Housing staff at 'breaking point' in a Scots local authority are to take strike action over pressures in dealing with a massive rise in housing arrears and homlessness.

Rent arrears within Aberdeen City Council has risen from £2.64m in 2015-16 to £7.9m in 2020-21, while official figures reveal that Aberdeen had 1486 homeless applications in 2019-20 up from 1285 in 2015-16.

Unite Scotland says that around 40 of its members in Aberdeen City Council’s housing services department are set to take four days of strike action from today (Tuesday).

Unite’s members have already taken several days action in relation to a dispute over cuts and reorganisation in the council’s housing services department. Housing officers and support officers have repeatedly warned that they have reached ‘breaking point’ due to the damaging effects on work morale resulting from cuts to the housing support service, and plans to merge the housing officers and support officers roles together.

The four-day strike action is described as a ‘major escalation’ in the dispute which will commence at 8.30am on Tuesday July 27 and will continue until 8.29 a.m. on Saturday, July 31. There will be pickets at the Aberdeen City Council headquarters on these dates.

John Boland, Unite industrial officer, said: “The four-day stoppage represents a major escalation in the dispute our members in the housing services department have with Aberdeen City Council. The workers face unprecedented pressures due to the pandemic, and the proposal to merge job roles will add to that pressure, and provide a worse service to the people of Aberdeen.

"We had hoped the strength and determination of feeling among our members would get the Council back to the negotiating table but they have stubbornly refused to engage with us to positively resolve this dispute. Unite’s members are prepared to continue this fight not only for themselves, but also for the people of Aberdeen because it is they who will ultimately suffer from these proposed changes.”

An Aberdeen City Council spokeswoman said: “Unite the Union has informed the council that some of its members wish to continue with further strike action today.

“Our proposals to the housing service, resulting from customer feedback and independent audits, do not make financial cuts, impact pay or result in job losses.  The proposal will deliver an investment in the service which will remove routine tasks, increase staff numbers, and reduce the average tenancy workload per officer.  This will benefit our employees and deliver much needed improvement for our customers.

“We have remained open to dialogue throughout, where further discussions happened as recently as last week with regional representation.  During our ongoing conversations, at least 14 concessions or commitments have been offered to Unite the Union but unfortunately there has been no reciprocal compromise offered in return.  We continue to be open to further dialogue and hope that Unite the Union will reconsider their position. 

“We would also like to reassure our customers that we remain committed in any event to continue delivering the full range of housing services.”