With the impact of the Government’s on-going Welfare Reform programme and the full roll out of Universal Credit, the importance of customers understanding their responsibility for paying their rent is clear. The collection of rent is a life blood measure for Halton Housing enabling us to maximise our income to ensure that the commitments contained in the business plan can be met.
Customers need to understand their obligations, and when required should also be given any necessary support to sustain their tenancies. Halton Housing’s Debt Recovery Policy will look to minimise any loss of income from missed or unpaid rent and other charges from its customers.
All customers have a responsibility to pay their rent in full and on time; and if customers fail to meet this obligation there will be a robust approach to collecting any outstanding debt. On occasions customers may not be able to pay their rent because of their vulnerability or unforeseen circumstances. In these situations, support, as necessary will be given to ensure customers are able to meet their responsibility, therefore maximising Halton Housing income.
Any unpaid rent is a debt owed to Halton Housing and we will maintain an objective, consistent approach, ensuring customers understand their responsibility to clear the debt. Our aim is for the debt to be cleared as quickly and cost effectively as possible. We will take incremental action against customers who fail to maintain payments or arrangements to clear their debt.
We will assist our customers who are in financial difficulty by providing advice and information to support and maximise income as part of our tenancy support and welfare benefit /money advice serviceenabling the debt recovery team to ensure debt collection is their primary focus.
To collect debt effectively Halton Housing will use technology to maintain accurate up to date information on charges and payments with timely performance information for proactive debt collection. The staffing structure enables a swift response to customer debt with the ability to focus time and resources on the more complex cases. To maximise productivity automation is used wherever possible, identifying the most cost effective methods of contact and collection. Customers will be given a reasonable amount of time to respond to our contact. However, if the response does not lead to a reduction in debt, the next action will be taken. Through this process we will meet the needs of the customer by focusing our resources appropriately ensuring that the debt recovery team are trained to understand the objective robust approach to collecting customers’ debts.
From the initial application process Halton Housing will ensure that customers understand that paying their rent is a priority debt and that if they fail to pay their rent, their home is at risk. Halton Housing will explore all approaches to collecting debtbut if all other avenues are unsuccessful Halton Housing will use the legal process including court action to collect debts and ultimately repossession of a customer’s home ensuring it meets the terms of the Pre–Action Court Protocol.
With the introduction of Universal Credit Halton Housing will support the principal that customers take responsibility for managing their rental payments. It will only apply for an Alternative Payment Arrangements (APA) direct to the landlords if the customer meets the criteria stated in the regulations and or a customer’s home is at risk if payments are not maintained.
To support Halton Housing’s dedicated debt management team everyone within Halton Housing needs to understand the importance of maximising income, and during any contact with customers will assist the team by reinforcing the customer’s responsibility to pay their rent, identifying the benefit for the customer, staff and wider community.
Halton Housing will also proactively pursue other debts owed to Halton Housing including former customer debts and other charges owed by customers. We will adopt a firm but fair approach to wider customer debts agreeing a reasonable repayment plan and taking incremental action if this plan is not maintained.
Halton Housing will use other options available to manage debt as appropriate whilst ensuring a fair and consistent approach. and these include:
- Use of Section 21 Notices on introductory tenancies
- Using Ground 8 for persistent debt
- Reduction in service for example not carrying out improvement work
- Use incentives, to reward customers who meet their rent payment obligation over a sustained period
Halton Housing will endeavour to maintain effective links with Halton Borough Council’s Housing Benefit Team, the Department of Works and Pensions and Job Centre Plus, as these will be vital to our work to support the customers and maximise income.
Regulatory and/or Legal Compliance
Halton Housing’s Rent Arrears Recovery Policy and its associated procedures are compatible with obligations imposed by existing legislation, including:
- Rent Act 1977
- Protection from Eviction Act 1977
- Landlord and Tenant Act 1987
- Housing Act 1988 (as amended by the Housing Act 1996)
- Disability Discrimination Act 1995
- Equality Act 2010
The HCA’s current Regulatory Framework that came into force from April 2012 does not appear to have specific expectations relating to rent arrears collection. However effective management of arrears will meet part of the Financial Viability Standard which states that:
“2.1 Registered providers shall ensure that:
- Effective controls and procedures are in place to ensure security of assets and the proper use of public funds,
- Effective systems are in place to monitor and accurately report delivery of their plans,
- The risks to delivery of financial plans are identified and effectively managed.”
An initial screening checklist has been competed on this policy which confirms that a full Equality Impact Assessment does not need to be carried out.
This has shown that the policy is not directly or indirectly discriminatory whilst it increases equality of opportunity by permitting or requiring positive action or action to redress disadvantages.
Of the 5 main priorities within ‘Our Direction’, this policy underpins the following:
- Protecting our current income
- Focus our services and resources
- Reducing our costs and driving efficiencies
- Be more flexible
The effective collection of arrears and management of debt will meet all 4 of the above priorities.
The policy is also linked to the following policies and procedures:
- Affordable Rents Policy
- Rent Collection and Payments Policy
- Rent Setting for Protected (Fair Rents) Tenancies Policy
- Service Charges Policy
- Social Rents Policy
- Write Off and Bad Debts & Credits Policy
- Debt Recovery Procedure