Venue: Conference Room 1 - The Forum. View directions
Contact: Corporate and Democratic Support 01442 228209
To confirm the minutes from the previous meeting
The minutes from 7th June 2023 were agreed and signed by Members.
Apologies for absence
To receive any apologies for absence
Councillor Weston substituted on behalf of Councillor Capozzi. Councillor Stevens substituted on behalf of Councillor McArevey. Apologies received from Councillor Adeleke, C Link, Mottershead and Barradell.
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]
There were no declarations of interest.
An opportunity for members of the public to make statements or ask questions in accordance with the rules as to public participation
There was no public participation.
Consideration of any matter referred to the committee in relation to call-in
The Chair noted that all action points were completed and none were outstanding.
NBeresford reminded the members that a number of questions had arisen out of policy discussions in the previous meeting relating to the Housing Allocations Policy and framework. She explained that the Housing Allocations Policy in current use had been adopted in October 2021 and fully implemented in July 2022. She clarified that this would relate to DBC's own retained housing stock, new-build stock, 100% of nominations for local accommodation providers in Dacorum, and 75% of re-lets for registered providers.
The paper was taken as read and questions were invited from members.
Cllr Pringle raised concerns regarding the flexibility available for situations where a child was shared between 2 parents, potentially with only an informal agreement in place. She referenced a case where a mother was forced to move after her primary-aged child elected to live with the other parent. NBeresford noted that it was not common practice for a local authority to force a tenant to move as a result of a child moving from their home, but there could be circumstances where it became unaffordable due to the Bedroom Tax or loss of benefits. She noted that households would be supported to access advice and each situation assessed on its individual merits.
Cllr Pringle queried how soon the Bedroom Tax became applicable in situations where a child changed residence, given the possibility of the child changing their mind. She questioned whether there should be an inquiry held before any permanent decisions. NBeresford explained that the housing needs team would work to ensure advice and assistance were provided, but it was ultimately the household's responsibility to act on it. She stated that the process was not necessarily that quick and officers would alert relevant organisations if concerned about situations that arose during a case. PHunt further noted a need to sometimes liaise with both parents and also the child's school to gain a better understanding, and referenced cases with one parent living outside of the borough where the primary residence might be determined to be with that parent. Cllr Pringle noted the necessity for hard choices that might not be made if a parent was fully funded and represented in family court. NBeresford agreed and emphasised the importance of working with partners and other services rather than taking decisions in isolation.
Cllr Weston asked about whether decisions made to update the policy could come back for scrutiny by the committee again and again. NBeresford clarified that this was not a decision-making process but an information paper, and would not be going forward to Cabinet for any decisions.
Cllr Weston asked for clarification of a reference on page 6 to the housing needs team receiving 600 retained homes annually for re-letting. NBeresford explained that these were not new homes, but empty homes coming back for re-letting after the end of a tenancy.
Cllr Weston referred to item 3.3 on page 6, regarding the Localism Act allowing the council to manage unrealistic expectations of applicants with little prospect ... view the full minutes text for item 49.
DWelsh introduced an update by MPinnell on the re-procurement of housing-related property contracts, noting that there would be more detailed reports coming in the course of the next 12 months.
MPinnell presented the Total Asset Management Contract Procurement Update, explaining that the current TAM had been with Osborne Property Services since July 2014, with an estimated total spend circa £23.5 million per annum. He stated that this contract had been extended 12 months to 30th June 2025 to allow a comprehensive procurement exercise, with the built-in option to extend another 12. He also noted the council had 6 other agreements to cover mechanical and electrical services with a total annual value of £6.2 million, including domestic gas maintenance at circa £3.8 million. An additional number of informal agreements totalling £3 million were in place to cope with demand beyond Osborne's capacity for specialist repairs.
MPinnell noted that the strategy was currently in the commissioning phase. He stressed that with escalating costs in the construction industry, costs were expected to significantly increase, which would be a challenge given capped grants. He explained that the tender phase would invite bidders to submit proposals over a timeline from December to October 2024, noting that all timelines were indicative at this stage due to a number of unknowns.
