Evicted and fugitive Wigan council tenants owe town hall £3.7m

Wigan Town Hall
Wigan Town Hall

Wigan Council is owed £3.7m in unpaid rent from tenants it has evicted or have otherwise fled, new figures reveal.

The Local Government Association (LGA) has warned that households on Universal Credit are having increasing problems paying rent.

The latest Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government data shows that between April 2017 and March 2018, 32 households were evicted from borough council homes, 20 more than the previous year.

The figure only includes properties recovered with a warrant from court bailiffs.

In Wigan, there were 18 evictions due to rent arrears, while a further 14 were due to anti-social behaviour.

Judith Blake, housing spokeswoman for the LGA, said that eviction is the last resort for councils.

She said: “The evidence indicates that arrears increase significantly for households on Universal Credit.

“The Government was right to have announced measures in the budget to partly address this, but it is vital that they work closely with councils.

“The ability of councils to provide extra support to people to keep arrears down is becoming increasingly limited and we also remain concerned about the significant reductions in housing benefit, which can leave households struggling to pay their rent.”

The average social rent in Wigan is £75.96 per week, lower than the average for England, which is £86.40.

By March 2018, tenants owed the council £3.19m, excluding council taxes and water or heating bills.

Outstanding debts from former tenants who no longer live in council properties was £3.71m.

Wigan Council took an average of 38 days to re-let homes following eviction, 10 more days than the previous year.

Lesley O’Halloran, assistant director for customer services, said: “We have more than 20,000 council properties in the borough, meaning the 32 evictions that took place amounted just 0.2 per cent of our council properties.

“We work extremely hard to help residents stay in their property. Eviction is an absolute last resort, and is only considered following multiple attempts, including home visits, to try and get the customer to engage with us and to address the issue that is putting the tenancy at risk.

“Although overall arrears have remained relatively stable there has been an increase in those households with higher level arrears. A contributory factor in this is the growth in the number of tenants that are claiming Universal Credit which involves a waiting period of up to eight weeks where claimants may not have access to any income.

“During this waiting period tenants often struggle to pay their rent although support is provided by the council’s financial support team and rent service around budgeting and debt advice.

“By providing the right support at the right time we can make sure that homes are not lost and that short term difficulties can be overcome.”

Nationally, in the 12 months to March, there were 5,482 evictions from council homes, six per cent fewer than the previous year.

Eight out of 10 evictions were due to rent arrears, while seven per cent were caused by anti-social behaviour.