Portsmouth council tenants owe £2m in rent arrears - with 5,663 households owing cash

COUNCIL tenants in Portsmouth and Havant owe nearly £2m in rent – with arrears after the pandemic hitting a four-year high.

Thursday, 23rd September 2021, 4:55 am
Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, leader of Portsmouth City Council. Picture: Stuart Martin (220421-7042)

As of mid-August this year, 5,663 Portsmouth City Council tenants – including many in Leigh Park and Wecock Farm – owed £1.98m in rent.

This is up from £1.72m in April 2020 when the pandemic hit – and up on the £1.33m owed in March 2018.

Freedom of information requests by The News to Portsmouth, Gosport and Fareham councils found the number of people in arrears had ballooned since the pandemic.

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At year end in 2018, some 510 people owed £210,000 in Gosport. But as of August this year 997 tenancies were in arrears in the borough – owing £367,837.

The highest bill was £5,632 and dates back to March 16, 2020. Gosport saw a dip in arrears in 2020 compared to 2019, but this year arrears have soared.

In Fareham, £558,069 was owed in arrears across 804 tenancies as of August this year, up from £555,908 in 2020.

The single highest account was £8,773 – owed from way before the pandemic as arrears started in 2008.

Prior to the pandemic, at the end of 2019, arrears totalled £326,665 in Fareham.

Asked for its policy on seeking possession orders, Portsmouth council said: ‘Our arrears actions and taking possession action has not been amended to reflect Covid, we simply did not take any possession action as per the changing legislation during that period.’

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Gerald Vernon-Jackson, leader of Portsmouth City Council, said court action was taken on a ‘case-by-case basis’.

He said: ‘If people have got the ability to pay but won’t, then I think it’s absolutely right.

‘If people haven’t got the money and really don’t have it, then we will work with them.

‘We’ve got to look case by case by case but council rents are significantly lower than in the private sector, and so it’s a real privilege to have a council property, and people have got to prioritise their spending and making sure you pay your rent is a really high priority.’

Gosport council has sought eight possession orders this year, and four in 2020. This is down from 10 and 11 in 2018 and 2019.

The authority said: ‘The policy on seeking possession has returned to pre-Covid policy.

‘We will do as much as we can to prevent seeking possession; engaging customers and ensuring adequate appropriate support in place.

‘Possession action is the very last action we would wish to take.’

Fareham council took court action in one case this year so far, two last year and 13 in total between 2018 and 2019.

A statement said: ‘We are working with all of our tenants on an individual basis who have rent arrears, but those that don’t engage with us, we will seek to serve notice and seek possession order if there is still non-engagement.

‘For extreme (anti-social behaviour) cases, we will seek possession orders.’

Portsmouth, which holds housing stock for Havant, did not provide court action information when asked under freedom of information,

For support, call the City Helpdesk on (023) 9283 4092.

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