Most private landlords who rent homes to housing benefit tenants are taking a tougher line on rent arrears, claims recent research on evictions published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Rowntree sponsored Janet Ford and Jenny Seavers of York University's Centre for Housing Policy to talk to 127 registered social landlords throughout the country, alongside 17 housing managers and 40 tenants.

Ford and Seavers' research shows that more than half the landlords write their first warning letter about rent arrears earlier than they used to two years ago. Four-fifths sought possession orders earlier and 61% asked the courts for warrants to evict earlier than they used to.

The researchers explained: 'One of the reasons landlords might consider the need for a stricter arrears regime is to retain the confidence of private financial organisations.'

There are more than a million homes let by registered social landlords and the researchers found that, during 1996 and 1997, one in seven of these households was in arrears with the rent. Half said that they had not paid their rent either because they had not received housing benefit or because the benefit had been too little.

Landlords have responded to the problem by installing better information technology to improve the monitoring and management of rent arrears.

'Some landlords noted that some tenants treated their rent as an interest-free loan,' said the report, adding that two-thirds of the defaulting tenants also had other arrears.

'Concerns were raised over the attitudes of some younger single tenants who sometimes tolerated default too easily and would walk away without compunction,' it said.

The report concluded that the debtors gave priority to the creditors who exerted the most pressure.