MPinnell also discussed the gas and maintenance contract, currently covered by Sun Realm and due to expire 31st March 2024, and the commercial contract with Orion Heating, due to end 30th June 2025. He explained that both contracts would be procured ahead of the TAM contract in separate lots, with the key outcome being to move to a single heating maintenance contract with a contractor who could also deal with new technologies beyond gas.
MPinnell also noted that a service improvement plan was being implemented, and that there had been a drop in the amount of time to turn around empty properties. He explained that as part of the contract extension with Osborne they had negotiated an ability to move underperforming areas of work to other contractors if necessary.
Cllr Stevens asked whether data about residents' issues in the pipeline would remain with Osborne or be handed over to the new contractor in the transition. MPinnell clarified that this data would sit with Dacorum, and that all the data Osborne held was currently being migrated over to their systems.
Cllr Pringle noted it was good that the contract had been rewritten to allow work to be reallocated to another provider, but that practicalities made this challenging. She asked whether there were incentives or penalty clauses in place to help prevent any breach of contract, or compensation for residents in the event of this. MPinnell clarified that this reallocation of work away from Osborne would be substantial packages of work such as the entire kitchen programme. He also stated that Osborne had removed the previous account manager and contact centre manager at his request and recruited new staff to replace them. He explained ... view the full minutes text for item 50.
NBeresford introduced the updated Private Sector Enforcement policy and new Civil Penalties Policy for feedback before they were sent on for Cabinet approval. She explained this was primarily about tackling substandard accommodation in private sector rented homes, but also enforcement powers available regarding the condition of registered provider homes. She noted that specific amendments and alterations related to the Ishak case where a young child had died following instances of damp and mould in the home, and that the council had taken on board extensive guidance from central government.
Cllr Dhyani congratulated the team on the policy, stating that she felt it definitely solved the purpose and would give them a better control on the private rented sector.
Cllr Pringle praised the penalty matrix taking into account the severity of the case and harm caused to the tenant or others. She proposed adding in an aggravating feature regarding evidence of bullying of vulnerable tenants, and asked whether there were any powers to compensate the tenant in such cases. RClarke explained that the line regarding harm would encompass vulnerability, and that the Housing Act did allow the council or tenant to apply to the RPT for a rent repayment order of up to 12 months' rent. She also confirmed that tenants would be supported in this if they qualified. Cllr Pringle noted that she would like to hear more about specific cases at a future date, and raised the need to publicise more widely to tenants that the council had these powers in the case of private sector properties.
Cllr Stevens queried the existence of the £30,000 limit. RClarke clarified that this was the legislated maximum in the Housing and Planning Act, and while there was statutory guidance regarding what a local authority should consider, they had the power to determine their own matrix and fine levels. NBeresford referenced 2 active cases just finalised with fines of £20,000 and £1,200, and explained that this money came back into the service, ring-fenced to enable further regulatory enforcement activity.
Cllr Stevens asked whether the council had a good handle on total privately tenanted properties across the borough, particularly HMOs. NBeresford noted that this was a significant proportion of the borough's stock and the service had only 9 members of staff, but that processes were undertaken through the Rogue Landlord Initiative to identify homes operating as unlicensed HMOs. RClarke noted that the BRE had conducted a housing stock survey in 2019-20 just prior to COVID, and come up with approximate figures of 11,000 privately rented properties, 280 HMOs with 5 or more people, and around 1,000 HMOs with 3 or 4 people. She stated that while they could deal with complaints as they came in, doing research into all 11,000 properties would be very resource-heavy.
Cllr Weston asked how much higher the rents were with private landlords than with DBC. NBeresford clarified that while DBC's rents were set at social rent, private sector landlords would set their rent in line with the Local Housing ... view the full minutes text for item 51.
The forward plan was noted.