Council leader calls for action over empty homes delays

South Tyneside Council leader Iain Malcolm has called for action over delays in bringing empty council homes back into use.

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 04 June, 2019, 08:11

Councillors from the East Shields and Whitburn Community Area Forum (CAF) heard an update on housing at a meeting on Thursday May 30.

New data, from South Tyneside Homes (STH), revealed a snapshot of the average re-let time for council housing in the CAF area.

Between January and March this year, a total of 149 homes were classed as “empty”.

And the average re-let time was 44.5 days against a 30-day target.

Several councillors raised concerns about the failed target, including Labour group leader, Iain Malcolm, who represents the Horsley Hill ward.

“It still seems a long time given the number of people on the housing list,” he said.

“It’s not as if there’s a shortage of applicants for these properties.”

Coun Peter Boyack added empty properties could lead to issues for the council finances, due to the loss of rent.

“The rent loss at the moment is running into thousands and thousands of pounds, no one is seeing what they can do about it and that’s the problem,” he said.

STH area manager, Jayne Ingram, told the meeting small numbers of properties coming back in a “ poor condition” could affect wider figures.

This could include the need to hire specialist contractors or works to ‘damp proof’ properties.

The housing boss added STH can only inspect the property, and identify the need for repairs, once the tenant moves out.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

And delays around re-letting empty properties can also be linked to “lack of demand” in specific locations.

Despite the delays, Coun Iain Malcolm said quality was key, with all properties needing to meet the ‘Decent Homes Standard’ before being allocated.

“We can’t force someone into a property that they may not want to take,” he said.

“I think six weeks might be a reasonable time in the works department’s minds.

“But to the public, it seems a long time to wait to get that property allocated.”

He added: “The greater pressure the council can put on the contractors to get works done quicker so we can get those properties let, the better.

“I’d rather wait so we let the property in a good standard for our tenants rather than rushing to allocate them quicker.”

Councillors agreed that the authority’s Housing Performance Panel should look at the issue going forward.

Coun Pat Hay added: “Sometimes it’s the contractors that are holding the work up, I think it has a knock-on effect.

“We need to be having a look at who we’re giving the contracts to.”

The East Shields and Whitburn CAF covers the Cleadon Park, Harton, Horsley Hill and Whitburn and Marsden wards.

Chris Binding , Local Democracy Reporting Service