More than 40 per cent of council tenants in York are in arrears with their rent due to a “perfect storm” of austerity, Covid and the cost of living crisis, according to housing chiefs.
There were more than 3,000 tenant accounts in arrears – totalling almost £1.8m – as of October.
But only four evictions have taken place this financial year, councillors on the housing scrutiny committee were told.
Head of housing services Den Southall explained that arrears for some tenants had “skyrocketed”, but that evictions were always a last resort for the council.
The authority currently has 532 cases in the legal system relating to arrears, but Mr Southall said this included cases stretching back over a long period.
“Generally when a case gets to eviction, it means that we have tried absolutely everything time and time again,” he said.
Final decisions on evictions are made by county court judges, not the council.
“Judges are very reluctant – in the middle of a cost of living crisis and on the back of the last 10 or 12 years – to evict people, particularly where they have vulnerabilities,” Mr Southall added.
Housing management officers take a “holistic approach” to working with people in debt, with advice and support offered around people’s finances.
“We don’t go in and say ‘I want my rent’,” Mr Southall said. “We look at the whole family situation and we make appropriate referrals.”
The council has also overseen a package of measures to help people struggling with the cost of living crisis.
The authority’s housing revenue account (HRA) – its spending and income relating to the management and maintenance of council-owned housing stock – is also forecast to be £2.3m in deficit.
This is due to the rising cost of utilities, as well other inflationary rises such as the pay award and the cost of materials and repairs.
Savings will have to be made in the 2023/24 HRA budget, according to a council report.
Director of housing Tracey Carter said: “The demands upon the HRA and the financial challenges it faces have never been greater.”