Agenda and minutes

Housing Overview and Scrutiny Committee - Thursday, 6th October, 2016 7.00 pm

Venue: Committee Room 1, Civic Offices, New Road, Grays, Essex RM17 6SL

Contact: Kenna-Victoria Martin, Senior Democratic Services Officer  Email:

No. Item


Minutes pdf icon PDF 101 KB

To approve as a correct record the minutes of the Housing Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting held on 21 July 2016.



The minutes of the Housing Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting held on 21 July 2016 were approved as a correct record.


Urgent Items

To receive additional items that the Chair is of the opinion should be considered as a matter of urgency, in accordance with Section 100B (4) (b) of the Local Government Act 1972.


There were no items of urgent business.


Declaration of Interests


There were no declarations of interest.


Update on the Homelessness Prevention Strategy 2015-2016 pdf icon PDF 125 KB

Additional documents:


The Housing Strategy & Quality Manager presented the report which gave the Committee an update one year into the five year Homelessness Prevention Strategy adopted in October 2015.  The report outlined plans to prevent homelessness and to secure accommodation for residents in need within 28 days as well as the action plan which had been devised.  Members also heard that a Homelessness Forum had been established to drive this action plan forward.  The Housing Strategy & Quality Manager highlighted that there had been an increase in homelessness both within the Borough and on a National scale, but there had been a shift in the major cause of homelessness within Thurrock due to the ending of assured short hold tenancies within privately rented properties.  Many residents also faced difficulty as private rents had increased greatly whilst the Local Housing Allowance had remained at the same level, which presented monthly shortfalls for many tenants. 


The Chair asked, to offer some context, how many were currently on the Council’s waiting list for housing.  The Committee was advised that, including transfers, there were currently around 7000 people on the waiting list.  The Chair proceeded to seek clarification whether individuals in need were predominantly placed into properties within the Private Sector and Members heard that the majority of tenants were placed within social housing rather than privately rented accommodation. 


Councillor Pothecary asked the Officers for a response to reports within the Thurrock Gazette which accused Thurrock Council of “Gatekeeping” and reports of a leaflet having been distributed which advised people how to survive on the streets.  The Corporate Director of Adults, Housing & Health assured Members that these reports had been thoroughly investigated and there had been no leaflet published or distributed by Thurrock Council and the advice mentioned within the Gazette was not given by Council Staff.  Councillor Pothecary continued to question whether the internal investigation was ongoing.  The Corporate Director of Adults, Housing & Health insisted that he would use the word “review” rather than “investigation”, but there was a review underway which hoped to improve front door services.  Councillor Pothecary asked whether it would be possible for a report to come to the Committee and it was agreed that a report would be brought back, however possibly not in time for the next meeting.


The Housing Tenant Representative asked whether, in special circumstances, the Council would advance “key money” for tenants being housed within privately rented properties.  The Housing Strategy & Quality Manager confirmed that in some cases the Council would pay these advanced sums to private landlords and explained that it was part of the landlord incentive.  The Housing Tenant Representative continued to highlight that people were generally unaware that this was an option.  She admitted it may have been included on the Council’s website but the website itself was difficult to navigate and as such it might be helpful to make people aware.  The Housing Strategy & Quality Manager reminded the Committee that this option was not offered in every case.  Anyone who registered with the  ...  view the full minutes text for item 11.


Transforming Homes Update pdf icon PDF 158 KB


The Housing Asset Investment & Delivery Manager presented the report which gave an update on the programme which was now in year 4 of 8.  The Committee heard that the aim of the programme was to bring Council properties up to Decent Homes standard and that the report gave updates on the key elements of the programme such as increased governance and challenge towards contractors, increased customer satisfaction and a decrease in complaints and the added social value which provided benefits to the local community and economy.  Members were advised that Officers were awaiting news of the Government’s new scheme regarding energy efficiency funding which would be due to be implemented in April.  Damp and mould had been a key issue throughout the programme and the works carried out under this programme sought to tackle the root cause such as structure and ventilation as well as increasing resident education. 


The Spending Review 2015 had reduced Council rents by 1% a year for the next four years; this meant that there would be a financial deficit by the end of year 8, which would be tackled in the HRA business plan, which would be presented to the Committee in December.  The plan moving forward would be to maintain the resident focused position of the programme, continued engagement with both tenants and lease holders, strict governance of contractors and maintained improved performance.  The next year would also see the commencement of procurement for arrangements to deliver years 5-8 of the programme.


Councillor Pothecary noted that the presentation as a whole had been very positive but raised concerns that whilst officers reported positive feedback this was not being reflected in the emails Councillors received from residents within their wards.  There were often complaints of customer service issues, lack of response, work not having been done, tradesmen not having arrived or having arrived at unscheduled times and tradesmen not having ID cards on them.  She asked how officers hoped to ensure good practice on every occasion since there were still a large number of complaints being made to Councillors about fairly simple issues.  Councillor Pothecary then raised the issue of the security entrance to blocks in Seabrook Rise.  Installation should have taken place in June and had still not been completed, with the doors forced to be permanently open since. 


The Housing Asset Investment & Delivery Manager assured Members that there had been significant investment in resident liaison and whilst there had been a decrease in complaints officers would urge residents to contact the Council immediately if and when there were issues.  The department was getting better at addressing issues and turning situations around so that even if there were a problem, by the end of the process residents would have a positive opinion of their experience.  In order to address the issue of workmen without ID cards the department had undertaken random audits and many contractors had introduced systems to ensure that their staff were always carrying identification. 


The installation of the new door entry  ...  view the full minutes text for item 12.


