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The West Australian and 7 News Perth are reporting that over the last 2 years there has been a 33% increase in debt owed by public housing tenants.
The report indicates that both current and former tenants have incurred debt of more than $55 million for unpaid rent, water bills and repair bills. Current tenants are reported as owing as much as $9.6 million to the Department of Local Government and Communities with the average property being owed $1,540.
Housing Minister Peter Tinley said in a statement, "Only a small percentage of social housing tenants cause damage or are delinquent in rent or utilities payments. But I stress tenant debt is not usually caused by an isolated issue. The issue of tenant debt has its foundation in many associated problems — substance abuse, generational poverty and mental health issues may all play a part".
Service Delivery General Manager for Housing Authority Greg Cash stated that all debts were being pursued by the State Government and referred to debt collectors as required however Shelter WA spokesperson Stephen Hall said in a statement, "This raises the question of how public housing debts are currently raised, and the recovery processes that are available. Tenants who accrue debts ... usually do so on account of rent arrears, liabilities for cleaning and repairs, or both, at the end of the tenancy. The non-payment of rent is a breach of tenancy, and we frequently see sustainable tenancies being brought to an end by the landlord on account of rent arrears. In many cases, these arrears could be easily managed, and paid over time, if a more supportive approach that includes retaining the tenancy were pursued."
The increase in debt comes amid claims that tenants caused $160,000 damage to a property in Moora, WA and 3 properties in Karratha sustaining damage between $45,000 and $50,000 each.