CURRENT figures show a “sharp increase” in council house rent arrears of more than £1m since the introduction of Universal Credit.

Members of the corporate overview and scrutiny committee had previously asked for further details on the impact the changes to the benefit system has had on renters.

A report from head of procurement and customer service Paul Ashley-Jones was brought to the first meeting of the committee for 2020 on January 28.

Mr Ashley-Jones told members that there had been a “sharp increase”  in rent arrears this financial year compared to 2018/19 with the total hitting £1,096,635 in December.

He said this was due to Universal Credit being paid in arrears and this impacted on people’s ability to pay.

Some tenants were in credit but the “vast majority of cases are in arrears” he said.

The report states that the latest figures show there are 112 households in credit, totalling £23,696, 20 cases of zero balance, and 749 households in arrears totalling £481,313.

People in arrears were monitored and recovery procedures followed with the appointment of three visiting officers in the pipeline.

The key role of these officers is to provide tenants with housing advice and support, they will also look to provide them with advice on housing rent and  council tax, together with other benefits advice, the committee was told.

Cllr Michael John said he had raise the issue of  rent arrears previously and Mr Ashley-Jones’ report “highlights the problems of Universal Credit.”

He welcomed the appointment of visiting officers, as did Cllr Michael Williams who said it was a specialist role, but added he hoped people were treated “with empathy and support rather than heavy handedness” as many cases involved vulnerable people.