LOCAL authorities are taking an average of five months to re-let council houses even though over 100,000 people are on waiting lists for a home.
As many as one in 20 council houses across the State are lying idle and among the reasons is that prospective tenants are snubbing an offer of a home in places they decide are "undesirable".
A major report into the State's spending on local authority housing says that people who refuse two "reasonable" offers of a home should be forced to suffer "substantial penalties" including moving them further down the waiting list.
It added that councils were failing to inspect properties prior to them being vacated, which added to delays in re-letting.
"Local authorities should operate a refusal policy whereby tenants who refuse two reasonable offers of accommodation should suffer substantial penalties... (including) being placed further down the waiting list for a set period of time," the report from the local government auditor in the Department of the Environment said.
It added that councils needed to address anti-social behaviour in these areas, improve the physical environment and implement measures to "counteract" the negative perception of certain low-demand or "undesirable" areas.
Officially, more than 56,000 families are waiting for a home but that is based on the last count in 2008. A count is currently under way, and it's expected that the number could rise to as many as 100,000 as the impact of the recession deepens.
The review found that 7,045 homes were not available for letting in December 2008 -- the most recent year for which figures are available -- from a total stock of 122,446.
In 2007, average vacancy rates stood at 5.2pc, rising to 5.75pc the following year.
Among the reasons was that homes were left in "such a state of disrepair" that major refurbishment work had to be completed before they could be re-let.
There were no inspections of council houses in many areas prior to a tenant leaving, meaning that councils were not aware of any damage caused.
The report said formal inspections should be carried out on a regular basis.
Auditors carried out an in-depth probe into eight local authorities -- Cavan; Cork City; Dublin City; Dun Laoghaire Rathdown; Galway City; Kerry; Mayo and Wicklow -- and found some councils were better than others at meeting self-imposed targets for completing repairs.
In Kerry, 92.9pc of repairs were completing on time, compared with 85pc in Dublin City.
But the average time to re-let a dwelling ranged from 36 weeks in Kerry to 10 weeks in Cavan. Among the reasons given for the delays were budget constraints, a high level of refusals by applicants and the amount of repair work needed.
Councils spent €81.8m in 2008 on housing maintenance and improvements, but the cost of refurbishing the homes widely varied. It is hoped a new system of tendering jobs should help reduce prices.
Housing Minister Willie Penrose said the key recommendations of the report would be implemented "as a matter of urgency".