Council house tenants who mindlessly vandalise the homes they are staying in ought to be living in caves, according to outspoken South Mainland councillor Allison Duncan.
Mr Duncan, who is also the council’s housing spokesman, made his remarks after members of the SIC’s audit and scrutiny committee heard on Monday that property damage has cost the local authority £295,000 in the past five years.
Just below four per cent of the council’s 1,880 homes are subject to damage each year, according to a report from safety and risk manager Sandra Pearson. That is an average of 75 a year, a figure which includes break-ins, malicious damage, police raids and damage which is not related to criminal activities.
Mr Duncan said the needless damage was “despicable to say the least” when the council has a huge waiting list of people looking to be housed. “People who do that sort of damage shouldn’t have a house,” he said. “The place for them is in a cave.”
But head of housing Chris Medley advised caution, pointing out that there was no hard evidence that all the damage was being caused by tenants. While the council did have properties being left in “appalling conditions”, as the landlord of last resort it also had a responsibility for housing people with “a whole range of social problems”. The key, Mr Medley said, was to work with individuals to teach them life skills from an early age.
Mr Duncan said he appreciated that staff were doing a “damn good job” but pointed to six houses in the past year where damage has been to such an extent that it has cost between £1,000 and £5,000 to repair. One home, he said, had to be completely repainted and had four internal doors and a work surface replaced.
Councillor Laura Baisley said that while she shared Mr Duncan’s concerns about “mindless” vandalism, members “can’t just assume it’s our tenants” who are responsible.
Jonathan Wills ticked Mr Duncan off for being “a little illiberal”. He said there was always going to be an “irreducible minimum” amount of damage caused “because the badly-behaved are always with us”, but such cases were a “tiny minority” and most tenants take immaculate care of their council houses.
Ms Pearson pointed out that while the direct cost of such incidents in the past five years was £295,428, the indirect cost of incidents and claims “have been calculated by industry experts” as being between eight and 36 times that figure, meaning crime-related claims have cost the council somewhere between £600,000 and £2.7 million.
The amount of non crime-related claims for property damage has “steadily and significantly” decreased since 2005, but claims related to criminal activity have increased markedly. In her report, Ms Pearson stated: “Clearly, for every pound the council is required to spend repairing needless or avoidable damage, there is one pound less that can go towards providing a range of high quality services.”
A total of 16 police raids caused damage to properties in 2009/10, a significant increase on previous years. While conscious of the need for the police to be able to tackle drug crime, several councillors suggested there might be ways of the SIC working more closely with officers. For instance, the housing service could provide keys to properties so that officers did not have to break down doors.