COUNCIL tenants who have fallen behind in rent payments risk losing their homes, Mid Devon District Council has warned.
Around 500 people who live in a council-owned property are in arrears, which Phoenix House chiefs estimate to be an increase of 10 per cent compared to last year.
Some residents owe only small amounts while others have racked up debts of around £2,500. Those in trouble are being urged to be more open about their financial circumstances and seek help before spiralling into debt.
Councillor Ray Stanley, the council's cabinet member for housing, said: "People all of a sudden have stopped paying. There is a significant amount of people who owe this authority some money, from a few pounds to significant figures.
"What we really want tenants to do is talk to us and not close their doors and assume it's going to go away, because it's not.
"We want them to be aware that they can come and talk to us and if we can help, we will.
"We don't want people to bury their heads in the sand."
He told fellow cabinet members at a recent meeting that in some cases tenants are not even aware they are in debt and an increasing number are facing the courts and possibly eviction.
A number of "polite and pleasant" letters have been sent to tenants to inform them they are in arrears, and a second wave of correspondence has warned the worst offenders their tenancy is at risk.
Some tenants who have fallen behind in their rent payments have already signed up to debt management agreements to address the problem.
Cllr Stanley added: "There are some people that owe this authority £1,500 to £2,500 in arrears, and when you get to that point the chance of recovering the whole amount is practically nil."
Tenants with financial problems are encouraged to contact the council as soon as possible because it has links to a number of agencies and charities, such as the Citizen's Advice Bureau, the Churches Housing Action Team (CHAT) and other organisations which offer a range of advice services.
The council may also be able to help with claims for housing benefit.
Cllr Neal Davey, cabinet member for finance, said: "Times are difficult but times are difficult for people at all sorts of times. Where we don't get any money and don't hear from people, we have got to be robust and follow them up."
Work starts on new council homes - page 26.