§ 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 189W 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