Agenda and minutes

Housing Overview and Scrutiny Committee - Tuesday, 19th December, 2017 7.00 pm

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

Contact: Wendy Le, Democratic Services Officer  Email:

No. Item


Minutes pdf icon PDF 106 KB

To approve as a correct record the minutes of the Housing Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting held on 17 October 2017.



The minutes of the Housing Overview and Scrutiny Committee held on 17 October 2017 were approved as a correct record.


Urgent Items pdf icon PDF 2 MB

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.


Following a request made by the Chair of the Committee, a Briefing Note was submitted and circulated as an additional item by the Assistant Director of Housing (ADH), John Knight, which outlined recent announcements from the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG). These included:


  • The renaming of The Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) to Homes England.
  • The reclassification of Housing Associations as ‘private non-financial corporations’.
  • A summary of actions from the government to achieve the new housing delivery of 300,000 new homes per annum by the end of this Parliament in 2022.
  • Central government’s announcement to include a £1 billion additional borrowing capacity within the Budget for councils for the Housing Revenue Account (HRA). The fund would be allocated to councils through a bidding nature.
  • Government’s formation of a Homelessness Reduction Task Force which related to their commitment to resolve the issue of rough sleepers.


Thurrock is currently undertaking work to adjust the services according to the announced changes. The service department will continue to work to ensure that Thurrock benefits where possible from the new and additional funding.


Declaration of Interests


There were no declarations of interest.


Grounds Maintenance Service Charge Review pdf icon PDF 88 KB


Presented by the Assistant Director of Housing (ADH), John Knight, the report summarised the review of the Grounds Maintenance Charge (GMC) that had been presented earlier in the year. The review sought to resolve the issues that had resulted in the suspension of the charge back in September. Outlined in the report were the following potential options for the Housing Overview and Scrutiny Committee to consider:


·         To proceed with suspended standard charge for all selected tenants (option 3.1).

·         To introduce a standard charge for all tenants (option 3.2).

·         To withdraw the charge in full (option 3.3).

·         To implement as lower standard charge for the same selected tenants (option 3.4).

·         To introduce a variegated charge (option 3.5).

·         Charging tenants in certain types of property (option 3.6).

·         To lower standard charge for fewer selected tenants (option 3.7).

·         A phased introduction (option 3.8).


Detailed work would continue to be undertaken to reconcile costings of the GMC and if a charge was proposed, a consultation will be carried out with potential included tenants. The service would also continue to work with other departments to monitor the contract and ensure costs were reduced where possible.


The Chair felt the options given in the report were more detailed and thorough than previous reports that had been brought to the Housing Overview and Scrutiny Committee. Councillor Pothecary agreed but stated that she was still against the GMC and that it had left tenants confused over what their rent was paid for. She wished for the charge to be fully withdrawn. Residents have said to her that the services provided were not a full service. She went on to question why the environment charge was high as the work carried out was simple. She also questioned where the previously proposed £5 charge came from and whether alternative options had been considered.


Not wishing to reiterate previous discussions of the GMC, the ADH said the charge had been based on transaction costs, Service Level Agreements (SLAs) and full recovery costs; based on HRA costs for 2016 – 17. The service department would also work with the Environment Team to drive service charges down. There were a number of service elements that would not be directly charged to selected tenants under certain options. In regards to what tenants’ rents were paid for, the basic rent was for the possession of the property, in addition to some management services provided which were legitimate for tenants to be charged for. Councils across the country used this same model of charging and Thurrock would not be unique in this. Thurrock would seek to reduce the annual costs over time. Some of the options provided in the GMC report would reduce the charge and alternatives had been considered with no other cheaper options identified.


Echoing the Chair’s earlier comments, Councillor Redsell felt the options were detailed in this report and that the confusion had been caused by the generic letters sent out to council tenants stating the charge the first time round. She said  ...  view the full minutes text for item 18.


Stock Condition Survey pdf icon PDF 154 KB

Additional documents:


The ADH presented the report which outlined the results of the recent Stock Condition Survey that had been conducted by external surveyors, Baily Garner. The survey had not been intrusive or invasive but had been conducted visually. A summary of the survey had been provided in the report and the full report consisted of over 100 pages which the ADH held up for the Committee to see.


