Agenda item

Quarter 2 Performance Report - Housing


F Williamson presented the report, noting this was the first performance data on the new system, which has resulted in a formatting change.  F Williamson noted SH03A and confirmed that the figure of 1,606 days is a cumulative figure and not the number of days taken to allocate general needs property in the period, and that this is then divided by the number of properties allocated and results in an average time of 33 days. 


Looking at Q1 and Q2, F Williamson confirmed that an external consultant was commissioned to undertake a service review of the housing service, and an action plan has been developed from this, which aligns with a number of areas already within the plan over the coming 2-3 years.  F Williamson confirmed that she will bring progress against these actions to future scrutiny committees.  Overall, it was recognised the housing service provided a good quality service during the pandemic, though there are a number of areas where there are options for improvement that will be taken forward.


F Williamson then looked to Q2 and advised there have been a number of challenges in the construction sector, which has impacted performance with Osborne and also specialist material supplies, and work is being done to mitigate the impact to tenants.  F Williamson confirmed that the service has been kept within target for emergency repairs, though standard repairs are taking longer, and backlog repairs are now increasing.


Looking at performance highlights, F Williamson reported that the Private Rented Sector team have continued to work to licence further HMOs and have increased a further 10 since Q1, resulting in 113 HMOs licensed in the borough.  The Tenancy Sustainment Team are seeing a rise in demand for services with a number of households still requiring support, both in financial support and also paying bills as a result of rising energy costs.  F Williamson confirmed 99.94% compliance in Q2 for gas servicing, and all those out of target were referred to the Tenancy team, and the compliance figure is now at 100% as of October.


The homelessness team have been working to prevent homelessness, particularly from the private sector, and some cases are being referred to courts for possession, and the team have been successful in ensuring that 36 cases in Q2 were prevented from a homeless presentation. It was also noted that Natasha Beresford, Group Manager for Strategic Housing, was recognised for an Inspirational Colleague of the Year Award for work undertaken during the pandemic.


On performance challenges F Williamson noted the material shortages and a number of surveys are being run across the sector to better understand these.  Sub-contractors and individual traders are being offered more lucrative work, and work is ongoing with Osborne to ensure they can engage the supply chain.  There was also a 2.6% decline in rent collected in Q2. 


There are ongoing issues letting some properties within the sheltered accommodation schemes, especially those with communal facilities.  Dispersed schemes have a high-level of demand and are let relatively quickly.  The team are developing an options appraisal to consider options available through re-designation or possible remodelling of some schemes, and a report will be brought to Scrutiny once completed.


The Lifeline call service is also experiencing challenge.  The call centre was struck by 2 outbreaks of Covid, and self-isolations, which impacted their ability to answer calls within their 60-second target.  The group manager has a proposal to serve notice on Tunstall for an improvement notice to allow them a period of time to improve performance.


A new team leader has been appointed for Repairs and Voids, who is collocated at Osborne’s offices to ensure the supply chain can deal with the additional capacity.  There will also be additional capacity for the Income team with recruitment for 2 posts to provide additional support and advice for those struggling with rising energy costs. 


Cllr Mahmood asked for further details on the independent review by Paul Langford.  F Williamson explained that an action plan has been developed, including having robust and up to date asset management data, and procurement is underway for a consultant to undertake a stock condition survey in the upcoming months.  A quarter of stock will be surveyed each financial year to have up to date information and a rolling service of visiting tenants on a 3-yearly basis has already commenced.  The sheltered scheme review has been conducted with information being drafted into a report to consider various options before being presented to the SMT and members.  Other recommendations are aligned with the service plan, including being sufficiently customer-focused and ensuring tenants are approached empathetically. The Building Safety Bill will focus on ensuring tenants are heard on management issues and safety, and a campaign has been set up to encourage residents to have a block champion to communicate concerns back to the council. 


