By J
10/03/2010

Rent arrears management – boring title, excellent report

Is it too much to hope that – finally – the Government might take steps to ameliorate and / or prevent the use of Ground 8?

During the passage of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008, the Government gave a commitment to look again at the use of inter alia, Ground 8 in the social housing sector.

A group of scholars was assembled for this purpose: Pawson, Sosenko, Cowan, Croft, Cole and Hunter and, they have now reported. I suggest everyone reads “rent arrears management practices in the housing assocation sector” because, frankly, it is an impressive piece of work, detailing historic, current (and hinting at future) trends.

The authors surveyed all housing associations in England, with some 70% responding to the questions raised. Six particular housing associations were chosen to provide detailed case studies and 106 individual eviction files were considered. The headlines are:

(a) mean rent arrears have been falling across the sector, down to 5.3% of collectable rent in the three years to 2007-08. Traditional associations tended to have higher rates of arrears than those involving stock transfer;

(b) housing benefit claimants have – generally – benefited from improved efficiencies in HB administration, with the average number of days to process a new HB claim down to 25, from 33. However, more than a quarter of associations admitted to having issued proceedings in order to pressure the local authority to process a claim;

(c) the rate of rent arrears evictions fell to 2007-08, but experienced a slight increase in 2008-09. Eviction rates varied across the country, with the Midlands having the highest rates and London the lowest;

(d) the majority of associations treated rent arrears recovery as a “specialist” area with staff who, well, specialised in recovery of such monies. Almost half of associations also employ specialist in-house welfare benefit advice staff to assist tenants;

(e) around 25% of associations admitted using Ground 8, although more than 50% of associations in London used it. The most common reason for using Ground 8 was the level of the arrears or where a tenant fails to make contact with the association to discuss the situation.

The report concludes that, were Ground 8 to be abolished, it would not have a significant impact on the arrears carried by HAs.

One final point – could it be that the TSA has delayed in publishing this report? Some of the terminology and phraseology suggests to me that this was ready for publication towards the end of 2009.

J is a barrister. He considers housing law to be the single greatest kind of law known to humankind and finds it very odd that so few people share this view.

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