Rent arrears: Fife warns ‘can pay won’t pay’ tenants they will be pursued
Council tenants who don't pay their rent despite being comfortably able to will be pursued aggressively once a ban on evictions lifts later this year.
Cowdenbeath housing manager Russell Gray says a handful of local authority renters are exhibiting a "can pay, won't pay" attitude that, for now, cannot be dealt with because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Under the emergency powers granted by the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act, tenants in arrears cannot currently be evicted. This restriction will come to an end in September, and Russell is promising action on those who refuse to pay.
Mr Gray said: "I anticipate there will be quite a few cases of what we're calling 'can pay, won't pay'. It's clear some have the means to pay - however, for whatever reason we just can't get the rental income out of them.
"We will probably pursue these cases when the ban is lifted. It's a very small number but these cases will become a priority.
"But the ones where people have gotten themselves into difficulty through no fault of their own - and there's lots of circumstances around that - we will try to work with these families to prevent eviction."
Potential stubborn tenants have been identified through financial vetting carried out by Fife Council officers, who are able to check if income has changed recently and whether this may have been tied to the impact of the pandemic.
Those who are deemed comfortably able to pay outstanding rent will be challenged come September - and could face eviction.
This hard-hitting policy will not apply to those for whom the pandemic has brought on hard times. The council has made arrangements, including direct financial support, with those who have been furloughed or have no source of income.
And despite the challenges of the pandemic, rent collection remains high across Fife at 97.73%.
However, there are concerns among elected members that tenants aren't getting the service they might expect despite continuing to pay their rent.
Cllr Linda Erskine told the Cowdenbeath area committee today (Wednesday) that what residents of Fife may have deemed "priority" repairs during lockdown have not been seen as such by the council.
Throughout the pandemic only the most essential emergency checks and repairs have been carried out on council properties, creating a backlog of work.
As of last Monday, non-essential repairs have begun again, with Fife Council staff phoning ahead to tenants to gauge how urgently repairs they had requested during lockdown were needed.
Cllr Erskine said: "Some constituents believe some of these repairs are urgent and have had concerns raised on a number of occasions that they aren't getting done timeously.
"Some of the repairs are fairly urgent, certainly for constituents."
In response, Mr Gray says there is the potential to conscript council staff from other departments to help deal with the backlog of home repairs, in the same vein as the eight new road repair teams pooled from across the council to address the Kingdom's growing pothole problem.
"There may be resources moved for the backdated repairs," he hinted.