches and hanging onto their house by their fingertips.
“ If the amount of people struggling to pay their rent is rising, it could make the homeless situation in the district much, much worse.
We believe it is important for the council to act now to prevent a problem escalating.”
Dover District Council presently has 4,317 homes, which is 2,710 houses and 1,607 flats.
A DDC spokesman said: “Universal Credit is paid monthly and generally paid at least six weeks in arrears following the initial claim.
"This means that for all cases where a claim is made, arrears will build up during this time.
"As this is a new benefit, these issues will continue to have an increasing effect, and will continue to be an issue particularly as the time taken to deal with those households on Universal Credit takes longer due to the way in which the system works.
"We are continuing to monitor both the impact on arrears and the increasing levels of resource needed to deal with these cases.
"The targets for arrears were set before the impact of UC was known.
"We continue to work closely with partner agencies to provide advice and assistance to households who may be experiencing difficulties paying their rent.
“The position in Dover is comparable to other areas where Universal Credit has been introduced.
"Since the introduction of Universal Credit, we have not evicted any households for rent arrears that are associated with these changes.”