Agenda and minutes

Housing and Community Overview and Scrutiny
Wednesday, 4th March, 2020 7.30 pm

Venue: Conference Room 2 - The Forum. View directions

Contact: Corporate and Democratic Support  01442 228209

Items
No. Item

19.

Minutes

To confirm the minutes from the previous meeting

Minutes:

The minutes from 04 February 2020 were agreed as correct.

20.

Apologies for absence

To receive any apologies for absence

Minutes:

Cllrs Adeleke and Hollinghurst sent apologies for their absence.

Cllr Bassadone was also absent.

 

21.

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:

None.

22.

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:

None.

23.

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

Minutes:

None.

24.

Budget Monitoring Report Q3 pdf icon PDF 285 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

F Jump presented the report stating that this is the potion/forecast as end Dec and advised that this will be the last forecast before end of financial year, she then invited questions.

 

Cllr England referred to slippage and asked; are you able to say how much rent and Council Tax that would equate to?  FJump responded that rent & Council Tax wouldn’t be impacted by slippage.  Cllr England suggested that empty homes would impact the Council’s income from rent & Council Tax.  FJump acknowledged the question and advised it was not something she is able to answer tonight. 

 

Cllr Freedman referred to recent increases in rent that has recently been communicated to tenants and asked; what sort of feedback has the Council received to that?  LWarden advised that letters would have been received by tenants early this week.  She confirmed a number of calls have been received with queries around service charges, but no concern of feedback has been expressed regarding increases.

 

Cllr freedman referred to the annual budget for next year and asked, has this been sent on the basis that any proposals that aren’t included in budget could be brought forward to Cabinet to look at releasing reserves if required?  In case any work was not needed or planned for within the budget setting process. LRoberts responded that if there is something officers need to deliver that requires a draw down from reserves during a financial year, there is facility to do so.  This would be via the submission of a business plan which would be brought forward by officers for consideration.

 

FWilliamson advised that information has been gathered to ensure maximum carbon reduction to establish exactly what the options are in terms of maximising any investment to ensure we are future proofing as much as possible, adding that these factors would need to be considered before drawing down any reserves, to ensure they are correctly directed.

 

Cllr Mahmood referred to items 4.2 & 4.3 of the report re. garages and commented that the two items refer to underspend and pressure against budget due to low income, asking, is that managed?  Are the two linked?  Is this underspend due to the Council not getting enough income?   FWilliamson responded that the garages project is underway and underspend is owing to them waiting for this, to ensure we are maximising capital investment.  Since garage project commenced the Council has seen an increase in uptake of garages which is positive. 

 

Cllr Johnson referred to paragraph 6.3 of the report re. slippage on special projects in sheltered housing and creation of new units, noting that the next paper refers to difficulty filling some EPD units and asked, is this being considered?  FWilliamson responded that the new units are fully wheelchair accessible units, different to the sheltered housing schemes reported in voids. 

25.

Housing Q3 Performance report pdf icon PDF 93 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

FWilliamson introduced the report, referring to performance highlights and challenges. 

 

Highlights – had continuingly good levels of performance in terms of satisfaction with repairs and maintenance service.  Positive outputs from Tenancy Sustainment Team who work with tenants with complex needs.  Number of rough sleeper approaches has reduced from 6 to 0 for same period as last year, due in part to the good work of team and initiatives working with Hightown with their outreach worker.  Positive news on rent collection; qtr. collection increasing in part due to proactive work the team are doing in respect of universal credit. 

 

Challenges continuing to see problems with empty home key to key times.  Had some feedback from Keymark that due to all our units being included in that criteria (including those undergoing major works) it shows us as high in that area, but reasonable overall.  In terms of lettings, have been some delays in getting properties re-let, some due to refusals, some due to sheltered.  The team have been carrying out work to establish why some schemes are more popular than others and why dispersed schemes are more popular.  Satisfaction with outcome of ASB has reduced, a lot of this is around communication with those people bringing complaints to us.  Been some recent changes to bring ASB team within Housing Service, enabling us to provide a more consistent service to any tenure that has ASB problems.

 

FWilliamson invited questions.

