Agenda and minutes

Housing and Community Overview and Scrutiny
Wednesday, 5th June, 2019 7.30 pm

Venue: Conference Room 2 - The Forum. View directions

Contact: Corporate and Democratic Support  01442 228209

Items
No. Item

33.

Minutes

To confirm the minutes from the previous meeting

Minutes:

The minutes from 06 March were agreed and then signed by the Chairman.

34.

Apologies for absence

To receive any apologies for absence

Minutes:

There were no apologies for absence

35.

Declarations of Interest

To receive any declarations of interest

 

A member with a disclosable pecuniary interest or a personal interest in a matter who attends a meeting of the authority at which the matter is considered -

 

(i)            must disclose the interest at the start of the meeting or when the interest becomes apparent

 

and, if the interest is a disclosable pecuniary interest, or a personal interest which is also prejudicial

 

(ii)           may not participate in any discussion or vote on the matter (and must withdraw to the public seating area) unless they have been granted a dispensation.

 

A member who discloses at a meeting a disclosable pecuniary interest which is not registered in the Members’ Register of Interests, or is not the subject of a pending notification, must notify the Monitoring Officer of the interest within 28 days of the disclosure.

 

Disclosable pecuniary interests, personal and prejudicial interests are defined in Part 2 of the Code of Conduct For Members

 

[If a member is in any doubt as to whether they have an interest which should be declared they should seek the advice of the Monitoring Officer before the start of the meeting]

 

Minutes:

There were no declarations of interest

36.

Public Participation

An opportunity for members of the public to make statements or ask questions in accordance with the rules as to public participation

Minutes:

There was no public participation.

37.

Consideration of any matter referred to the committee in relation to call-in

Minutes:

None.

38.

Provisional Outturn Report 2018/19 pdf icon PDF 261 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

F Jump presented the provisional outturn report for 2018/19 and invited questions.

 

Cllr England enquired about the HRA operating underspend of £235k and what percentage.  F Jump confirmed this was a small percentage of HRA expenditure budgets (approximately 0.4%).

 

Cllr England asked about the premises £307k overachievement for the maintenance for £250k, that we are awaiting a stock condition survey for garages.  In the past there was high occupancy and there has been two large price increase for rentals, which would be spent on maintenance.  F Williamson confirmed that the investment programme was based on investing in areas where the condition of garages was poor, there is also the garage disposals strategy, which identified blocks where low demand or high density of garages in small geographical area.  Before we make any future investment decision, we need to collate and codify that with the disposals strategy to make sure we are investing in the right areas.  We undertook some market research which found that the rents were considerably lower than surrounding geographical areas and we looked at rental increases to bring it in line with neighbouring authorities.

 

The Chairman confirmed that Members had agreed to the rental increases as it had presented to Committee as we were significantly lower than neighbouring authorities.  F Williamson confirmed this was correct and we are about the second highest now and we believe there has been an equalising in the market for rental charges.  Now we need to ensure we invest in those areas where we have got low demand.

 

Cllr England said that he felt we was not spending on garages.  FW confirmed that some of the money had been used for the stock condition survey as this will provide us with the necessary information to develop an investment strategy that’s aligned to the condition instead of the demand.  At the moment we are spending on responsive repairs and we’ve had two blocks recently refurbished and there is one more block agreed for the refurbishment programme, although this is a very light touch as we want to ensure we are investing in the right areas.

 

Cllr England asked if Cllrs who have garages in their wards that are in poor condition should we tell officers about it.  F Williamson advised they would be picked up in the stock condition survey, the aim is to have that concluded by second quarter and there will be a report to Scrutiny later in the year in terms of the Garage Strategy.

 

Cllr Adeleke enquired about Universal Credit where we have factored in £400k provision for bad debt and he understood that Government was providing funding to help with Universal Credit problems.  F Jump said that we did have some funding about £78k available to the Revenues and Benefits service but she was not aware of any additional funding.  L Warden advised that money doesn’t go to the Housing Revenue Account, that it was to support residents in their claims.

 

Cllr Freedman mentioned the over-recovery on service charge  ...  view the full minutes text for item 38.

39.

Housing Quarter 4 Performance Report pdf icon PDF 86 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

F Williamson updated Committee on the Housing Quarter 4 Performance and was happy to take questions.

 

The Chairman asked for an explanation of the difference on letting an adapted property and why they impact the figures.  FW confirmed that when a property has an adaptation, these can cost a significant amount of money, such as through floor lifts or wet rooms or extensions, so we try to match the property to an individuals need rather than take an adaptation out.  Each person’s needs are assessed on the individual circumstances and this can take some time and the process can be extended.  We try to get the best use of our stock and to get the people with a high level of need for an adapted property a suitable property.

 

Cllr Mahmood asked three questions.

