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‘Rent arrears no more’, Sacramento says

The problem of rent arrears has been resolved, Housing Minister Samantha Sacramento has said.

Reflecting on the long-standing problem in her budget address in Parliament this week, Ms Sacramento said the most notable achievement in the Housing Department this financial year has been the implementation of procedures to recover arrears of housing rent

Ms Sacramento said there must be a distinction between those who cannot pay rent and those who do not wish to pay rent without any reason for not doing so.

“Because firm action has never been taken in the past, it has unfortunately become the norm for the latter not to pay rent,” she said.

Individuals who genuinely are unable to or have difficulty to meet their monthly rental instalments are not the priority in the Housing Department’s recovery strategy, Ms Sacramento said.

“Upon my appointment as Minister for Housing just over a year and a half ago, I made it my first priority to tackle this issue that had for a long time spiralled out of control and as such, suffered from the ostrich syndrome,” she said.

For too long, far too many people have considered the payment of rent as optional or have seen it as an interest free loan which would never be required to repay. They have been allowed to think this and get away with it as there has been no action taken or even an attempt to recover and no consequences for failure to pay.

Using Mid Harbours estate as an example, she said parking permits there expired on June 30.

“For a number of months we have written to tenants on a number of occasions advising them of the requirement that arrears be paid in full in order for the parking permit to be renewed.”

A fob is required to activate the barrier to the car park at the estate for those authorised to park there. And those in arrears have been advised that they are no longer authorised to park.

“On July 4, we deactivated the barrier fobs to all those in arrears, and Mr Speaker on the basis of our strategy to collect rent on our arrears in relation to this estate which historically had suffered from big arrears problems the total figure in arrears of which just exceeds half a million pounds we have collected in this period £90,411 in just a few months.”

39 tenants have settled their arrears in fully amounting to £84,085.

This is an example of how the strategy is working, she told the House, adding: “This says more about the willingness to pay rent than the ability to pay rent.”

TOURISM

Turning to tourism, Ms Sacramento said that the last published statistics show that all arrivals at hotels have increased; in fact they reflcet the highest numbers since 2007.

“We are achieving our objective and our transformed tourist product is translating into growth,” she said.

The most notable growth since the GSLP/Liberals were elected has been in aviation, she said.

This sector continues to report very healthy findings in all categories catering for the needs of both the business and the leisure traveller.

Inbound and outgoing air passengers on established routes have increased in the past 12 months and Gibraltar, today, has more flights to the UK than ever before.

In specific terms, this summer alone there has been a 40.8% growth in capacity and a weekly flights increase of 31.5% compared to last year, which in itself was a record year.

Arrivals by sea have this year increased by 14.2%. That includes yacht arrivals that have increased by 8%.

“The robust upward trend reflects the healthy state of the industry and consolidates the growth registered in 2015, which was in turn a sizeable improvement on 2014’s 180 cruise calls.”

A notable development for 2016 is that Noble Calendonia has chosen Gibraltar as a turnaround port representing a major breakthrough, Ms Sacramento said. There will be two turnarounds this year, one in October and another in November.

“It must be noted that growth also demonstrates that we can successfully handle some of the largest vessels ever built including the Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas.”

“The progress demonstrates the confidence that the industry has in Gibraltar.”