 

Cllr Mahmood referred to sheltered accommodation, commenting that trouble letting those units has been an issue for a long time and asking; do we need to categorise them, to see how we can look at things differently?  There is a high demand for housing but we have all these properties that we cannot let.  LWarden responded that they are currently undertaking project work around sheltered housing to try and understand tenant’s needs.  Devised an action plan to look at promoting schemes, some suggested changes to brighten up and make schemes more accessible  Next step is to draw up clear plans to bring this forward.  Will also be looking at incentivising people to move to sheltered units, particularly those in larger homes who need adaptations or are perhaps isolated.  Very much something we are aware of and have teams working on potential solutions and will bring a paper forward later in the year.

 

Cllr Mahmood asked, have we looked at reducing age you can move into sheltered housing?  LWarden confirmed yes, in some cases we reduced age to 50 from 60 in some of the more difficult to let schemes, but have found that too big a split in ages can cause some difficulties in inter-generation and managing the scheme.  Have also done some work to increase the levels of savings you can have and still qualify from £100k to £250k, hoping that will increase the numbers of people that can come into sheltered housing who still need the level of support a scheme can provide. 

 

Cllr Griffiths added that one of the biggest complaints  ...  view the full minutes text for item 25.

26.

Children Services and Community Safety Partnership, Customer Services, The Old Town Hall, Communications and Community Partnerships Q3 Performance Report pdf icon PDF 142 KB

Minutes:

LRoberts introduced the report and advised the KPIs are embedded in the report.  Overall performance is positive for qtr 3.  Adventure Playground attendance remains a slight concern, had to remove some structures due to safety issues, currently exploring use of some s.106 monies for more compliant structures.  Would like to highlight how well CSU have performed in last quarter.  

 

LRoberts invited questions.

 

Cllr Johnson referred to 3.3.1; signing in app at Reception, commenting that he recently attended a meeting, went through the process of signing in and it occurred to him afterwards, in terms of GDPR, how long is the information kept and stored?  LRoberts responded it is just kept on the system for that day then clears, it is not stored.

 

Cllr Mahmood referred to adventure playgrounds and concerns about numbers going down, asking; why did we not do a proper report to say, when we take out the equipment, this is what we will put in its place?  LRoberts responded it was not a planned removal, it had to be taken out for H&S reasons. 

 

Cllr Mahmood asked, is it in this budget?  LRoberts advised she would have to check and come back, adding that they are looking to apply to s.106 monies to apply for these scheme, in process of trying to identify which s.106 has been delivered against what areas to see what is available.

 

Action: LRoberts to check budget position re. replacing structures at Adventure Playgrounds

 

Cllr Mahmood referred to Old Town Hall and asked; is its utilisation better than last year?  LRoberts responded it is at a steady state.  A lot of work goes into promotion but it is a competitive market. 

 

Cllr England referred to page 91 of the report; CSU call handling and commented that looking at last year’s results, the call time answering target appears to have been relaxed against, referring to item CSU10 on page 91.  LRoberts confirmed last year’s shows as 210 second target, and this year is 300 second target, she confirmed she would take this back to check.

 

Cllr England asked, do you have data on how many people have called and have been waiting for more than 300 seconds?  LRoberts confirmed she would get that information and come back to Cllr England on both points.

 

Action: LRoberts to check call answering target increase & number of callers waiting more than target

 

Cllr England stated that he called in recently and was on hold for 20 minutes.  LRoberts stressed that if that happens, it is really important that you email in and give the date and time so it can be looked into.  LRoberts and Cllr Banks comment that it is important that we let TLancashire know if there are issues like this so she can look into the particular call, encouraging Members to email TLancashire with the specific call information such as date and time of call and what you asked the automated system for, so it can be properly investigated.

 

Cllr Mahmood commented that he  ...  view the full minutes text for item 26.

27.

HRA Strategic Acquisitions Policy pdf icon PDF 76 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

FWilliamson introduced report the report, the purpose of which is to review the acquisitions policy that has been developed to provide HRA with opportunity to purchase property from open market and consider s.106 units which are currently being purchased by alternate providers.  This policy sets out a criteria on where it is prudent to purchase from open market or buy back from those who have purchased through right to buy.  Along with opportunity to address the homelessness crisis by buying temporary accommodation to reduce pressure on use of Bed & Breakfast.

 

FWilliamson invited questions.

 

Cllr Mahmood referred to item 3.2 in the report and asked, are we going to be increasing the prices of housing in the Borough and therefore creating a disadvantage for first time buyers.  FWilliamson responded our intention is not to look at whole scale acquisitions, it is just to provide us with the opportunity, particularly those 106 properties that have to be defined as affordable and have been put out to the open market by developers but where they have not been successful in selling them.  The 106 properties are the affordable housing elements that developers have to include.  We want to have the viability to purchase those properties and let them at social rent level rather than affordable, it will not in any way impact the private sale market.

