Liam Randall, local democracy reporter
A Council has slammed tenants who they say are using the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse not to pay their rent.
A temporary ban was placed on evictions in the immediate aftermath of the outbreak in March to prevent people facing financial hardship as a result of the virus from being made homeless.
While court proceedings resumed in September, new measures introduced by the Welsh Government mean landlords must give tenants six months’ notice before evicting them.
The local authority in Flintshire say they are currently facing rent arrears of just under £2.5m – a rise of £184,000 on the same period last year.
While officials acknowledged some residents were genuinely struggling to pay their bills, they said others were seeking to take advantage of the national health crisis.
In a report to councillors, Flintshire’s chief housing officer Neal Cockerton said: “The recovery strategy throughout 2020/21 has focused on encouraging engagement with tenants who are experiencing problems with paying their rent and discussing any changes in their personal circumstances, particularly any Covid related impacts.
“Evidentially, the pandemic has hindered the ability of some tenants to pay their rent.
“This though does not mean that tenants should have stopped paying rent over this period.
“In a small number of cases, especially with tenants who previously had a poor record of payment prior to the pandemic, the concern is also that a small number of tenants have exploited the situation in the knowledge that legal action could not be taken.
“Legal action is now being considered on a case-by-case basis to remedy some of the more complex and challenging cases.”
Before lockdown restrictions were introduced in March, the council was tackling five cases which were due to progress towards gaining an eviction warrant.
Legal action has since been restarted, but it said the delays had caused the amount owed by those tenants to rise to a total of £26,000.
Mr Cockerton also highlighted a “significant backlog” of cases in the county court system.
He said: “Case progression and listings for court hearings are expected to be very slow for the foreseeable future.
“In turn, this will inevitably impact on the rent arrears position and the ability of the rent income service to resolve many of the cases, leading to further deterioration in the overall rent income position.
“The council applauds all measures to protect tenants and which allow for additional ‘breathing space’ but conversely such measures also hinder the council from taking timely remedial action to end tenancies and mitigate rising rent arrears for those tenants who, despite all reasonable attempts, refuse to pay and do not engage.”
The Welsh Government has today announced further measures to suspend evictions from social and private rented accommodation over the Christmas period.
The report will be discussed by members of the council’s community, housing and assets scrutiny committee on Wednesday (December 16, 2020).