HC Deb 10 December 1986 vol 107 cc188-9W
Mr. Heddle

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what are the latest available figures on the arrears of rent outstanding to each local authority in England; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. John Patten

I have today arranged for the information to be placed in the Library. The figures were, in the majority of cases, supplied to the Department by the local authorities in their subsidy claim forms. They show, disappointingly, that at 1 April 1986 rent arrears in England amounted in total to over £210 million. This is about 5.7 per cent. of the total annual rent roll and there has been no reduction overall in this proportion since 1985.

In the worst individual case, an authority has reported to us figures which show arrears equal to almost two thirds of its annual rent roll. The 20 worst authorities have each reported arrears above 8 per cent. and together have a debt burden of over £100 million. Arrears on this scale are damaging to both tenants and ratepayers. It cannot be good for the wellbeing of individual tenants who owe rent to allow them to go on incurring further debts without seeking lasting solutions to their problems. The majority of tenants who are not in debt have to make good the interest charged, and ratepayers bear the costs if the debts are written off. Rents forgone in this way reduce the resources available to local authorities for vital maintenance and repair work.

Over 300 local housing authorities have managed to keep their arrears below 5 per cent. of their annual rent roll and well over 100 of these authorities have arrears below 2 per cent. There are authorities with social and economic characteristics similar to those among the worst performers which yet have much lower proportions of arrears. This demonstrates that there is a clear failure on the part of a minority of authorities to face up to their responsibilities, both to their tenants and to their ratepayers.

I recognise that there are doubts about the accuracy of some of the figures supplied by authorities. When I met representatives of the local authority associations earlier in the year to discuss the 1985 figures, we agreed that our officers should get together with the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accounting to develop a system of returns to provide more accurate information. That work is under way.

I am looking to the associations to develop also, with officers of my Department, an improved basis for comparing authorities with similar problems. By that means, the factors that cause large levels of arrears can be better identified and guidance developed on good practice in controlling the levels. Advice is, of course, already available from specialists in the Department and our aim is to develop that in the light of this exercise.

Authority Present status When admitted
Barnsley Designated September 1978
Birmingham Partnership December 1978
Blackburn Programme April 1983 (designated September 1978)
Bolton Programme September 1978
Bradford Programme September 1978
Brent Programme April 1983 (designated September 1978
Burnley Designated April 1983
Coventry Programme April 1983
Doncaster Designated September 1978
Ealing Designated September 1978
Gateshead Partnership December 1978
Greenwich Designated September 1981 (part of Docklands Partnership 1979–81, first designated September 1978)
Hackney Partnership January 1979
Hammersmith and Fulham Programme September 1978
Haringey Designated September 1978
Hartlepool Designated September 1978
Islington Partnership January 1979
Kingston upon Hull Programme September 1978
Knowsley Programme April 1983
Lambeth Partnership January 1979
Langbaurgh Designated April 1983
Leeds Programme September 1978
Leicester Programme September 1978
Lewisham Designated September 1981 (part of Docklands Partnership 1979–81, first designated September 1978)
Liverpool Partnership December 1978
Manchester Partnership December 1978
Middlesbrough Programme September 1978
Newcastle Partnership December 1978
Newham Designated September 1981 (part of Docklands Partnership 1979–81, first designated September 1978)
North Tyneside Programme September 1978
Nottingham Programme September 1978
Oldham Programme September 1978
Rochdale Programme April 1983 (designated September 1978)
Rotherham Designated September 1978
St. Helens Designated September 1978
Salford Partnership December 1978
Sandwell Programme April 1983 (designated September 1978)
Sefton Designated September 1978
Sheffield Programme September 1978
South Tyneside Programme September 1978
Southwark Designated September 1981 (part of Docklands Partnership 1979–81, first designated September 1978)
Sunderland Programme September 1978
Tower Hamlets Designated September 1981 (part of Docklands Partnership 1979–81, first designated September 1978)
Walsall Designated April 1983
Wandsworth Programme April 1983 (designated September 1978)
Wigan Designated September 1978
Wirral Programme September 1978
Wolverhampton Programme November 1978