Berneslai Homes’ ‘void standard’ - a document which sets out the minimum lettable standard that all of its housing stock has to meet before a tenant moves in - came under fire last month after multiple councillors claimed they had witnessed ‘shocking’ cases.
Both Couns Nicola Sumner and Sarah Tattersall said they were ‘shocked’ and ‘disgusted’ by some cases, while Monk Bretton ward’s Coun Ken Richardson urged a re-think of the void standard document and said it wasn’t a true reflection of some homes’ poor standards.
However, changes are now being proposed by Barnsley Council, who are considering the implementation of a decoration standard which all of its properties have to pass before being let, an increase in independent inspections to void properties and compiling a photo database to keep tabs on damage and subsequent repairs.
A report, which will be discussed by cabinet members on Wednesday, said: “Given the increasing needs and vulnerabilities of clients presenting to services, members feel that basic housing standards require improvement.
“The good work which is taking place by the council and Berneslai Homes in relation to property management as evidenced in corporate performance reports should be shared and celebrated.
“However, it is important that where properties do not meet acceptable standards, residents are given opportunity to express their concerns and the issues rectified as appropriate.
“Failure to provide a good standard of council properties not only risks damaging the health and well-being of tenants, but sets a poor example to other landlords in the borough, thereby failing to support the provision of good quality housing in Barnsley.
“It is also recognised that by law, all council properties should meet the government’s decent homes standard.”
Berneslai Homes admitted that there is a ‘balancing act’ in preparing properties for let and pressures in dealing with its bulging waiting list.
With more than 8,000 residents on the list, director of assets, regeneration and construction for Berneslai Homes, Steve Davis, responded to councillors’ claims that tenants felt pressured into accepting properties which they wouldn’t normally take.
Of the 19 local councils in Yorkshire, Barnsley ranks eighth with 11 out of every 1,000 homes being empty for six months - a total of 1,162 empty homes, although this figure includes owner occupied, private rented, and housing association properties. Berneslai Homes said the number of council homes empty at any one time is about 100, with the average re-let time being around 22 days.
Steve added: “Every property is checked and the paperwork is returned - spot-checks are carried out as an addition to that although there’s no independent inspector.
“It’s definitely a balancing act as there’s the pressure from the waiting list but properties should still meet our standards.
“However, they are safe to be occupied and any decorations needed is the responsibility of tenants, but I appreciate most who are vulnerable do struggle.
“My team has a small budget but we will do extra where it’s needed. It’s a debate to have in the future.
“Our officers are trained and it’s a fact of social housing that there are some disputes between them and tenants. Quite often it results in an appeal and there will always be some who feel that a home does not meet the standard.”