Rent arrears across West Lothian climbed by almost £1 million in the last year as changes in benefits payments were rolled out.
The switch to Universal Credit has contributed to the £989,000 gap between the £3.4m figure for rent arrears at the end of September compared to the same time last year. A report to West Lothian Council’s Executive highlighted that the switch to Universal Credit, with its five-week wait for initial payments, was contributing to financial problems for many tenants.
The report detailed 6548 cases of arrears in September compared to 5998 cases at the same time last year when the total arrears figure was £2.4m. Revenue collection has also been made more difficult because the council is no longer involved in the benefits process.
Staff had previously assisted with the claim process, and ensured that the housing cost elements of the claim were correct, verified and evidenced. This delays early advice and support for tenants struggling to manage their finances.
Housing manager, Ann Marie Carr, told the meeting that collection rates remained strong, at over 90 per cent in most areas. Staff also worked closely with tenants who have fallen into arrears.
She added: “We continue to monitor the situation and work on the basics.”