Sheltered Housing Decommissioning - Update pdf icon PDF 94 KB

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The Housing Strategy & Quality Manager presented the report which outlined the progress so far with the Sheltered Housing Decommissioning programme and plans for the remainder of the programme.  Members heard that there were three options for empty properties as they arose: allocation to general needs tenants, for empty properties to remain empty until the end of the decommissioning process, and allocation to general needs tenants in a sensitive manner such as only to tenants aged 50 and above.


Councillor Redsell thanked the Housing Strategy & Quality Manager for her report and added that she could understand letting empty properties to over 50s.  She added that young people with drug issues and similar caused immense stress to elderly residents and mixing tenants did not always work.  She reiterated she could see it working with general needs tenants over the age of 50, or perhaps with younger, single tenants who were working might prove to be better.  She was concerned at the risk of hurting residents who opted to stay in their property with introducing tenants with issues such as drug abuse, which was a big problem within the Borough.


The Housing Tenant Representative referred to comments surrounding the decommissioning of the scheme in Alexandra Road, Tilbury and asked when the process would begin.  She also asked whether residents had been notified.  Members were informed that the process had not yet begun, and the reality was the programme was only just moving into phase two so residents had not yet been advised of the date. 


The Housing Tenant Representative agreed with the proposal to allocate properties as they emptied to over 50s, but questioned if the process would take a period of time whether it would mean that over 50s might jump the queue on the waiting list for accommodation.  She also asked whether the properties would always be for residents over 50 or if younger residents would follow.  The Housing Strategy & Quality Manager reminded the Committee that once the Sheltered Housing Decommissioning programme was complete the properties were always intended for general use tenants, and added that people could be anti-social at any age.  Members were assured that officers’ priority was to be very sensitive to elderly residents during the process rather than blindly allocating the properties to anyone so long as they were aged 50 or above. 


Councillor Pothecary highlighted that it was very difficult as there were some younger individuals that would relish that kind of property and would not bring the kinds of issues mentioned but understood the need to balance their need with the needs of the elderly residents.  She asked whether option 3 could be coordinated into part of a downsizing campaign as she was conscious that there was a chance that some properties might remain empty.  Councillor Pothecary sought clarity as to whether this would just be during the decommissioning phase or permanently as it would be a real concern to have empty properties while people within the borough were still homeless and awaiting accommodation.  She  ...  view the full minutes text for item 13.


Fixed Term Secure Tenancies pdf icon PDF 107 KB

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The Chair introduced the Agenda Item and proposed giving the Cabinet a steer towards a ten year tenancy and that the Committee might amend the recommendations to reflect this.


The Corporate Director of Adults, Housing and Health advised Members that a version of the report would be presented to Cabinet in November and that the report had been prompted by a change in legislation, with much of the guidance to follow hence a level of uncertainty surrounding some issues.  The Housing Strategy & Quality Manager presented the report which outlined that lifetime tenancies could no longer be issued under the new Act.  This change would not be enforced retrospectively but all new tenants would be issued with tenancies for a fixed period of time. 


The Chair asked Officers to clarify whether if someone were to transfer it would result in a new tenancy being created.  It was confirmed that this would be the case.  The Housing Strategy & Quality Manager continued to inform the Committee that Councils would have some discretion as to the duration of this fixed term, though it must be no less than two and no more than ten years with the exception of households with children under the age of 19. Criteria used to determine the initial length and outcomes of a fixed term tenancy would need to be included within the Council’s Policy, and so it would need to be rewritten. 


The Chair asked whether Travellers’ sites would be included.  Members heard that such sites did not have a tenancy but a licence and as such would not be affected. 


Councillor Pothecary asked for clarity surrounding tenancies running until a child reached 19 when the tenancy would be reassessed and what impact children at university would have, as she did not want families to feel their children could not attend university for fear of losing their tenancy.  The Housing Strategy & Quality Manager assured Members that children at university would be counted as part of the household.


The Housing Tenant Representative asked whether those elderly tenants being moved as part of the decommissioning programme would be affected and if there was a risk they might lose their lifetime tenancy.  The Committee was reminded that this change would not apply retrospectively.  If individuals chose to move they would receive a new tenancy however at the point of review, it would be unlikely that there would be changes to an elderly tenant within sheltered accommodation’s circumstances so it would be quite possible that a further ten year tenancy would be issued.  The Corporate Director of Adults, Housing and Health felt it was important to reiterate that it would not be the case that the end of a tenancy period was final, circumstances would be reassessed and then a further tenancy may be issued.  The Housing Tenant Representative highlighted the difficulty faced by elderly residents given the decommissioning programme, that they would lose lifetime tenancies if they changed property.  It would bring a lot of uncertainty, which was very unfair.  The  ...  view the full minutes text for item 14.


Work Programme pdf icon PDF 56 KB


The Chair asked for an update on the Sheltered Accommodation Wardens to be brought to the Committee in December.  The Corporate Director of Adults, Housing and Health advised that the Allocations Policy Review would be deferred until February 2017 and a review of the HRA Business Plan would be brought to the Committee at the December meeting.   Councillor Pothecary reiterated her earlier request for a review of the Gazette allegations regarding homelessness be added to the work programme.  There would also be an update of the Housing review once the regulations had all been made available.




Members noted the Work Programme including the amendments.


The Housing Tenant Representative requested to ask a question that did not relate to the Agenda, which a member of the public had put to her before the meeting following an article in the newspaper.  She asked why Thurrock Council had paid £50,000 or something similar to Swindon Council.  The Vice-Chair interjected that it was linked to Solar Power.  Officers advised that it was another directorate and as such an answer would have to follow outside of the meeting.