Rent Arrears Recovery Policy

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1 Rent Arrears Recovery Policy July 2013 Version 1.0

2 Version Control Policy Author Version Number Date Status Comments Finance and Incomes Manager Draft July 2013 New Approval Body Effective Date Renewal date Comments Board or committee 20/08/13 3 years from Effective date Or less if high Risk assessment Page 2 of 10

3 Contents 1. Introduction Policy Statement Context Performance Page 3 of 10

4 1. Introduction 1.1 Purpose of this policy River Clyde Homes aims to maximise rental income and minimise rent arrears, to allow us to develop and provide excellent services for our customers and deliver against our corporate vision to develop and provide quality, affordable homes, in neighbourhoods we can be proud of and to deliver excellent services that make a real difference for our customers. All customers have a responsibility to pay their rent in full plus any arrears due. All staff have a responsibility to maximise the income collection levels of the organisation and minimise any outstanding debts. The regulatory position in relation to rent arrears is contained within the Scottish Housing Regulator s performance standard for rent arrears, Activity standard 1.8 which states: We act to prevent arrears of rent and service charges building up. We recover any arrears fairly and effectively. This encourages early intervention. The statutory framework for the service is set out in the following legislation: Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 Housing (Scotland) Act 2010 The Scottish Secure Tenancies (Proceedings for Possession) (Preaction Requirements) Order 2012 This allows River Clyde Homes to make reasonable charges for the tenancy or occupation of our homes and to recover possession should rent lawfully due from the customer not be paid or an obligation of the tenancy be broken or not performed. Under Article 8 of the Human Rights Convention, as applied to public sector landlords by the Human Rights Act 1998, everyone has a right to respect for their home. This is not an absolute right therefore we are entitled to seek possession where we reasonably believe tenancy conditions have been breeched. However policies and procedures need to reflect the principle of proportionality i.e. is the action being taken proportionate to the level of arrears, length of tenancy, previous payment history and any alternative courses of action. The Welfare Reform Act 2012 presents many challenges for housing providers with the main changes relating to under occupancy and universal credit. River Clyde Homes recognises that this will have a significant impact on the organisation and our customers and a Welfare Reform Project Group has been established to ensure that we identify the risks and minimise the impact these changes will bring. Page 4 of 10

5 These statutory and regulatory responsibilities are more fundamentally underpinned by the Association s general duty to its customers, to maximise revenues and customer income, and minimise rent associated debt. Supporting Research and Analysis CIH How to manage income collection effectively Feb 13 CIH Rent Payments and Collection under Universal Credit Jul 13 DWP Local Authority Led Pilots:A summary of early learning from the pilots Jul 13 HQN Income Management Review Mar 2013 Scope 1.2 All staff All customers All offices Page 5 of 10

6 2 Policy Statement 2.1 River Clyde Homes accepts that the rent is often the single most expensive item of expenditure in a household and that a tenant s circumstances may change (for example through illness or unemployment) and that this can sometimes make it difficult to pay rent. We will work with our customers to try and prevent arrears from occurring by: Working with housing applicants to ensure that they fully understand the costs associated with holding a tenancy and have access to support and advice to help them to understand their benefit entitlement, and apply for appropriate financial support. Carrying out financial assessments of a prospective tenant s circumstances and signposting them to appropriate debt advice agencies. This may include credit checks. Ensuring that prospective tenants fully understand their obligations in relation to rent payment, including payment of rent in advance. Visiting new tenants shortly after they have moved in to sort out any early concerns/minor issues before they escalate. Being accessible and providing a wide range of ways for our customers to contact us, and for us to communicate with them. Providing a full range of payment methods that are widely publicised through our website, newsletters and promotional campaigns, accepting payments 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We will encourage customers to pay their rent using the most effective way for them and will promote Direct Debit, as appropriate, as the most efficient way of paying rent. Providing support and advice to customers in relation to their finances as a whole, helping them with budgeting and ensuring they are aware of and claim all the benefits they are entitled to. Provide easy to understand annual statements, in a format that suits our customers When arrears do arise, the Association will adopt a firm but fair approach to customers who fall into arrears with their rent by: Developing effective systems and procedures for recovering arrears. All payments and actions are recorded on the Housing Management System and this automatically directs staff to the next step in the escalation procedure if the customer defaults on a payment. Page 6 of 10

7 Contacting the customer at the earliest opportunity to discuss the reasons for the arrears when they arise, ascertaining if they are in a position to clear the arrears in full and, if not, seek to agree an affordable repayment plan to clear the arrears. All agreements will be confirmed to the customer and they will be monitored to ensure compliance. Developing a specific approach to deal with the rent arrears of vulnerable households, offering support to these customers either through our own teams or an appropriate external organisations Publicising and promoting our welfare benefits services and sign-post customers to other advice agencies as appropriate Ensuring that all customers will have the opportunity to receive advice on welfare benefits and affordability checks, Housing Benefit entitlement and debt counselling services. Referral arrangements will be developed with agencies that can provide debt counselling services to help customers budget and schedule their debts and to reach repayment Carry out financial assessments of a tenant s circumstances with a view to making realistic arrangements to pay off the arrears. Any such arrangements will be confirmed in writing to the customer. Running periodic welfare benefit take-up campaigns to publicise the availability of benefits and to encourage customers to apply Work with the Department of Work and Pensions, Housing Benefits and local welfare benefit advice and debt counselling agencies to promote the take-up of benefits and to help to ensure that customers receive appropriate advice and their full benefit entitlement. Only instigating legal action when all efforts to reach an agreement and to provide support and advice are exhausted and a customer s arrears are not reducing. Throughout this process we will ensure customers have all the information relating to the legal action and up to date information on rent and arrears owed. Customers will be encouraged to make arrangements to pay and to attend court. We will always pursue our costs in taking legal action. Only using eviction as a last resort. We will continue to work with customers to agree a repayment plan so that eviction can be avoided. If eviction is sought we will work with the customer and homelessness services to support them in securing alternative accommodation. Page 7 of 10

8 3 Context Supporting Procedures 3.1 RCH rent arrears recovery procedure.docx Responsibility for Implementation 3.2 Directors Head of Service Managers Operational Teams Key Stakeholders 3.3 Finance and Income Staff Business Support Team Financial Inclusion Partnership Instructed Solicitors Sheriff Officers Related Legislation 3.4 Debt Arrangement and Attachment (Scotland) Act 2002 Debtors (Scotland) Act 1987 Data Protection Act 1998 The Children (Scotland) Act 1995 The Human Rights Act 1998 Disability Discrimination Act 2005 Matrimonial Homes (Family Protection)(Scotland) Act 1981 Homelessness (Scotland) Act 2003 Page 8 of 10

9 Related Strategy 3.5 Sustainability Strategy Value for Money Strategy Equality and Diversity Strategy Data Protection Strategy Welfare Reform Strategy Related Policies 3.6 Vulnerable Customers Policy Allocations Policy Page 9 of 10

10 4 Performance Performance Indicators 4.1 Rent Collected as % of total rent due ( ) Value of current tenant arrears ( ) Page 10 of 10

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