Hounslow 'Losing Over A Million' On Empty Homes

Cllr John Todd says properties lying idle and unrepaired

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Chiswick Councillor John Todd has claimed that £1.5million has been lost in revenue because of extended "void" periods in Council-owned properties across the borough.

He has criticised Hounslow Homes, which is charged with taking care of the Council's social housing and says they are "not fit for purpose" and there are over 230 properties currently lying empty.

The Council's Overview and Scrutiny Committee has now agreed to look into the matter.

Cllr Steve Curran, Cabinet member for Housing, Planning and Regeneration, said; “I agree that a number of our empty council homes, known as voids, have remained vacant for far too long. I’m grateful for the cross party support of the scrutiny panel when we looked at the issue. "

The Void time is the  time taken to re-let an empty property - currently taking 55 days despite the benchmark being 30 days, he says. The longest cases include a flat and a house vacant for over 5,000 days.

Councillor John Todd had claimed, "Numerous LBH owned properties are being left empty for extensive periods and the repairs period has also increased from 13.4 days to 31.5."

"Numerous constituents who are tenants of Hounslow Homes have complained to me about repairs taking too long or being inadequately assessed."

In Chiswick this included empty properties in Edensor Road and two flats on Dukes Meadows. Cllr Todd said he knew of two tenants living in damp and  unacceptable accommodation, "victims of Hounslow Homes vacillation and obfuscation".

Cllr Curran said;“We are working closely with Hounslow Homes to renovate properties that come back to the Council as fast as possible. When we are able to reduce the turnaround time between lets, we will lose less rental income. To help achieve this, we have appointed Pyramid Plus London, who are market leaders in council home repair times, to improve our systems and processes and reduce void times.

“It is worth pointing out, however, that in many cases an extended period of void time is necessary as the property needs to undergo extensive repairs or needs to be redeveloped to fit a new purpose. This includes properties which had been used as sheltered accommodation being bought back into general use - over 130 out of our current 240 current voids are sheltered properties awaiting these types of works. At the moment, these properties are not fit for purpose.

“Of the remaining 100 or so properties, approximately 42% are undergoing major repairs.  The remaining 60 properties are about the same as the number of new voids that we receive each month.”

According to Cllr Todd, fellow Cllrs. and others had also identified other properties elsewhere in LBH that have remained unoccupied for extensive periods.  

"I established some 18 months ago from the Lead Member for Housing, Cllr Curran that £1.2m had  then been lost because of delays in voids. Void properties equate to a loss of rental revenue.

"The financial monitoring report that went to Cabinet on 14 Jan 2014 quotes a void rent loss of 2.15% which equates to a full year £1.53m of rent lost. I  understand this figure has subsequently fallen to 2.05%  which would equate to a full year impact £1.46m of rent lost.

"Capital available post the sale of properties also remains  unrealised whilst other budgets are over-spent coping with housing demands " he added.

On the 5th February, the Oversight and Scrutiny Panel agreed to investigate the issue.

Cllr Todd said;"I am pleased both Labour and Conservative Councillors endorsed the request for action. Whilst we await to see the initial Overview and Scrutiny document, the evidence uncovered so far indicates poor and wholly  inadequate performance in both Hounslow Homes and Hounslow Council resulting in a loss of income and the effective and efficient use of our much needed social housing  estate.

"The initial potential performance data from the private sector and our voids/repairs data highlights indifferent and wasteful practice, poor performance requirements and  a need for a more vigorous approach in governance terms."

Cllr Todd has conducted his own analysis of Hounslow Highways figures on voids. Some of his findings are:

•           There are 236 void properties in total.

•           Void length ranges from 3 weeks to 741 weeks.

o          The longest is a 1 bed flat (Decant) and a Trust property void for 741 weeks (5,192 days) and HH are awaiting a decision from LBH

o          A 6 bed house in the register has been void for 109 weeks and is a standard property scheduled for major works with HH awaiting a decision from LBH

•           80 of the 236 properties are classed as 0 Beds (Bedsits)

•           96 of the 236 properties are classed as 1 Bed

o          7 of the 96 are 1 bed bungalows

•           32 of the 236 properties are classed as 2 Bed

o          1 of the 32 is a 2 bed bungalow

o          16 are 2 bed flats

o          3 are 2 bed houses

o          12 are 2 bed maisonettes

•           23 of the 236 properties are classed as 3 bed

•           4 of the 236 properties are classed as 4 bed        All 4 are houses

Of the 236 properties

•           148 are classed as needing minor works

•           86 are classed as needing major works

•           2 are classed as decants

February 12, 2014