Council house rents could rise by 5 per cent in Aberdeenshire
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Aberdeenshire Council is looking to increase its rent charges by 5 per cent as it prepares to set its challenging budget for the year ahead.
The move comes as the local authority faces a financial dilemma.
It’s currently facing a funding gap of up to £67 million that it needs to plug ahead of budget day on February 22.
However, council leader Gillian Owen warned there were more “challenges and barriers to overcome” over the next few weeks.
In an exclusive interview with council chiefs, we asked what was at risk within its housing service and if any projects could be facing delays.
The local authority’s housing service is responsible for managing, maintaining, and allocating around 13,000 council homes.
It has a 30-year business plan that outlines the cost of investment and income required to deliver housing services to tenants and applicants.
The plan was looked at in more detail last March to identify any financial challenges and develop plans to tackle them while keeping rent affordable.
But, the council’s communities committee met recently to discuss potential rent increases.
Following engagement with tenants and stakeholders across the region, members were given four options to consider with rises between 3 per cent and 7.5 per cent.
They unanimously agreed to increase rent by 5 per cent annually over the next three years.
West Garioch member Hazel Smith stated: “Anything higher would be a burden to tenants.”
The move would see a weekly rent increase of £4.41 per household.
This increase is expected to bring an extra £1.24m into the council’s housing revenue account over the next 12 months, and more than £4.69m over the three years.
Councillors will consider the proposed increases when they meet to set the budget on February 22.
Under its strategic housing investment plan (SHIP) 2024-2029, Aberdeenshire Council aims to build almost 2,000 new affordable homes over the next five years.
More than 1500 of these properties will be available for social rent, with the remainder for either mid-market rent or other affordable ownership.
While almost 600 houses would be suitable for those with particular needs.
But the council is facing ongoing construction challenges including rising material costs and high demand for key roles such as bricklayers, stonemasons and plumbers.
Despite these struggles, communities committee chairwoman Anne Stirling stressed: “That plan is still being delivered.
“We do have ambition to continue to deliver housing, there are sites ongoing and they are not being held up at all at this point.
“Through the Local Development Plan some sites have been constrained, some of that is due to infrastructure like Scottish Water availability, but all of these things are taken into account.
“Where we can we will deliver as we have set out through the strategic housing improvement plan.”
There is a significant demand for housing in Aberdeenshire, with latest figures revealing there are just under 5,000 households on the council’s waiting list.
To support those seeking accommodation, the local authority introduced its Housing Online portal in 2021.
This allows tenants to apply for council housing and check rent details.
The council has also moved to a choice-based lettings approach, allowing applicants to register an interest on available properties in the areas they wish to live.
Previously, only a preferred area could be chosen and not individual homes.
A new list of properties is advertised on the platform each week, featuring a range of information including rent, facilities and floorplans.
Ms Stirling told us that this approach has given tenants more control on where they decide to call home.
She said: “People are able to choose more now, but the majority of our stock is held in the north of Aberdeenshire.
“I guess that’s just a traditional or historical situation although we are building, and have built, new houses in Rothienorman and Cruden Bay for example.
“We are building small numbers but increasing the stock in places where we believe that we’ve got the need for the people who want to live in those areas.”
Around 1000 homeless applications are submitted to Aberdeenshire Council each year.
There are multiple reasons people may find themselves with no access to accommodation.
But Aberdeenshire Council is managing to meet this demand.
Ms Stirling explained: “We’ve got a rapid rehousing transition plan in place and I have to say, our homelessness approach is well-placed.
“We certainly have better outcomes than many of the other council areas in Scotland.”
Despite an increase in homelessness, the council is managing to turn round applications “very quickly”.
Currently, those reaching out for assistance are not waiting longer than six months for housing.
The deputy council leader also revealed that Aberdeenshire Council no longer relies on bed and breakfasts to accommodate those who are homeless.
The local authority has a 30-year plan to upgrade and repair its housing stock – with the contract set at a whopping £160 million.
This is part of the Energy Efficiency Standard for Social Housing (EESSH) scheme.
It will ensure that all of the local authority’s flats and houses meet a minimum level of energy efficiency by 2032.
Ms Stirling told us the project is “coming along” and the cash will be invested in insulation, heating system upgrades and solar panels.
She explained: “We’ve engaged with our external agencies for advice and to look at affordability and all the different aspects of delivery and improvements to our housing stock.
“But it’s a rolling programme, we know when the roofs in the houses need replaced and the kitchens, bathrooms, windows and doors.
“We know when that is scheduled to be put in place and we budget accordingly.”
Ahead of setting its budget for the year ahead, the local authority wants to hear the views of its residents.
What housing issues matter the most to you? Do you think savings could be made anywhere else?
To share your thoughts and ideas, access the budget engagement survey by visiting engage.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/aberdeenshirecouncilbudget-2024-25.