Milton Keynes Council tenants owe £2.5m in rent arrears

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More than one third of Milton Keynes Council tenants are in arrears with their rent, the Citizen can reveal.

And the total amount owed to the council is a whopping £2.5 million, according to figures requested by this newspaper.

These show the council has 11,281 tenants , all of whom are charged an average of £84.70 a week for their homes. Some 3,897 of them are in arrears.

However, the bad debt situation is rapidly becoming worse as the Government’s ‘bedroom tax’ takes its toll in Milton Keynes.

Currently 942 tenants in the city have been affected by the new legislation to reduce welfare payments due to the size of their homes.

Incredibly, 752 of these families, almost 80 per cent, are now in arrears with their rent.

This week council leader Andrew Geary said: “We try to keep our rents at a reasonable level – but we do expect people to pay.

“Usually we talk to people in arrears and arrange for them to pay up. Generally our bad debt level is low and eviction is only ever a last resort.”

A council spokesman said officers have come up with a number of initiatives – including a £1 million ‘discrepancy fund’ – to help people in genuine hardship due to reduced benefits.

They have also launched the Neighbourhood Employment Programme with the aim of encouraging people to come off benefits and go back to work.In the past year, 2,000 people have attended and 500 have found jobs as a result.

Councillor Edith Bald, the cabinet member responsible for housing, is now encouraging struggling tenants affected by the bedroom tax to seek a housing exchange and downsize if possible.

Labour’s city housing spokesman, Steve Coventry, said the council still made a “significant profit” from its rented housing stock, despite the arrears.

“What people don’t realise is that, because of the council housing crisis and the private sector’s failure to meet demands, the only people who generally qualify for council homes are those who are disabled, disadvantaged and on very low incomes.

“No wonder they struggle to pay rent. The Government should help them,” he said.