Agenda and minutes

Housing Overview and Scrutiny Committee - Tuesday, 17th October, 2017 7.00 pm

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

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

No. Item


Minutes pdf icon PDF 82 KB

To approve as a correct record the minutes of the Housing Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting held on 18 July 2017.



The minutes of Housing Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting held on 18 July 2017 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.


HRA Service Charges Update pdf icon PDF 77 KB

Additional documents:


The Assistant Director of Housing (ADH), John Knight, introduced the report to the Committee updating the Members on the service charges to Council tenants introduced in December 2016. This had been included as part of the 30 year Business Plan for the Housing Revenue Account (HRA). Although the service charges had gone through consultation with all affected tenants in March 2017 and were set to be implemented from 2 October 2017, an influx of enquiries and concerns regarding the service charges had been received from tenants and Members.


The decision was made by the Leader of the Council with the Chair of the Housing Overview & Scrutiny Committee on 27 September 2017 to suspend the Grounds Maintenance Charge (GMC) pending a review. A motion was carried at Full Council on the same date which called upon the Cabinet to re-evaluate the need for the GMC for general needs tenants. A comprehensive review would be carried out with a wider consultation following the points in paragraph 4.3 of the report. Members would be welcome to come to the consultation meetings. A full report of the grounds service maintenance charge review would be submitted for consideration at the next Housing Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting on 19 December 2017.


The Corporate Director of Adults, Housing and Health (CDAHH), Roger Harris, stated that the report of the GMC review would also go to Cabinet in January 2018, once the Housing Overview and Scrutiny Committee had discussed and made recommendations on it.


The Chair felt that the proposal of the GMC would need to be more explicit and informative than had been brought forward to the Committee and Cabinet previously. If the proposal had been more explicit before, it could have saved time. Some information could have also been improved on before going to Committee. With these points in mind, the Chair asked that the report of the GMC review be explicit and ensure all information was accurately captured before it came back to Committee. He went on to ask whether there had been any legal challenges to applications of grounds maintenance charges in other boroughs. The ADH agreed that the wording in the previous proposal of the GMC could have been clearer, especially regarding street properties. He agreed the report could also have been updated when it had come back to Cabinet. A benchmarking exercise on other Local Authorities had been carried out and the service was not aware of any legal challenges, there may be some case law which the ADH could look into. The list of Local Authorities in the benchmarking included Birmingham, Suffolk, Lambeth and Camden amongst others so GMC was not an unusual practice for social landlords.


Councillor Redsell echoed the Chair’s comments in that the information provided previously was not enough. She had received complaints from two tenants within her ward that had a grass verge outside their homes which everybody used. The letters regarding the GMCs had also been sent out to residents who did not have entry  ...  view the full minutes text for item 11.


Homelessness Reduction Act Update pdf icon PDF 102 KB


Presented by the ADH, the report gave an update of the Homelessness Reduction Act. This would come into force in April 2018 and created a legal framework for people that were homeless; at risk of homelessness; or threatened with homelessness. The Council had done what was mandatory under the Act so far. Earlier on the day of the Committee meeting, the new Code of Guidance had been published which would give different timeframes for the homelessness procedure from April. The service department was going through the guide to ensure they were in line with what was set up in their report. Government had also given an update on the New Burdens Funding, which had increased so that each borough would receive £240,000 for a total of three years which ensured local authorities would have a significant fund to follow through on the Act. Over the next three years, the assumption is that practises and policies would be updated to address homelessness issues and ensure the best practice was put in place.


The Chair was sceptical about the level of efficiency in the homelessness department and asked if this would burden the service department further. The ADH replied that the pilot in the report would help them for a while but they were looking at different service models. The department was also going through a culture change.


