MORE than a third of the city's 2,200 temporary accommodation residents are in rent arrears with debts of up to £22,000, The Argus can exclusively reveal.

Almost 900 families and individuals housed by Brighton and Hove City Council in bedsits, hostels, flats and BnBs had rent arrears totalling £1.4 million in March.

A council whistleblower contacted this paper to highlight the growing problem and criticised their own department’s reluctance to evict low-income residents from temporary accommodation.

Housing experts blamed the rising arrears on the "false economy" of Government cuts to support services and warned the figures could rise further under new plans to hand housing benefit directly to tenants.

Council bosses admitted they were now taking action to tackle a small number of cases with “unacceptable” arrears with a review of their rent collection processes underway and new measures rolled out to offer advice for tenants, assistance with benefit claims and additional financial assessments.

Figures obtained by this paper show that one temporary accommodation resident racked up rent arrears of more than £22,000 with another nine households accruing debts of £10,000 or more and 51 with arrears of £5,000 and above.

Andy Winter, Brighton Housing Trust chief executive, said a significant reduction in funding for advice services meant there was less support to guide residents through the complex welfare system.

He warned that the situation could get worse with the roll-out of Universal Credit in the city where residents were paid directly and expected to pass the money on to their landlords.

He said: "You will have people who lead quite chaotic lifestyles and they will be handed huge amounts of money, it's a recipe for disaster.

"Cutting advice services is a false economy, the individuals lose out, landlords lose out and the local authority loses, only the Treasury wins."

Councillor David Gibson, Green lead for housing, said benefit cuts had left claimants “a lot worse off” with the introduction of Universal Credit set to make matters worse in the future.

He called for public funding to be shifted to building new social homes at affordable rents with controls needed to bring down existing rents which were unaffordable both for individuals and the state.

Emergency accommodation is provided for city residents at risk of becoming homeless

A whistleblower told this paper that tenants were living in properties with rents of up to £1,400-per-month.

The council said 98 per cent of rents for emergency accommodation had been collected and that some debts were due to housing benefit being paid in arrears.

A council spokeswoman said: “There are significant arrears in a small number of historic cases with the amount owed being at unacceptable levels.

“Measures are being taken to prevent high debts being accrued by tenants in the future and the council is looking at how to reduce existing arrears.”