 

Cllr Mahmood asked that this point is made clear in the report.  FWilliamson responded that she can look at making some amendments to wording to make it clear this is not about us trying to purchase property from the open market, this is about acquisition possibilities, only for circumstances where developers are looking to offload property.

 

Action: FWilliamson to review wording of item 3.2 of report

 

Cllr Mahmood asked, can we buy garage sites ourselves?  FWilliamson responded they are owned by the general fund, if HRA want to purchase those for housing it is based on a red book valuation.

 

Cllr England commented that he likes the idea of giving ourselves the ability to buy land that becomes available because developers want to move on elsewhere.  However, he is uncomfortable about buying the excess units developers haven’t been able to sell as it feels like we are providing a safety net for developers.  FWilliamson responded it is not about creating an opportunity, the current situation is that developers would offer those to registered providers, so there is no new safety net.  This is about trying to open up more for social rent rather than the providers that charge affordable rents – which are 80% of market rates.  We charge social rent – which is around 24-30% market rent. 

 

Cllr Griffiths added, this isn’t a compulsory thing we have to do, we will only purchase properties we want to.

 

Cllr Imarni added we have over 10,000 people on our housing waiting list, commenting that if an opportunity comes up to purchase some stock, we should be able to.

 

Cllr Freedman expressed that he feels it is a very  ...  view the full minutes text for item 27.

28.

Help to move to a more suitable home pdf icon PDF 91 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

LWarden introduced draft help to move policy, which will replace the previous policy ‘help to move to smaller home’, which was introduced in 2013 to tackle under occupation brought in by bedroom tax and to try to free up some of our larger homes.  The Council have carried out a survey, looking at the current need through housing register and looked at what neighbouring authorities provide. 

 

Cllr Mahmood asked, in the 7 years since the previous policy, how many people have taken up this option to downsize?  LWarden responded that initially there was a reasonable level of uptake, in response to the introduction of bedroom tax.  That has now tailed off.  In 2019 we had 27 people who downsized, and 20 of those were moving into sheltered accommodation.  We only had 7 moving within our general stock.

 

Cllr England referred to adapted properties and asked, what is the typical amount that it would cost us to adapt a property and does that have any bearing on how much we should be offering someone?  LWarden responded it is dependent on how much work is required.  The amount we are offering is £1k plus cost of removals.  We want to trial this for the first year to see if that is enough of an incentive, we can always review the scheme at a later date. 

 

Cllr Freedman advised he is in favour of the policy but gave some feedback that he is finding it quite difficult to scrutinise the report as there were some things that are perhaps not evident in the report.  Cannot quite see what the target is, is there a target number of properties of specific sizes that we are trying to move?  He added that when he read the policy it comes through very much what would happen if someone was going to move house right now.  What about if someone was thinking about downsizing but might want to move to a specific area, or have other influencers on not wanting to move immediately.  Is there a way someone can formally register on specific criteria for a future move? 

 

LWarden thanked Cllr Freedman for feedback about targets, commenting that is something they will take back for consideration. 

 

LWarden then responded to the comments about waiting for a suitable property and then downsizing, advising that tenants who register to downsize will then apply for houses they see advertised that they are interested in, if they are successful, a member of the support team will contact that tenant and advise them they qualify for the incentive payment and will support them at that stage.

 

Cllr Johnson asked, how is the scheme advertised to our tenants?  LWarden responded that it is promoted through our website and through News & Views.  When the survey was carried out they found some people were not aware of the scheme so they plan to do a formal launch.  Publicity will also be included with the next quarterly rent statement.

Cllr Johnson asked, is it correct this  ...  view the full minutes text for item 28.

29.

Work programme pdf icon PDF 82 KB

Minutes:

FWilliamson referred to the June programme and advised it should read Private Sector Assistance Programme (not policy) and asked for this to be corrected.

 

Action: CONeil to amend work programme

 

Cllr England queried, is there an agenda item coming forward to cover the Evelyn Sharp lift issue?  Cllr Imarni responded that the matter is being looked at, has been passed from MBrookes to CONeil who will be looking into it and a paper will be coming forward in due course.