Councillor Pothecary sought clarification on those who were threatened with homelessness as some tenants who were handed a section 21 (notice of eviction) did not take it seriously until it expired as advised by the Council. She went on to say she was pleased with the increase of the New Burdens Funding and queried whether the £240,000 was limited to what it could be spent on. The fund may be spent on a bespoke IT service to help manage the service department better but the fund was not limited. The ADH anticipated that most of the funding would be spent on hiring extra staff that specialised in certain case types to create a better infrastructure. The ADH stated that section 21 notices should be taken seriously but it does raise questions on when to accept someone could become homeless. Each applicant had a prevention duty to fulfil in which there was an expectation for them to take reasonable steps to prevent their own homelessness.


The Vice-Chair queried on the definition of single homeless people if it included single status; single with mental health; and people kicked out of their homes by family. The ADH confirmed the definition included all single people and the structure encouraged actions involving vulnerable people. There was a wide range and the service department worked with specialist single teams to identify what housing options single homeless people would need in terms of circumstance and age. Reasonable steps would be taken to find housing for single people and every person was entitled to a personalised housing plan which would include actions the Council would take and actions the individual would take.  ...  view the full minutes text for item 12.


Housing Performance (April - August 2017) pdf icon PDF 93 KB

Additional documents:


Introduced by the ADH, the report provided an overview of the Housing performance for April – August 2017. 65% of targets had been achieved which was up from 48% in quarter one and performance compared against indicators in August had improved by 17% overall. The report highlighted the following key and local performance indicators:


·         The performance related to Housing’s Key Performance Indicators remained largely on track.

·         The general tenant satisfaction with services provided by Housing was below target but had improved by 3% and had received positive comments from residents.

·         The number of households in temporary accommodation had improved and was 10 below the target threshold of 125 at the end of August.

·         Tenants were dissatisfied with the anti-social behaviour (ASB) service and the Housing service review would be looking at centralising ASB reports to improve record keeping, case management and accountability.

·         The Council planned to engage with landlords in the private sector to encourage them to make properties available to those in receipt of housing benefit.


Referring to the Housing Performance Scorecard (HPS) in appendix 1, Councillor Redsell queried on the outcome of damp and mould which was low in the summer but as the winter was coming, would the outcome change. The ADH confirmed that damp and mould was on the increase again. The indicator in the HPS was designed to capture the data as it stood and sub-divided data into categories of a) what a tenant could do to prevent mould; b) what treatments could be used such as vents; and c) building fabric works. The stock condition survey was almost complete and would provide the service department with improved data on the severity of the damp and mould issues and whether it led to structure damage within council properties.


Councillor Allen referred to the re-let voids data in the HPS which had a reduction of six days and mentioned two cases where the quality of work carried out was unsuitable which led to a longer delay of the re-let time. The ADH replied that voids were carried out by contractors but the service department could carry out a full review of each case.


The Vice-Chair was pleased to see a breakdown for the figures of the Housing Register and he went on to comment on the amount of collectable rent paid by travellers which had risen from 95% to 98% before falling back to 97%. He would be interested to find out in the next Committee meeting where the new sites would be placed for travellers.


The Vice-Chair and ADH discussed cases regarding Economy 7 central heating in specific areas of the Borough. Individual properties would need to be investigated as the Council was not in the business of updating. Although a few properties in the same road were being upgraded, it did not mean the whole road would also be upgraded as upgrades were based on the needs of households in each case.


Referring to the Council’s private tenants team, the Vice-Chair pointed out the  ...  view the full minutes text for item 13.


Housing Overview and Scrutiny Committee Work Programme pdf icon PDF 58 KB


Members discussed the work programme for the remainder of the municipal calendar. The Vice-Chair requested that a review of the travellers sites be added. Responding to this, the CDAHH said that the report would not be reviewing the travellers sites as it was a matter for the Planning Department. The report from the Housing Department would be reviewing how the current three existing council sites were running.


The following reports were to be added to the work programme:


  • Allocation Policy
  • Review of Travellers Sites
  • Cases of Mental Health in Homelessness
  • Discretionary Payments in Housing
  • HRA Service Charge Review