1.    The targets have been the same for years and years, how are the targets reviewed?

2.    What is the average time to let and you alluded to the fact there are three different types of properties, sheltered, adapted and general.  Why don’t we split the three up and then we can have a real picture of where the problem is.

3.    Some of the work is being moved to Property and Place and enquired what the thinking was behind that.

 

F Williamson confirmed the following:

1.    With regard to target setting, the targets are reviewed on an annual basis.  Some of them form contractual measures and therefore they have to be in consultation with our service providers.  We are in the process of undertaking the fifth year review of the Osborne contract, so there is the potential for some re-setting of some of the performance indicator targets at the end of this financial year for the remainder of the Osborne contract.  The others are set in consultation with the Tenants and Leaseholder Committee and the Portfolio Holder and the Group Managers in each service area, to make sure that the targets remain sufficiently challenging but are realistic.

2.    We are looking at splitting out the property types in consultation with the Portfolio Holder.  We have agreed that this year we should do this in order to see those exceptions and also do some benchmarking against other organisations on the standard voids.  That will be shown separately in the reports going forward.

3.    We are currently trialling moving the lettings team into Property and Place because once the properties are handed to the contractor to undertake the work the lettings team need to work very closely with them to understand when that property will be ready to let, so that the advertising cycle can co-ordinated, so that these two things run concurrently.  At that stage hopefully the advert will have closed and we shall be ready to identify a suitable applicant.

 

Cllr Mahmood enquired about when we are notified that the home is becoming empty, do we go in during the notice period so that we can undertake a survey.  F Williamson confirmed that we did  ...  view the full minutes text for item 39.

40.

Private Sector Housing pdf icon PDF 112 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

N Beresford introduced the Private Sector Housing report and asked if there was any questions.

 

Cllr Bassadone asked for clarification on the process for dealing with enquiries received and FOI’s.  N Beresford confirmed there was an extensive number of FOI enquiries received across the Housing Service, certainly in Strategic Housing and advised that there had been 5 FOI’s this week.  They range in terms of service delivery requests, but also through to extensive requests around how the service is budgeted, the types of complaints we receive and how we are dealing with enforcement activity.  We have only actually declined to respond to one FOI which was because the requirement to process the request exceeded the time limits set out by the Information Security Officer and would have significant costs to assess the enquiry.  We have been able to provide the information in a reasonably quick timeframe to the requester.

 

Cllr Mahmood enquired how the public would know that they have an HMO, how do we educate them, how do we get the message out there that they should register or let the Council know.  What are we doing to make the public aware of the requirements.  N Beresford confirmed that we have used social media, mailshots etc. and we have contacted landlords direct.  We also have the Landlords Forum which is an opportunity for us to engage with landlords, which provides landlords with updated information in relation to legislation and offer landlords access to free accreditation schemes and training through the Landlords Forum and our partnership with the National Landlords Association.  This is an opportunity for us to engage with landlords, provide them with the support to ensure they can manage their property and their tenancies effectively, give them useful information to enable them to make sensible decisions about how to manage their properties safely. 

 

Cllr Pringle asked what were the main identifying source of HMO’s, also have we any idea what proportion have we identified within the Borough and how are we going to reach the hard to find ones.  N Beresford confirmed there are approximately 103 licences now.  We believe from a BRE stock modelling report that was undertaken several years ago, there could be up to 600 and 900 HMO’s in the area.  We don’t know if all those premises will require licensing, so it will require a piece of work to identify and detect those licenses. 

 

NB added that the processing of a licence application is quite extensive and can take up to 3 months to process one application, it requires robust checks with other agencies, such as Trading Standards, the Police and Revs and Bens to determine that the landlord we will be issuing the licence for is deemed to be fit and proper, otherwise people residing at the property could be at risk.  We also have to undertake extensive property checks and the landlord is asked to provide details so that the property is let to an appropriate standard. 

 

NB confirmed that we don’t  ...  view the full minutes text for item 40.

41.

Tenancy Strategy pdf icon PDF 80 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

C Thomas presented the Tenancy Strategy report to Committee and invited questions.

 

The Chairman asked about flexible tenancies for new tenants and advised she had heard they hadn’t been successful and that she understood we are moving away from these.  Cllr Griffiths highlighted that we would be reviewing these later this year.

 

The Chairman mentioned the length of demoted tenancies querying if 12 months was long enough to collate evidence.  L Warden confirmed that we are unable to select any longer due to the anti-social behaviour regulations, but we have other options available where serious ASB is taking place and having an impact on surrounding residents we may look at closure orders and outright possession.  Demoted tenancies are used where we believe that we need to give the person a chance to receive support from us or external agencies, if that’s successful they become a secure tenant but that doesn’t mean that if it commences again, we could look at mandatory possession or suspended possession order.

