The total amount of rent due to councils in 2000/01 was£456m. Of this,£42m (9.2%) was in arrears. One council, West Dunbartonshire, is highlighted for its particularly poor performance in failing to collect almost a quarter of the rent due (£2m). This is the highest level of arrears in any council since figures were first recorded nationally (since 1996/97).
Alastair MacNish, chairman of the Accounts Commission says:
'Although a considerable amount of the rent owed to councils will be collected in subsequent years the growing trend of the arrears debt is very worrying - the more councils are owed the harder they have to work to collect it. Council services rely on people paying their bills on time and tenants have a duty to do so too.
'Despite the production of best practice guidelines and repeated calls for improvement the latest information suggests that several councils have still not got to grips with all the issues surrounding the management of council houses.
'The commission recognises that some councils are more successful than others at encouraging prompt payment, and we would urge all councils to follow their example.'
In addition, the total rent lost due to delays in re-letting empty houses was£28.1 million - 2.5% of the rent due. The proportion of rent lost varied considerably among councils ranging from 0.4% in Moray to 7.4% in the Shetland Islands. Across Scotland almost 57,000 houses became available for re-letting. Of these, just over 9,000 were re-let within two weeks, 13,000 were re-let within two and four weeks while 35,000 took longer than four weeks to re-let. Aberdeen City, North Ayrshire, and West Dunbartonshire reported that over 90% of houses took four or more weeks to re-let.
The proportion of repairs treated as emergencies has continued to rise since 1996/97. Despite earlier guidance issued by the commission to help ensure that routine repairs were not unnecessarily treated as emergencies the situation has not improved. One third (650,000) of repairs were treated as emergencies in 2000/01.
In contrast, the report reveals good news about the time taken to process council house sales. 65% of sales were completed within the target time of 26 weeks. This is a 5% improvement on the previous year.
Eight councils have informed the commission that their housing services were affected by strike action during 2000/01.
Click herefor a pdf of the housing services pamphlet.
Information about the performance of councils' social work services is also published today and is available here.
Commenting, Alastair MacNish says:
'I am pleased to see that there are a number of areas where real improvements are being made in social work services. There has been an increase in the proportion of staff in childrens' homes with an appropriate qualification, more children in residential care have a single room and more social enquiry reports are being prepared for the courts on time.
'I hope to see further improvements in other areas in future years.'
The information also shows that the proportion of children looked after by councils, who are in residential accommodation in 2000/01 was 14.5% - the same as in 1999/2000. Three councils, East Dunbartonshire, Renfrewshire and West Dunbartonshire are named for caring for more than 20% of looked after children in residential accommodation despite national recognition that as many as possible should be looked after in community placements (eg with foster parents).
The pamphlets published today are the third and fourth in a series of seven pamphlets comparing the performance, over a range of services, achieved by all 32 Scottish councils in 2000/2001.
Information relating to education and benefits, corporate & financial issues will follow on 24 January. Finally, information relating to leisure & library services, and environmental & regulatory services will be published on 7 February.
In 2000/01 there were slightly over 545,000 council houses in Scotland.
Emergency repairs include burst pipes, broken windows and faulty electrics. They have to be dealt with urgently, are expensive and disrupt planned maintenance work.
Eight councils informed the commission that their housing services were affected by strike action - Aberdeen, City of Edinburgh, East Dunbartonshire, Eilean Siar, Fife, Inverclyde, South Ayrshire and West Dunbartonshire.
* see LGCnetfor Cosla comment.