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Council / One third of council houses in rent arrears

NEW figures which reveal that one third of council houses are in rent arrears have caused concern among elected members.

The total value of rent arrears among Shetland Islands Council’s housing stock rose by £84,000 in 2020/21 to £404,000.

The average of rent arrear per property was £740, which was up from £623 the previous year.

Meanwhile the number of properties in rent arrears rose from 514 to 546.

Finance manager Jamie Manson told a meeting of the full council on Wednesday that the “primary reason for that is the circumstances that we all have lived through in the last 18 months”.

He said the effects of the pandemic meant some individuals were struggling to keep up with rent payments.

But Manson said this was not unexpected.

He added that the council seeks to support those who are struggling with rent.

Recovery processes were put on hold last year, which made for a backlog of rent arrears, Manson said, but there is a hope that the value of debt should be reduced in the next 12 to 18 months.

Shetland South councillor Allison Duncan said the fact that one third of council houses faced rent arrears was “very serious”.

“It’s going to take years, if we can get any of that money back at all,” he said.

Duncan also repeated his praise for the local Citizens Advice Bureau, which is on hand to help people with money worries.

Lerwick member John Fraser, meanwhile, added that behind the figures is the human cost.

He said that in homes with rent arrears there is “potential suffering”.

Fraser said on that basis that he encouraged all councillors to attend a planned seminar on inequality and poverty hosted by the Shetland Partnership this week.