THOUSANDS of pounds of write-offs and rent arrears at Barrow Borough Council have been criticised.

It follows the publication of figures for 2018-19, showing the council cancelled £130,000 of bad debts in housing while rent arrears climbed to £477,000.

Cllr Hazel Edwards, who leads the opposition Conservatives, raised the questions at a meeting in the town hall.

But Cllr Kevin Hamilton, the council’s ruling Labour chairman, said Universal Credit had plunged tenants into arrears.

Cllr Edwards, who represents Hawcoat, told meeting in the town hall: “The amounts in the past, I know, have been substantial and written off.

“I think the public out there need to know what the problem is. People who do pay their council tax are bearing the burden of these arrears.”

Cllr Hamilton, the mayor of Barrow and the council’s spokesman for housing, denied this was the case.

He said the arrears were in the council’s housing revenue account, not council tax, although Cllr Edwards said it still involved writing off taxpayer money.

Cllr Hamilton said that on average, each tenant on Universal Credit was £600 in arrears on average. This was due to moving across the the new benefit and having to wait around six weeks for their first payment, he said.

Cllr Hamilton said: “They are already six weeks in rental arrears with us.  If the tenant does not pay the rent for eight weeks, we have to send off to the Department for Works and Pension to get the housing element out of their Universal Credit paid directly to the town hall for rent. The only problem is, that the first eight weeks is written off.”

Cllr Hamilton said before any tenant took on a council tenancy, they received help with their budgets to ensure they could afford the rents. Cllr Edwards agreed to receive written information from the council explaining how it flags-up arrears and pursues

Cllr Anne Burns, the Labour councillor for Hindpool, said Universal Credit had hit many.

“A lot of our tenants have slipped into a situation that they did not want to be in,” said Cllr Burns, the Labour member for Hindpool.

Cllr Daniel Edwards, a Conservative for Dalton North, said last summer the council refused last year to sign-up to a Department of Works and Pensions  to provide extra advice to those people switching to Universal Credit.

He said support was now available via groups such as Christians Against Poverty, Citizens Advice and at Barrow Library.

The council opted out of an initial scheme after a disagreement with the DwP over the amount of funding needed to help people in the borough affected by the benefit changes.