Efforts to bring homes back into use discussed

Work being undertaken to bring council properties back into use across Aberdeenshire was discussed at the latest meeting of the council’s Communities Committee. 

The matter was raised as part of an update on housing performance highlighting the latest figures for re-let times for homes, and the work taking place to reduce them.

Responding to a question from Cllr Gywneth Petrie about the time taken to re-let empty properties, Head of Housing Rob Simpson explained that the service was working hard to reduce the number of properties that are currently unsuitable for let – known as ‘void’ properties – in Aberdeenshire

He said the need to ensure properties meet national standards in terms of energy efficiency and other home improvement targets was part of the reason that some homes can’t currently be released for lease.

And for some properties, including some sheltered housing accommodation, a lack of demand in certain areas was contributing to the long re-let times.

Contracts are already in place which are seeing improvements being made to void properties across Aberdeenshire, and discussions are underway with contractors to identify opportunities to reduce the time taken for works to be completed.

In particular, the council is working with manufacturers to improve delivery times for materials such as kitchens and external doors. The service is also working with energy suppliers to see if time can be saved in terms of installing new electricity meters and in the clearance of historic debts.

The rollout of a new system to increase the efficiency of work within in-house repair teams and to reduce the time take to complete the work on void properties is continuing, and a revised sign-up procedure has been developed with stricter timescales regarding new leases.

Mr Simpson said the council’s own housing team was undertaking wall insulation works to support the improvement programme and that a large number of properties have been used to provide temporary accommodation, helping to reduce the impact of the loss of rent from empty properties.

Statistics show that although re-let times fell to an average of 60 days in the first quarter of 2018 across Aberdeenshire the situation is beginning to improve with this figure falling to 49 days during August, and improvements being seen in five out of six of Aberdeenshire’s administrative areas.

“We are aware it is an issue and are working as hard as we can to address it,” said Mr Simpson. “It has been difficult but we are moving in the right direction.”

Requests for further information on the financial impact of empty properties are to be addressed in a report that will come before Communities Committee at a future date.

Speaking after the meeting, committee chair Cllr Anne Stirling said: “We spent some time today talking about the challenges that surround our aims of making sure all our properties meet the necessary standards to allow us to make them available to tenants, and the work that is being done to achieve this.

“It was made clear that officers and the committee are monitoring the delivery of contracts that have been put in place, and that a report will come before committee later in the year to provide more detail on the work that has been done to date and the measures taken to minimise the financial impact of empty properties.

“The council has taken the view, as agreed unanimously by all parties on the communities committee, to complete upgrade works to meet and exceed the Scottish Government’s energy efficiency standards with the minimum disruption to tenants and to increase the number of lettable properties in Aberdeenshire.”