£30m black hole for Sheffield Council

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SHEFFIELD Council is facing a black hole of almost £30 million in its funds for housing maintenance - meaning repairs and improvements are set to be delayed for tens of thousands of homes.

The council has a current repairs backlog totalling £229.8m, including £99.1m of outstanding Decent Homes refurbishment work which should have been completed three years ago.

Over the next six years there is only £202m of funding available for repairs - and 42,000 council houses overall.

The problem will be outlined to Sheffield Council’s cabinet at a meeting today.

Lack of funding for repairs has been revealed just weeks after the council was criticised for its handling of a ballot of tenants about whether management of homes should return to its control.

Potential risks to services posed by axing management company Sheffield Homes were kept secret by the council before the vote.

As well as outstanding Decent Homes work, £85.6m is required for roofs, £26.3m for heating, and £18.8m for electrical improvements.

Housing officials say they have developed a strategy to tackle ‘high risk’ repairs first, needed to boilers and roofs.

Even this has been delayed while the council consulted with tenants about how to ‘sequence the works’ - but it is set to be ‘back on track’ next year.

Meanwhile, despite the scale of Decent Homes improvements still needed, the council says it hopes to complete the project next year.

Some of the homes awaiting work include flats and maisonnettes which the council admits have had no improvements since they were built up to 50 years ago.

Decent Homes work has taken longer than anticipated because of several factors.

The council spent more on improvements to the first revamped homes than others - with ‘Decent Homes Plus’ work such as more expensive kitchens and a large choice of fittings.

Also, some of the funding was budgeted to come from Right to Buy sales which slowed due to the economic crisis, meaning less money was available and more homes remain with the council in need of refurbishment.

Delayed Decent Homes work in Parson Cross, Burngreave and south west Sheffield, costing more than £3.5m and supposed to be finished by March this year, is facing a further hold-up. The projects are among £7.7m of council capital spending schemes deferred until 2013/14 to save money, which also include £200,000 of school rewiring and pedestrian-crossing improvements in areas such as Broomhill.

Sheffield Council said its first priority for the council house repairs budget is Decent Homes, then boilers, followed by roofing.

As well as the current maintenance backlog, housing officers warn further repairs will become necessary which will be ‘hard to forecast’.

Mick Daniels, chairman of Brushes TARA in Firth Park, said: “Tenants were told about the situation with Decent Homes at a meeting last Friday.

“The size of the funding gap is a worry and I don’t think 2014 is a realistic date for Decent Homes to be completed.

“I think the programme wasn’t well managed.

“Some of the homes that still need Decent Homes work were ones where residents couldn’t have the improvements earlier due to factors such as their age or ill health - and the council did not put money aside to cover them at a later date.”

Coun Harry Harpham, Sheffield Council cabinet member for housing, said: “The backlog of maintenance funding is something we were left with when funding for housing was recently reorganised so each council’s housing was self-financing.

“We wrote to the Government three times asking for help to cover the bill, but have not been given anything. It’s an issue we have to face up to, and we will.”

The council has not revealed details of how it plans to plug the hole.