 

Cllr Barry asked what would be used to trigger a court order regarding the impact of the community area and how would it be determined.  L Warden confirmed that it was the ‘locality of’ is the official definition.  That is open to interpretation but there are ways we can look at things if there is a wider impact.  Court action for eviction is always a last resort, we will try other methods first.  We have Community Protection Warnings and Community Protection Notices and these can be served swiftly if needed.  These can resolve low level issues quickly.

 

Cllr Pringle queried when the behaviours are taking place in the locality rather than in the property itself, are we able to take action against the tenant.  L Warden advised it would be difficult to take action under the tenancy if it’s not in the locality of the property but there are other steps that we could take.

 

Cllr Pringle asked what could be done if the problem is in sheltered and the tenant at number 1 is causing problems at number 20, so they are still on the premises but not in their own property.  L Warden said that if it was in a scheme then the locality would be used.  We would also look at safeguarding, we are keen to ensure we address those types of issues quickly.

 

Cllr Oguchi asked if housing association properties had been historically more expensive than Council properties and what were the differences.  N Beresford confirmed that local authorities charge social rents and typically housing associations charge an affordable rent, which is 80% market rent, so slightly higher than social rent.  Feedback from residents when we are advertising properties is that the rents are too high, although they are much more in line with local housing allowance rates for some of the private sector properties.  Housing associations are regulated and their business plans are slightly different to local authorities and the way that we are financed is different.

 

Cllr Griffiths  ...  view the full minutes text for item 41.

42.

Universal Credit Update pdf icon PDF 128 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

L Warden updated on the Universal Credit report and asked if there was any questions.

 

Cllr Adeleke asked about the impact on the rent arrears and given what we know so far and given the hardships this has placed on a number of people, is this trend going to continue for a long time or do you see it levelling out and if it does how will it affect the Council’s financial position.  L Warden reported it will have a long term impact, we have roughly 2,900 tenants in receipt of housing benefit that are of working age.  The intention is that the managed migration will mean that all of those by the end of 2023 will be in receipt of universal credit.  Based on the figures we have at the moment, that will have a considerable impact and it could increase all of our rent arrears.  At the moment they are £1.76m and it could go up to £2.84m but that’s the worst case scenario.  Realistically it’s going to be seven to eight years until migration slowly moves over.

 

Cllr Pringle said that we have a new Officer to support tenants with applications and those who are vulnerable or with mental health problems needing significant support, will this be a permanent position and therefore a permanent cost to the Council.  K Kiely replied that the Universal Credit Officer is newly in post and we are yet to see fully how her role will pan out.  At the moment she is doing a lot of liaison with DWP and the Job Centre, as a lot of the issues relate to the Job Centre not understanding housing and how tenancies work.  With the new build, like Kylna Court, there have been a lot of tenants who haven’t had to pay rent before, the focus has been on helping people to make claims and understand what’s happening with the claims.  Once the claim is in place there is the Tenancy Sustainment Team who may be taking that over.  The role is initially for two years but it is anticipated that this will need to continue at least until managed migration has finished.

 

Cllr Pringle raised concerns that there are a lot of people who can’t walk off the street if they are hungry, they have to have a referral to the foodbank and wanted to check if Officers are able to refer to the foodbank, secondly do we know how much demand has increased since the introduction.  L Warden advised that the Tenancy Sustainment Team and Homeless Team are signatories so they are able to issue vouchers.  There has been a 44% increase in foodbank vouchers given out between January and April.  The previous quarter there was an 11% increase, so there is a correlation between the increase and the introduction of Universal Credit, but can’t be sure it is due to Universal Credit, but the major change during that time was the introduction of Universal Credit.

 

Cllr Oguchi enquired about the  ...  view the full minutes text for item 42.

43.

Quarter 4 Performance Report - Children Services and Community Safety Partnership, Customer Services, The Old Town Hall, Communications and Community Partnerships pdf icon PDF 74 KB

Minutes:

M Rawdon presented the Q4 Performance Report for People and Communities.

 

Cllr Pringle said that she had problems getting through on the telephone system.  M Rawdon asked if anyone experiences problems please let him know.  L Roberts confirmed this is a netcall problem and if we are aware of the details we can make the necessary changes.

 

Cllr Adeleke asked about how staff would be put forward for the Annual Staff Recognition Scheme and how Councillors could become involved.  M Rawdon advised we could add it to Members News and how to vote or nominate a member of staff.  Cllr Griffiths confirmed that Members were able to nominate anyone that they feel meets the criteria.  L Roberts confirmed we had nominations that come from Members last time.

 

Cllr England asked about the Old Town Hall marketing percentage when we are looking at an 88% increase in new email subscribers and would like to see the actual figures.  M Rawdon would send the information out.

Action: M Rawdon

 

The Chairman confirmed the recommendation that Members note the report and the Committee agreed.

 

44.

Work programme pdf icon PDF 107 KB

Minutes:

There were no additions to the Work Programme.