Page last updated at 05:00 GMT, Saturday, 2 May 2009 06:00 UK

Tenants 'in most debt since 80s'

By Brian Milligan
Business reporter, BBC News

Let sign
Pressures are mounting on both landlords and tenants

UK housing tenants are more in debt than at any time since the late 1980s, a landlords group has said.

Hundreds of thousands are falling behind with rental payments, largely due to rising unemployment, according to the National Landlords Association.

The situation was "pretty dire" with at least a third of members owed money, the association added.

In the past year, the association has taken more than 20,000 calls from landlords worried about rent arrears.

'Stressful'

Landlord Rukhsana Kashmiri is owed nearly £9,000 in rent on her property in north London, after both her tenants lost their jobs.

"I'm on anti-depressants and pain-killers, " she says. "My health is not good, and my whole body is aching."

However tenants are also coming under severe strain.

Zoe Abbey, 21, from Watford, fell behind with her rent after failing to find a job.

Landlords should talk to their tenants - give them a breathing space
Duncan Shrubsole
Crisis

And she said the process of being evicted from her flat was extremely stressful.

"It wasn't very nice. You've got the landlord on the door all the time, and you're getting letters."

Apart from rising unemployment, another issue is that housing benefit is now paid directly to tenants.

Many landlords used to receive the payments themselves.

There can also be a delay of up to two months before housing benefit comes through.

Sympathy plea

Adam Sampson, Shelter: 'The Government must sort out the housing benefit mess'

Adam Sampson, of the housing charity Shelter, said the government should now offer support to tenants in the same way it has given help to debt-laden homeowners.

"The government needs to look to see how the payment of housing benefit can be speeded up. Otherwise more tenants are likely to become homeless."

Landlords are also being urged to be sympathetic to the plight of tenants who lose their jobs, and cannot pay their rent as a result.

"They should talk to their tenants - give them a breathing space," said Duncan Shrubsole from the charity Crisis.

With unemployment expected to rise further over the coming months, most expect rental arrears to go up too, with observers saying this will inevitably also lead to more evictions as well.



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