Tenants facing legal threats as Edinburgh Council chases £1.7m in rent

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MORE than two council tenants a day are being threatened with legal action for unpaid rent, new figures have revealed.

And almost one in every four who live in a council house have fallen behind in paying rent.

Thousands of council house tenants have missed payments in the economic downturn, meaning the council is now owed 1.7 million in unpaid rent.

The council points out that it has reduced the number of cases that it is taking to court to the lowest in five years as it targets more early intervention.

But opposition politicians say more needs to be done.

Councillor Gordon Munro, the housing spokesman on the Labour group, said: "These figures are a concern and there needs to be more early intervention to prevent people falling into arrears.

"This is a good indicator of the level of poverty in the city and we need to face up to that. The amount of people involved and the amount of money involved shows that Edinburgh, despite its wealth, has a lot of people that are in difficulty."

He added: "People shouldn't be faced with the choice of feeding their children or paying their rent or council tax."

The new data shows that 4,600 people – or 23 per cent of all council house tenants – fell behind on their rent payments in 2009/10.

In response, the council issued 945 legal notices – the first sign of taking them to court. However, the number of cases lodged in court fell 41 per cent on a year earlier, to 754. And the number of actual evictions carried out declined by a third to 175.

Councillor Paul Edie, the city's housing leader, said: "The record low number of evictions and the drop in tenants in rent arrears is real proof that our policy of seeking alternatives to eviction is working.

"We have always said eviction for rent arrears is a last resort.

"We realise these are challenging economic times and work closely with our tenants who have genuine difficulties in paying their rent to get advice from a range of specialist staff who can help them with debt and money problems."

He also pointed out that the number of people in serious rent arrears has declined for six successive years.

Graeme Brown, director, Shelter Scotland, the housing and homelessness charity, said: "We welcome Edinburgh City Council's moves to stop struggling families from being evicted from their homes.

"Of course, people need to pay their rent but we all know times are tough right now and the council's actions to stop those who are genuinely struggling from losing their homes is a move in the right direction."

He added: "Shelter Scotland is looking to Alex Neil, housing minister, to put this kind of good practice into law."