The management and maintenance of their rented dwellings, including the control of vacant dwellings, is the responsibility of the housing authority concerned. The most recent provisional figures available to my Department from local authorities indicate that at the end of December 2003 there were 4,499 local authority dwellings vacant nationwide, of which 2,465 were de-tenanted for planned refurbishment or major regeneration programmes in rundown estates. While my Department does not have details of the average length of time such units are left unoccupied, short-term vacancies occur on an ongoing basis where dwellings require renovations-improvement to bring them up to an acceptable standard before re-letting. The number of casual vacancies let as first time lettings by local authorities in 2003 was 3,795. Local authorities are encouraged by my Department to ensure that units which become vacant are re-let as quickly as possible.
My Department introduced a special initiative this year for the next two years to allow local authorities to undertake the renovation of houses vacant for periods longer than six months which require major refurbishment. It is expected that funding will be provided for the refurbishment of some 150 such dwellings this year. This step is one of the measures which local authorities have been asked to consider as part of the five year action plans to address social and affordable housing needs.