Council tenants across Aberdeenshire are facing a string of 5% rent increases over the next three years – but have been told this shouldn’t be “a burden”.
The move comes as the local authority battles to resolve 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 how people in council housing, or those lingering on waiting lists desperate for a home, could be affected…
Why will rent increase for Aberdeenshire tenants?
The local authority’s housing service is responsible for around 13,000 council homes.
Officials have formed a 30-year plan to work out the future of the service, taking into account financial challenges and the need to keep rent affordable.
However, that does not rule out increases.
Following talks with tenants across the region, councillors on the communities committee were given four options to consider with rises between 3% and 7.5% considered.
They unanimously agreed to increase rent by 5% 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.
But will the need to save cash affect plans to build new council housing?
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 1,500 of these properties will be available for social rent, with the remainder for either mid-market rent or other affordable ownership.
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.”
What is the council doing to reduce its waiting list?
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.
A Housing Online portal was launched to help people 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.
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.”
How will the council address homelessness?
Around 1,000 homeless applications are submitted to Aberdeenshire Council each year.
But Ms Stirling said Aberdeenshire Council is managing to meet this demand.
She 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”.
The deputy council leader also revealed that Aberdeenshire Council no longer relies on bed and breakfasts to accommodate those who are homeless.
Will council housing repairs and maintenance still take place?
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.
Could this be hit by budget cuts?
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.
“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.”
Aberdeenshire Council wants to hear from you
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 clicking here.
You can also open the survey by scanning the QR code below:
This is the latest article in our spotlight series focused on Aberdeenshire Council’s upcoming 2024 budget.
You can read more about council bosses had to say about leisure services, education and winter maintenance below:
- Council pledges not to close ANY Aberdeenshire pools or libraries despite need to save millions
- Soaring salt costs could put gritting across Aberdeenshire on thin ice
- 33 schools across Aberdeenshire ‘half-empty’ as council warns of ‘tough choices ahead’