Council defends tenant evictions as ‘last resort’

Buxton Town Hall
Buxton Town Hall

A council has been forced to evict people from state-owned properties due to rent arrears, including some who could not afford to pay rent while on housing benefit, the Advertiser can reveal.

High Peak Borough Council (HPBC) has evicted 17 tenants from its housing stock since 2012 according to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

Eight households were forced to move out of public properties in 2013-14 and out of the total 17 evicted, three were confirmed to be claiming housing benefits and were still made homeless due to rent arrears.

But solicitor Lisa Haythorne, of Buxton’s Derbyshire Law Centre, which provides free legal services to benefits tenants, said the issue was much more far-reaching.

She said: “They may have been the only ones on benefits at the time but many more - the overwhelming majority, should have been on benefits and it is likely due to sanctions that they weren’t.”

The number of people who face eviction is actually in the hundreds, she added, and it was only the most vulnerable who slip through the net: “85 per cent of the people we help have some form of mental illness, from mild depression upwards, so they’re the most vulnerable in the system.”

HPBC has retained over 4,000 properties in its housing stock, reverting back from its “arms-length” organisation, which Labour councillor Fiona Sloman said could have been part of the problem.

The member of High Peak’s housing select committee said: “We try at all costs to keep people in their homes as much as possible for obvious reasons. We brought the housing stock back under council control, so the statistics may reflect the organisation before the change.

“We came in just after the bedroom tax was introduced and that made us very conscious of the difficulties people get into and it made us want to operate our housing stock more carefully.”

Conservative Julie McCabe, executive member for housing, said: “The council takes its responsibilities as a social landlord to over 4,000 households very seriously.

“Eviction is the last resort and is only undertaken once all other options have been exhausted and there is a limited fund available for discretionary payments to households suffering extreme hardship.

“There is significant demand for council accommodation in High Peak and the needs of the small number of tenants who continually fail to pay their rent has to be balanced against the greater number of people on the housing register who need affordable homes.”

There are around 5,500 housing benefits claimants in High Peak in mid 2015 and the majority of benefits receivers claim between £200 and £400 per month.

More than half of housing benefits claimants live in the social rented sector, including council stock.

With a rise in zero-hours and low-wage workers, an increase in employed tenants is also putting more stress on state-owned housing.

Solicitor Lisa Haythorne added: “With a loss of social housing, rent going up, and incomes of the poorest going down it’s obvious that the situation is going to get worse in this area and we’re going to see more and more people facing eviction while the government doesn’t appear to be keen to change things for the people who have these life changing and dangerous experiences.”