Social housing is above par

Over 50 per cent of social housing in the Borders fails to meet national housing standards set by the Social Housing Regulator, but tenants in Berwickshire are in a much better position than many in the region.

Prior to local government reorganisation in the mid 1990s Berwickshire District Council, proud of the standard of its housing, took the decision to transfer its entire stock to a locally set up housing association rather than see it taken over by Scottish Borders Council.

Now, over 15 years later more social housing in Berwickshire is up to standard than elsewhere in the Borders - 78.5 per cent of its houses meet national standards.

Only 43.9 per cent of housing stock in the Borders meets the Scottish Housing Quality Standard but it is projected that by 2015 almost 99 per cent will do so.

“It is true that the quality of the stock in Berwickshire is high and we are keen to maintain that.,” said BHA chief executive Helen Forsyth. “This year we are spending more than usual to make sure most of our tenants have houses up to Scottish Quality standards and we will always try to ensure we invest wisely in this way.

“We are fortunate that under stewardship of my predecessor Philip Jones we spent a lot of money ensuring our houses were well looked after and we are continuing that tradition to ensure people have warm safe and healthy homes in which to live. “

All social housing in the region, 11,686 homes, is now in the hands of housing associations, but there are huge variations in standards. Of the four main housing associations that manage almost 94 per cent of social housing in the region, Berwickshire Housing Association is riding high above the national average of 70.4 per cent along with Eildon Housing, where 97.8 per cent of houses are up to scratch. But only 19.2 per cent of Waverley Housing and 20.1 per cent of Scottish Borders Housing Association tenants are living in premises considered to be meeting the national standards.

During the previous financial year average rents in the region are £53.36 a week, below the national average of £59.73, Berwickshire Housing Association’s 1,728 tenants paying an average of £56.86. Rent arrears are a problem with a greater percentage of Borders tenants being over 13 weeks behind with their rent than the national average - 5.8 per cent of tenants in the Borders compared to an average of 4.6 per cent across Scotland (BHA rent arrears stand at 3.3 per cent).

Evictions are rare - in 2009-10 one BHA tenant abandoned the property before vacant possession was awarded by the courts, but the tenant was granted a new tenancy.

An initial report into Borders housing went before Scottish Borders Council scrutiny committee members last week following a meeting involving representatives from several council departments and registered social landlords.

After receiving the report the scurity committee agreed that the council should continue to meet with social housing landlords to see how they can work together to improve housing in the region.

Councillors want to look at waiting lists, homelessness and its impact on waiting lists, the type of housing that is in demand, and what specific developments are planned for: older people; people with physical disabilities; people with learning disabilities; people with mental health issues; young people, particularly those leaving care.