Councils are 'deliberately' leaving houses empty to secure State funds
Local authorities "deliberately" left council houses vacant for periods of at least a year to secure funding from the Department of Housing for upgrades.
The National Oversight and Audit Commission (NOAC) said that in 2014, some 2,250 local authority houses - around 1.7pc of the total - were empty for more than 12 months.
But this figure includes 1,082 houses and apartments which were vacant pending demolition or refurbishment and which were "likely to have been empty for some time".
Instead of councils funding upgrades of units earmarked for replacement, they instead left the units vacant.
The 'Review of the Management and Maintenance of Local Authority Housing' report from the council watchdog says this resulted in a "perverse impact" on supply.
"The fact that so many of the vacancies are of such a long duration gives credence to a view that some dwellings are deliberately left vacant for long periods as to qualify for particular funding schemes rather than use up the authority's internal capital receipts to finance necessary refurbishment work," it said.
It added that funding schemes in place at the time of the audit "can end up having a perverse impact on available supply".
However, the Department of Housing said that a number of changes had since been made. They included the introduction of a dedicated funding stream to tackle vacant units, which recognised the "backlog" of homes needing works which had built up over years.
Between 2014 and 2016, some €85m in funding was provided and 7,200 units upgraded. Another €24m has been allocated for 2017, and funding is linked to councils putting in place maintenance programmes to deal with vacant stock.
"In fact, the voids programme has been very successful in avoiding units being left sitting as vacant.
"There is no evidence that local authorities are deliberately leaving units vacant in order to render them eligible for funding under the Voids programme," a spokesman said, adding the department was working with city and county council managers to support "effective" maintenance programmes.
The NOAC said councils managed 130,603 dwellings and a total of 5,785 housing estates.