To receive a presentation setting out the impact that Covid has had on the Housing budget.
The sub-committee received a presentation in relation to the impact of Covid-19 on the Housing Revenue Account. This had been a topic identified by Members in prioritising items for the 2020/21 work programme.
It was explained that on Wednesday 18th March 2020 the Government announced a complete ban on evictions and new possession cases during the coronavirus emergency. The Government took early steps to introduce legislation that required landlords to give three months’ notice of their intention to seek possession of a property as opposed to the standard four-week notice. In August 2020 further changes to the regulations saw this time frame extend to six months, except in the more serious cases.
In North Tyneside, action was taken to stop new cases going to Court and any that had dates set for a hearing the courts were asked to adjourn or suspend. Arrears letters that made reference to court action or eviction were suspended and new letters to send out were drafted. Work was done to ensure that data was captured on all cases where tenants had informed of financial difficulties due to Covid-19. This helped gain an understanding of the impact of Covid-19 on rent arrears.
The sub-committee was informed of a range of support that was available for tenants including Discretionary Housing Payments, the Poverty Intervention Fund and the Water Rates Discount Scheme. There was also support available from the Employment and Skills Team in relation to employment opportunities and increasing skills. Referrals could also be made to other organisations including Citizens Advice Bureau and Armed Forces Charity Support.
As was expected, rent arrears had gone up as a result of Covid-19. Members were informed that there was an influx of Universal Credit cases at the beginning of lockdown. There was also an initial impact of rental loss due to not being able to let void properties, unless it was related to homelessness or domestic abuse.
The sub-committee was presented with graphs that illustrated the numbers of tenants in arrears in November 2019, March 2020 and November 2020. The graphs showed data under the following categories: full payer, universal credit and housing benefit. The graph showed a reduction in the number of full payer tenants in arrears between November 2019 and November 2020. This trend was also demonstrated in the data for those tenants in receipt of housing benefit. For those in receipt of universal credit, the data showed an increase in the number of tenants in rent arrears.
It was noted that the Government furlough scheme which covered 80% of wages was continuing to operate. The notice seeking possession process had resumed in order to encourage tenants to engage with the Council to make arrangements for repayment of rent arrears. This was particularly targeted at those tenants that were 6 months or more in arrears. It was noted that evictions would not be enforced whilst national restrictions were in place and no evictions would be enforced by bailiffs until 11 January 2021 at the earliest, except in the most egregious of cases such as anti-social behaviour.
Members were also informed that there were some tenants that were able to pay rent but were choosing not to throughout the pandemic. These tenants were also being targeted and it was explained that the Council would take all the steps it could to support and work with tenants to manage arrears rather than escalating the issue to court. In response to questions in relation to support available to tenants, it was noted that support was provided through the role of the tenancy sustainment officer. This included support provided by the Council and referrals to other organisations.
The Chair thanked the officers for the information provided.
It was agreed to note the information provided in the presentation.