A BLACKPOOL landlord has hit back at government claims over the level of benefit fraud in the area.

Mike Berry, who owns property in the centre of the town, said: "The Government is using landlords as political scapegoats.

"We are refuting claims that we are committing fraud as political rhetoric.

"Current legislation, including recently the Under 25 reforms, are causing both landlords and tenants problems.

"Many landlords are not going to be able to afford their overheads, like mortgages, repairs and maintenance, and as a result will go bankrupt.

"Many people under 25 are now left with just £19 per week after paying between £16 and £20 towards what are the lowest rents in the country.

"We now receive £30 per week for the under 25s but need £50 to cover all of our overheads.

"Some of these tenants don't look after their flats and rooms and most of them give no notice when they leave to live elsewhere.

"Because the Government pays us monthly, if the tenant leaves halfway through the month, then we are in receipt of too much money which is classed as fraud."

Joan Humble, MP for Blackpool North and Fleetwood, said: "The report demonstrated as such that the current administration can give room for fraudulent activity in some areas and that it needs to be tightened up.

"Neither I nor the report said that landlords were committing fraud - of course, there are landlords who manage their affairs well.

"Tightening the administration will protect landlords from accusations of fraud, protect tenants and prevent the exploitation of taxpayers' money."

Converted for the new archive on 14 July 2000. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.