Angus councillor blames council debt on increase of ‘rent absconders’
A councillor in Angus has launched a scathing attack on people who he believes present themselves as homeless to receive a council house and then leave to another local authority without paying rent.
Arbroath West and Letham councillor, Richard Moore, is urging Angus Council to do more to stop the so-called rent dodgers “from gaining free accommodation at everyone else’s expense”.
The Liberal Democrat councillor told The Courier: “I met this problem south of the border and discovered there are people who present themselves as homeless and require the council to house them.
“They will stay for a while, not paying their rent or council tax, then abscond to another authority and start again.”
Rent arrears in Angus have fallen from £1.19 million in April to £1.13m, though the level of debt owed by former tenants increased from £1.14m in April to £1.36m.
Mr Moore said council officers must think innovatively to keep track of tenants who he claims leave without paying.
He said: “This is unjust to those residents who pay their council tax.
“In these days where everything has to be scrutinised to ensure value for money it is wrong that there is no mechanism with which to combat this.
“The council do need to be innovative in the way they collect these debts, but also the Scottish and UK governments need to be involved.
“Councils do data matching with the DWP, to catch tax dodgers, and I have long believed that this should also be extended in order to stop these cheats from gaining free accommodation.
“One solution could be to require new tenants to advise the council of their National Insurance number.
“This would help local authorities track where the defaulters had gone.
“This would, however, require legislation as it is outwith the council’s powers.”
Angus Council strategic director Alan Mckeown said that efforts are ongoing to pursue outstanding money.
Angus Housing Association director, Bruce Forbes, has described the councillor’s comments on the cause of the council’s rent arrears as “disgraceful” and called on him to apologise for his negative portrayal of social housing tenants and the homeless.
Mr Forbes said: “This type of stereotyping of the homeless and those living in social housing is so prejudiced and lacking in any factual analysis that it is nothing short of disgraceful.
“Councillor Moore claims to have previously encountered this type of behaviour ‘south of the border’ but to be frank, I have never heard so much ill-informed nonsense in my 40 years experience working in social housing. His portrayal of those who have suffered the pain of homelessness as some kind of transient group of fraudsters who transport themselves and their families around the country from council area to council area just to avoid paying rent or council tax is so ill informed that it beggars belief.
“Anyone with any basic knowledge of this subject could inform Councillor Moore that the causes of homelessness and debt in Scotland are many and complex. Family breakdown, mental health issues, dealing with addiction and young people leaving care are just some of the many contributing factors but most significant is a system of welfare in the UK which now treats the poorest in our society with the same kind of contempt displayed by Councillor Moore rather than with the help and compassion they need and deserve.
“Angus Housing Association exists to help the same demographic of the population that is housed by Angus Council. Indeed, we provide homes to many homeless families referred to us by them. In 25 years of working in the communities of Angus, I can honestly say that I have never once encountered the scrounger scenario he describes. Of course, there is a tiny minority, much less than 1% of tenants in my experience, who try to avoid paying all that they owe in rent. That is, however, why we have the Courts to help us pursue debts.
“Instead, therefore, of portraying a tiny minority as the main cause of Angus Council’s rent arrears problem, I would suggest that Councillor Moore would better serve his constituents by apologising for his insulting remarks which scapegoat the homeless and the vast majority of decent social housing tenants, most of whom struggle day by day to get by. He could then perhaps concentrate on what he is actually elected to do by asking the council’s officers to report why their debt recovery policies and procedures mean they have current rent arrears of around 9% while we, as the local housing association, have rent arrears of around 1%.”