WREXHAM Council is already owed more than £600,000 in rent arrears.

And officers predict the situation will get worse as changes to the benefit system are introduced.

At their meeting today members of the council’s social affairs, health and housing scrutiny commitee will be given an update on the arrears situation.

Head of housing and public protection Andy Lewis reveals in a report that arrears up until the end of August totalled £617,197.

Although this is £45,782 less than at the same time last year, he points that reform to welfare benefit, particularly housing benefit and changes to Local Housing
Allowance (LHA), will have a “considerable impact” on the council’s housing services.

He adds: “The Department for Work and Pensions’ impact assessment has warned that changes to housing benefits may result in an increase on rent arrears, evictions, homelessness and the use of temporary accommodation.

“It is also clear that the workload of officers managing rent arrears will increase with the proposed introduction of housing benefit payments direct to tenants instead of electronically to landlords.

“The reduction in housing benefits will also impact dramatically on the service, particularly on cash collection, rent arrears and recovery and consequential homelessness.”

Mr Lewis’s report says that at the start of the current financial year rent arrears by former tenants of the council stood at £282,093 and, since then, a further £89,465 has become outststanding.

This gave a total figure by the end of August of £310,218.

During the same period a total of £29,190 had been collected and a further £32,129 had been written off by the council.

When its own attempts fail the council uses a debt agency to collect outstanding debts and pays 15 per cent commission on the cash it gets back.

Where the agency is unsuccessful is clawing back the arrears, the debt goes back to the council and then can be written off as irrecoverable.

At the end of August, the amount of court costs owed by tenants in connection with legal action to recover rent arrears was £98,987.