New deal for owner occupiers

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Council house owners should benefit from changes to the way they will pay their share of repairs to their properties.

Thanks to ‘right to buy’ legislation, around 56 per cent of Falkirk Council’s housing stock is now privately owned.

But these owner occupiers are still liable to make a contribution to the cost of keeping the building they live in up to standard.

This year, the council will invest nearly £9 million re-roofing and roughcasting properties across the district as part of a three-year programme costing £51 million to deliver maintenance and repair programmes and owners will be expected to make a contribution.

Where the council is the majority owner and decides to make improvements, an owner occupier can face a bill of between £12,000 and £15,000.

The share of the costs due from owners is recovered in line with the council’s debt policy, but the council is aware that can put pressure on an individual’s specific financial circumstances.

The council has a ‘Scheme of Assistance’ in place which outlines the circumstances in which it may help improve and adapt private housing, but it does not currently provide specific support to owners who cannot meet the shared costs of communal works.

A review of that scheme is underway and an updated version expected to be operational from the start of the next financial year.

In the meantime a report from the council’s director of housing and corporate services outlining interim changes to the way the money is recovered has been approved by councillors.

Options include offering five-year repayment plans, alternative funding such as re-mortgaging and equity release or longer term commercial loans.

Stuart Ritchie told the executive: “The options are designed to allow consideration of alternative arrangements which better reflect individual owner’s specific financial circumstances while recognising the council’s obligations to recover costs in full.”

All owners within communal properties involved in the 2017/18 housing investment programme will also be provided with early notification of the costs they will face and invited to meet council advisors to discuss their specific financial concerns and look at suitable repayment options.

The SNP administration’s housing spokesman Councillor Gordon Hughes said: “We have to be sympathetic towards the situation facing owner occupiers.”