A variation in the time local councils are taking to re-let properties and the need to universally speed up the system through efficiencies has been recognised, with some councils pioneering new processes with impressive results.
A key challenge identified in Rebuilding Ireland in addressing the social housing waiting list was the length of time taken in transitioning the departure of a tenant to placing a new tenant within the property.
Pillar 5 of Rebuilding Ireland, named ‘utilise existing housing’, aimed to ensure that existing housing stock is used to the maximum degree possible. Focusing on measures to use vacant stock to renew urban and rural areas.
A key action of this objective was to ensure better management of social housing through rapid re-letting of vacant units (voids) and introduction of choice-based letting.
The action recognised significant differences between local authorities in the time taken to re-let social housing in good condition. Included in the definition of re-letting times is the down time of properties for refurbishment. Better management processes are being developed to ensure that properties are not remaining vacant for longer than necessary.
The Strategy states: “Any delays, or indeed perception of delays, in refurbishing and re-letting social houses at a time of considerable need is unacceptable.”
The key methods set out for achieving this were:
• adopting a national re-letting performance standard across all local authorities;
• a preventative maintenance approach to housing stock management;
• greater focus on tenants’ role and responsibilities; and
• funding mechanisms, structured to incentivise swift turnaround, consistent standards and pro-active approaches.
An exemplar of a local authority which has recognised the value in quicker re-letting processes is Monaghan County Council, which between 2014 and 2016, has reduced average re-let time from 19.5 weeks to 8.03 weeks.
In 2014, the average re-letting time for the Council was 19.45 weeks for 53 Re-lets with an average spend of €2,912.05, compared to 2016, were the average re-letting time was reduced to 8.03 weeks for 57 re-lets, with an average spend of €11,664.39.
The improvement in the rate can be attributed to a culmination of changes, including the improvement of business processes following the re-structuring of local government in 2014. The abolition of the five town councils to create three new municipal districts brought with it a single administrative structure and a single corporate entity with headquarters at county council offices.
Under the old structure, the challenges that existed included the existence of five housing authorities and an inconsistent use of the iHouse housing management system. The make-up resulted in information silos, with housing function spread across town councils and area offices. This also meant a lack of standardisation in areas such as repairs and various filing systems.
The new format has brought with it the creation of a single housing authority with a centralised housing function and standardised processes. Also, the use of the iHouse management system has increased and paper files have now been located centrally.
The evolution of digital technology has also been a major player in the Council’s re-letting time improvement. Online access to up-to-date applicant correspondence, efficient electronic filing, real-time search and retrieval, whole-system integration and more effective use of staff resources have all added to the minimisation of time taken to process offer and acceptance, reducing the time to re-let.
Digital has also helped improve efficiencies around response and planned maintenance. Advantages such as an electronic repair assignment and completion process and an automated update of the infrastructure database means that an efficient and effective planned maintenance process helps maintain and improve the condition of stock.