Cllr Mahmood commented on sheltered housing and how this can be improved.  F Williamson advised that the review considers alternatives in respect of remodelling to ensure all properties are accessible.  Another piece of work looks at preferences and understanding what isn’t sufficiently attractive about current sheltered housing, and financial thresholds in the new allocations policy have also been looked at to provide a higher level of savings to access accommodation.  F Williamson added that some feedback relates to it being 1-bedroom accommodation, and while there are visitor facilities, there are concerns about it not being located in the flat.  The team propose setting up open days to promote existing schemes and address any misconceptions. 


Cllr Hollinghurst commented on the misconceptions around sheltered housing, that the tightened security may be a negative and the increase of male tenants and asked if this was causing any tension.  F Williamson noted that some tenants are reassured by the additional security, and on the change in demographic that this mix has provided a more vibrant scheme, though there have been isolated incidents where individuals’ lifestyles haven’t matched the schemes, so we would wish to avoid similar situations. 


Cllr Adeleke noted that the team are returning to face-to-face appointments and queried what safety measures are in place.  F Williamson confirmed that Covid questionnaires are being undertaken and a telephone screening is made ahead of appointments. Staff undertake lateral flow tests and Covid guidelines are being followed, as set by Health and Safety. F Williamson added that in-person visits are identifying residents whose health has declined more than telephone appointments suggested. For the private rented sector, inspections need to be taken to ensure that landlords have undertaken improvements.  Cllr Adeleke asked a follow-up question on sheltered accommodation and when a solution is likely to be found. 

F Williamson advised the review and customer feedback is being used to inform an  options appraisal noting that the communication and approach needs to be handled sensitively as it may be an unsettling period for older residents whose accommodation has been identified for remodelling or redevelopment.  F Williamson acknowledged the delays to the programme, some of which related to Covid and confirmed that a report will go to SLT in December and, subject to comments arising, this will then be presented to members. 


Cllr Pringle noted concerns from residents in sheltered accommodation that communal areas remain out of bounds and asked if some proportionality can be introduced to help isolated residents.  Cllr Pringle confirmed that some residents would be willing to take responsibility for ensuring that communal areas are cleaned.  Cllr Hollinghurst and The Chairman supported the comments, and it was noted that this is being recognised with the recommencement of in-person appointments.  F Williamson advised of the phased reopening of lounges and work with Age UK who are now running a number of social events.  Funding has also been obtained from Public Health to appoint seven additional cleaners though recruitment has been challenging due to competition from other employers.  F Williamson added that the preference would be for smaller-scale gatherings in residents’ flats rather than larger-scale meetings in communal areas, and while it’s commendable that residents wish to assist with cleaning, there are liability concerns and that cleaners undertake relevant training. Cllr Pringle commented that residents are concerned being unable to socially distance within flats. 


Cllr Johnson referred to the missed targets on repairs and asked when they would be addressed.  F Williamson explained that Osborne are trying to ensure they have materials in stock and that the main challenge is the ability to attend urgent repairs, cover out of hours service and ensure sufficient trades to cover all routine appointment slots.  While repairs such as plumbing are completed within 20 days, fencing is taking up to 12 weeks.  F Williamson confirmed that a meeting was held with Osborne last week to identify ways to address the issues, and Osborne are working closely with West Herts College to look to provide apprenticeships.  Tenants are being asked to understand that this is a national problem due to pressures in the market.


Cllr Hollinghurst noted his concerns on the continued emphasis on HMOs, particularly given the difficulty in maintaining safe premises across a wide number of individuals.  F Williamson advised that the council’s role focuses on licensing and enforcement of private properties, not in any way to promote the subdivision into HMO’s.


The Chairman referred to item 3.0.1 regarding non-urgent repairs and requested that a record on cancellations be brought to the committee.  F Williamson confirmed that the new team leader is addressing complaints, complaints resolution and cancellations, and this will be presented in the Q3 report. 

Action: F Williamson



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