Ray Harmer MHKThe government needs a better system for determining how much local authorities can spend on maintenance of public sector houses.

That was the admission from Infrastructure Minister Ray Harmer, whose department is responsible for public sector housing stock.

At present local authorities are limited to spending 24.8% of rental income on maintenance of their properties.

But Mr Harmer conceded the percentage system did not give any specific detail on properties. The Department of Infrastructure was moving towards a ’more suitable’ model based on the number of homes and factors such as their age and condition.

’We need a much better system,’ he told the House of Keys on Tuesday.

In response to a question from Lawrie Hooper (Lib Vannin, Ramsey), Mr Harmer said the DoI did not take action against authorities who exceeded the percentage ’where there has been legitimate, evidenced expenditure on housing services by a local housing authority’.

He added: ’The new standards of performance due to be rolled out across the sector this year will include a formal process for those authorities requiring additional funding for specific maintenance requirements.’

Rob Callister (Onchan) said it was difficult for authorities to predict how many properties would become empty during any particular year and that due to the restriction they were ’struggling’ to carry out maintenance, within budget, to make empty properties ready for new occupants.

Mr Harmer said the DoI would work with local authorities to help them fulfil maintenance requirements.

Mr Callister asked why the DoI was allowed to spend 29.1% of rental income on maintenance, compared with the 24.8% limit for authorities.

Mr Harmer said there were four housing providers, including DoI, that spent more than 24.8% in 2017/18.

’It is not a case of permitting anything as the department is not funded in the same way nor does it operate within the allowances system as it receives revenue budget from Treasury,’ he said.

’The department works within an agreed budget to maintain its public sector properties and during 2017/18, along with the other housing providers, it faced a number of challenges with regard to the cost of housing maintenance.

’One key challenge impacting on spend across the sector is the increasing number and cost associated with bringing empty properties back into circulation and up to an acceptable standard for new tenants.’

He said the DoI was working to establish ’alternative ways’ of carrying out the work, including how to help ’deliver economy of scale across the sector, for the benefit all providers and ultimately the tax payer, whether the provider is working within the local authority allowance system or not’.

Source: IoMToday