Efforts to fill empty West Lothian Council homes hit by coronavirus pandemic restrictions

Covid safety restrictions have badly hit turnaround times for letting void homes to new tenants.

By Stuart Sommerville, LDR
Wednesday, 7th April 2021, 4:03 pm
Councillor George Paul.
Councillor George Paul.

Empty council homes were one of the regular complaints in councillors mailboxes long before the lockdowns hit last March.

In the last three months of the financial year the time it takes to refurbish void homes has shot up 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 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 on average of 43.19 days, which is more than 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 the 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 said: “That must be quite a bit of revenue stream the council has lost because of 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”

Ms Kelly said: “Any void within the services is a loss of rental that is hampered by the additional guidance.”

She added that lost revenues were calculated for national collection in May and could be made available to the committee members.

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?”

Ms Kelly said there was a direct comparison that could be made between the improvements the council had made to the service pre-Covid and the figures for the last quarter.

Housing manager Ann Marie Carr said: “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 WLC new build programme has been completed, with the majority of the next new build sites not coming on stream until 2021/2022, therefore leaving fewer lets.