Council houses in West Lothian lying empty for longer, report finds

Council houses in West Lothian lying empty for longer, report finds

Coronavirus safety restrictions have badly hit turnaround times for letting empty homes to new tenants in West Lothian.

Vacant council homes were one of the regular complaints received by West Lothian councillors well before the COVID-19 lockdowns materialised last March.

New information has revealed that in the last three months of the financial year the time it takes to refurbish void homes has skyrocketed from just over 30 days to more than 50.

Councillors on the Services for the Community PDSP heard a report from Sarah Kelly of the housing department, the West Lothian Courier reports.

The report said: “The service has seen less lets overall. However those that do happen are taking longer to prepare and handover for let.

“This delay can be attributed to changes in how repairs in voids must be undertaken safely in line with the revised Scottish Government Covid-19 guidance that came in to effect at the beginning of January 2021.

“Building Services have been required to reduce the number of operatives working in void properties at any one time, and as a result, works take longer to complete.”

In December there were 74 properties let taking an average of 43.19 days. This is more than the previous month but also reflects an increase in the actual number of lets by 18 properties.

In November there were 56 properties let, taking an average of 41.25 days. This represents an improvement on previous month. In October there were 60 properties let taking on average 54.27 days. This performance was a lower position than the previous month.

However, the service let out 24 more properties in this period which is a relevant factor when considering the days taken to complete a re-let.

Between April 2019 and March 2020 the service had let 1,261 mainstream properties. The resources in the service also have let 525 temporary tenancies in the same period.

Chairing the committee, Councillor George Paul pointed out money was being lost due to the delays in letting out the vacant properties.

He continued: “That must be quite a bit of revenue stream the council has lost because of the covid and the length of time it has been taking to get these houses occupied. Has anyone done calculations through those three months. Has anything been prepared for us? I would be interested to see what is lost.”

Councillor Andrew MacGuire said: “I accept the difficulties that covid has placed on us. Have we any idea of what Covid is putting on void times so we can measure?”

Housing manager Ann Marie Carr said people seemed reluctant to move just now. She continued: “We’ve also seen a reluctance in people to take up offers as well, so that can add to prolong the period before letting time.

“It altogether starts to build a picture of people’s reluctance to move at a time when we have all the restrictions.”

Councillor Paul said these were relevant questions given “we keep getting inundated with people looking for properties”.

The target for 2020/2021 is set at 32 days. The service is anticipating a reduction in the number of properties becoming available for re-letting as the extensive West Lothian Council new build programme has been completed with the majority of the next new build sites not coming on stream until 2021/2022, therefore fewer lets.

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