RENT arrears owed by Leeds council tenants have gone past the £5m mark.
The authority is currently chasing £5.2m in overdue rents, compared to £4.6m at the end of 2013/14, an increase of £600,000.
The total arrears include £700,000 related to people who are affected by the bedroom tax.
The figures, laid out in the council’s latest financial breakdown, come after the authority revealed its budget proposals for the next financial year, which will see it slashing up to 475 jobs and forced to try and shave £76m from its expenditure next year.
It also comes after last week’s local Government funding settlement revealed some vital crisis payments previously available to jobseekers and other vulnarable families will no longer be offered by Whitehall.
Councillor Peter Gruen, Leeds City Council’s executive board member with responsibility for neighbourhoods, planning and personnel, said: “Since the bedroom tax came into force we have seen a steady increase in people struggling to pay their rent.
“Our approach has and will continue to be around supporting people who are genuinely struggling to pay their rent for whatever reason.
“By coming to us early, we can put in place arrangements to allow people to continue to pay without causing their financial situation to worsen.
“However, while we’re determined to make sure we collect rent that is due to us, we also understand that the changes made to benefit legislation have placed a significant burden on some of those in the city least able to pay.
“We’re not a soft touch, and will pursue arrears through the most effective and appropriate route for each case.
“But we’re committed to being fair, and we’ll also do our best to help people find ways to pay if they are struggling.
“I can’t stress enough how important it is for people to contact us as early as possible if they are having difficulty paying their rent.
“We will support you. However, for those who won’t pay, we have systems in place to ensure that we recover those funds.”
Senior Tory opposition councillor Barry Anderson said: “I recognise that, although the economic recovery is gathering pace, money is still tight for many people.
“What the council needs to do is differentiate between those who can’t pay and those who won’t.
“People who can’t pay should receive help from the council; those who refuse to pay should be vigorously pursued by the council for what they owe.”