RENT arrears owed to Barrow council soared to £477,000 in the last year.

Newly published figures show the sum was clocked up by tenants falling behind with the rent in 2018-19.

Past arrears stand at £279,954 – making a total arrears of £757,000 owed to the authority.

In the last year, the council evicted 14 tenants and wrote off £142,675 in rent arrears as unrecoverable.

Nineteen people were evicted the year before, but council chiefs have stressed it is an “absolute last resort”.

Year-on-year arrears have risen less than one per cent, but are 20 per cent up on earlier years, said a report to a committee this week. (THURSDAY 13 JUNE)

The figures show that the majority are regular payers as the council collected £10.6 million in rent in 2018-19, or 98.3% of all rents due.

Barrow’s mayor, Cllr Kevin Hamilton said for those who fall into arrears, the situation can be “horrendous”.

Cllr Hamilton laid the blame at the door of the Government’s austerity agenda and Universal Credit.

It saw six different benefit scrapped and a single payment introduced, although delays in payments is a commonly-reported problem, as are sanctions.

Under UC, housing benefit previously paid direct to the council for rent, now goes straight to the tenant, with some unable to budget, said Cllr Hamilton.

He chairs the council’s housing management forum, which will discuss the figures.

Cllr Hamilton said: “Universal Credit has a lot to answer for here. Every case is genuine and it comes back to housing benefit which was once paid to the council and is now paid direct to the tenant.”

“Some people have no budgeting skills. People can get laid off from a job or a delay in getting Universal Credit, and once you get into debt, it can be very hard to get out of it.”

Over the last decade, the council had put help in place at its housing department to help people with benefits advice and budgeting.

His advice to anyone falling behind was to attend the council’s housing office for assistance.

Cllr Hamilton advised: “Just go into the housing office and make an arrangement to make a regular payment to us, even if it’s £2 or £10.”

New tenants now also have to undergo “budgeting” help when applying for a property, he said.

Council staff have helped more than 800 tenants apply for reduced water rates to help those on low incomes struggling to make ends meet.

Council officials report the rent arrears were expected given “the challenges of Universal Credit” and a benefits cap having been introduced.

In the coming year, it plans to identify and support vulnerable tenants claiming UC to help prevent falling behind with the rent.

It also wants to improve collections and introduce more direct debit payment options, it said.