Earlier this week the Council’s Finance Committee was once again looking at the shared repairs service – launched as a replacement to the controversial statutory repairs system.
The report looked at proposals to develop the service including emergency call-out charges, the launch of a facilitation service and the creation of a trusted trader scheme.
The numbers for the service in the first year show that it is still some way short of generating enough revenue to be self-sustaining and these additional services will come at a price for residents.
However, the feedback I get from constituents is that they are regularly told by council staff that the council no longer carries out statutory notices except in emergency situations.
Last week I was contacted by a constituent who has water pouring into his flat, but had been told that the council could not do anything. This week I heard from a constituent who had a statutory notice laid several years ago where the council had not followed up to see if works had been carried out. My constituent had hoped to get neighbours to work together to carry out repairs, but there are only two owner occupiers in the stair and absent owners are not interested in carrying out the works. My constituent is now worried about the safety of the building to passers-by.
The two factors that jumped out at me reading the report were the call out charge and the subscription to join the trusted trader scheme. It is proposed that where an individual requests a call-out from the council and it doesn’t lead to a statutory notice, the individual will be charged over £100. Where the call is out of hours, that will rise to £150.
The Council has said that these figures have been set at a level so as not to discourage people from reporting potential problems. However, I am concerned that £100 is enough to do just that for hard pressed households.
While it is important that the service can find ways to generate income and become self-sustaining, I am not convinced that the balance of these charges is fair because it means that the person making the initial contact has to pay. The regular feedback I get from constituents is that they’ve been told that the council no longer carries out statutory notices for non-emergency work. That leads me to question whether the income generated by the council actually reflects the work that needs to be done and the potential income that would be raised from a scheme that worked effectively.
A more positive proposal is that the Council is proposing to charge traders £195 plus VAT to join the trusted trader scheme. The scheme will allow residents to select from a list of traders who have applied to the Council and to read feedback on their work from other homeowners. Given the huge demand for repair services, this is potentially a lucrative avenue for businesses to pick up contracts. However, the cost of joining the scheme could be covered by completing one relatively modest job.
I’m also keen to support the proposals for a “facilitation service” whereby the council helps owners to get together to agree on the works which are needed.
Alongside this work, the Council is continuing to scope potential options for a replacement for the statutory repairs service. I continue to believe that an enforcement service is vital both to ensure the protection of the city’s built heritage and as a viable option for homeowners who would otherwise struggle to get the work done. I am continuing to highlight this issue with the Council and am also keeping a close eye on legislation being debated in the Scottish Parliament which could provide additional options to deliver fairer and more affordable options for owners.
Meanwhile, the legacy of the statutory repairs scandal continues to hang over the Council as it struggles to rebuild public trust. At the end of last week, the Evening News covered calls for a full inquiry into the fiasco. It cited an example, cleared by the Council’s resolution team, where a household were billed an additional £2000 for water.
I am continuing to pursue this issue on both fronts – to ensure that people caught up in the scandal have their complaints dealt with fairly and to ensure that the lessons learned inform the delivery of a new service that is open, transparent and fit for purpose.
It’s absolutely vital for the long term sustainability of the city’s tenements and the health of residents. The stress that comes from dealing with prolonged disputes over bills and living with leaks and maintenance worries is real and we need to remember the human cost of the impact of uncertainty and the difficulty of getting problems fixed.