Environment minister Robert Jones has welcomed the fall but has urged councils - particularly in London - to do more.
Speaking today at a conference in London to promote good practice in preventing and managing rent arrears, Mr Jones said:
'As at 31 March 1994, the total number of rent arrears owing to housing authorities in England has reduced to £453m or 6.8% of rent roll. This compares to £487m, or 7.9%, in the previous year. These figures thus show that arrears have come down in both cash and percentage terms over the year.
'The 1994 figures confirm the trend of recent years. While arrears as a percentage of rent roll rose steadily between 1987 and 1991, from 5.1% to 8.6%, they have now fallen in each of the last three years. I very much hope that this trend will continue.
'Despite the overall improvement, many authorities need to do more to get arrears down, particularly in London. Indeed the worst 10 authorities in England - all of which are London authorities - between them accounted for some £183m (40%) of arrears.
But there is some good progress in London as well. Since last year the overall performance of London authorities has improved significantly, both in total and as a percentage of rent roll. Total arrears in London fell by 9% from £256m to £234m. Arrears as a percentage of rent roll fell from 16.9% to 14.6%.
'Clearly, arrears in London are still far too high. But it would be churlish not to record that authorities are making real progress in getting debt down. Some of the measures used include encouraging take-up of housing benefit through outreach work in the community; forming in-house teams to tackle former tenants' arrears; mounting regular publicity campaigns on rent arrears and setting performance targets.'