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‘We could rent every vacant house six times over’ – Highland Council agrees new housing points system

By Nicola Sinclair, Local Democracy Reporter

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Highland Council has agreed to give more housing ‘points’ to people at risk of homelessness, and those living in poor conditions.

The council hopes the changes will allow social housing landlords to help the people who need it most.

The changes will apply to all Highland social housing under the Highland Housing Register, which includes council homes and housing associations.

Under the new rules, people at risk of homelessness will now get the same number of points (70) as those who are already homeless. The council says this will help prevent people losing their homes and allow them to make properties available more quickly.

There are also changes to the points allocation to prioritise people who are living in housing that’s in poor condition, overcrowded or does not meet their medical needs.

At a meeting of the housing and property committee today, council officers said the changes are needed to address unmet demand.

Housing manager David Goldie told councillors: “Across Highland, we could let every vacant house six times over.”

However, that’s not the case in some areas. Caithness, for example, has low demand for social housing due to a declining population. As a result, there are a high number of ‘voids’ – properties lying empty.

There’s also an issue with people bidding for a council house and then turning it down when offered. In a bid to address this, the council is implementing a one strike policy. If an applicant refuses an offer of housing without good reason, they will be suspended from the rehousing list.

In other areas, applicants can turn down two offers. The change was branded “unfair” by Wick councillor Jan McEwan, but the housing committee appeared largely supportive.

Council leader Raymond Bremner is also a Caithness councillor, and told the committee he would “robustly” support the plan when it comes to the local area committee meeting.

Councillor Bremner said there’s no easy fix for the issues with social housing in Caithness.

However, he believes the proposals in the report would help to tackle voids, which he said are a source of huge frustration for the local housing team.

The housing and property committee agreed the changes to the allocations policy, but the specific plans for Caithness will fall to local members to decide.

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