The survey had been significant as the data gathered would be used to set budgets and plan ongoing and future investments in the HRA for the next 30 years. Properties included in the representative sample were a balanced mix of flats, houses and maisonettes which ended up with a total of 3223 surveys undertaken. The housing stock owned by the Council consisted of 10,000 residential properties and almost 3,000 garages. It was found that the average energy efficiency rating of the stock to be at a Band D rating of 61.9 so the Council aimed to meet at least a Band D rating for all its residential properties by 2022 with a targeted view of achieving a Band C rating in the longer term. To bring all lower rated properties up to this target, the following recommended works would include:


·         improving loft insulation;

·         renewing singled glazed windows; and

·         replacing boilers which would improve the heating controls.


Damp and mould was reported in 4% of the surveyed properties and the recommendation was to install ventilation fans and advise tenants on daily housekeeping to manage condensation. Overall, the results from the survey showed the housing stock to be in a fair to good condition which would provide building blocks for future planning.


Referring to Baily Garner, the Chair asked what due diligence had been carried out before hiring the company to carry out the survey. The ADH responded that as stated in the report, the company had been appointed through a procurement process. Baily Garner did not deliver the Council’s main contracts, which meant they would have objective views to the Council’s services. The company was well established with evidence of their qualifications and the Council had used them a few times before without faults.


The Chair went on to say the percentage of properties surveyed was impressive but queried why a small number of garages had been surveyed. The reason was because there were not so many variations between the garages as between residential units. The Chair also asked why only 37% of the boilers were passed as good. Referring to the Transforming Homes programme, the ADH stated that the priorities had been on improving the kitchens and bathrooms within the housing stock. This had resulted in a lower level of investment into other areas which had caused them to lag behind.


The Chair further asked if there was a concern on the 10% of surveyed homes that had poor electrics. The ADH’s response was that all areas that had been identified as poor condition were of concern. The data would be used to  ...  view the full minutes text for item 19.


Housing Revenue Account - Business Plan and Budgets (2018/19 - 2048) pdf icon PDF 186 KB


The report was introduced by the ADH and set out the HRA Business Plan and Budget for 2018/19 after reviewing it for the next 30 years. A range of areas were identified where efficiencies and improvements could be made in relation to HRA activities to free up resources to enable reinvestment into the service. Following the results of the Stock Condition Survey, the estimated investment required to maintain and improve the current housing stock for the next 30 years would be £452,447,897.


Every opportunity would be pursued to secure extra funding for new-build homes and to deliver improved value for money as a modern social landlord. As mentioned in the Briefing Note brought forward by the ADH earlier in the meeting, the Council would be bidding for the £1 billion additional borrowing. Overall, the Business Plan was robust and viable which would keep the HRA on path.


The Vice-Chair queried on the costs of fire safety such as sprinkler systems, in high rise blocks. The ADH said the government position was to ensure residents were kept safe and a case could be made to the DCLG during the bidding of the additional funding. The fire services have limited funding to ensure fire safety and many Boroughs could request funding for fire safety within their bidding narratives.


Commenting on the £5 million cost to build 500 homes as part of the regeneration scheme within Thurrock; the Vice-Chair asked if it was possible for Thurrock to set up its own Housing Association to build these homes. The ADH explained that Housing Associations were now seen as private entities. Setting one up would be complicated and would not give the Council much financial freedom if the HRA was still the vehicle for delivery. Working in partnership with a housing association would not enable the build of 500 homes but would enable the Council to purchase more homes and repair older homes and to utilise Right to Buy receipts, as outlined in the report.


At 9.20pm, Members agreed to suspend standing orders until 10.00pm to enable all items on the agenda to be heard.


Referring back to the garages review, Councillor Redsell queried on what the outcome would be. The ADH said the garage review would check whether garages were being effectively used to maximise the revenues. Business processes such as mainstream lettings for the garages and costs for repairs, demolition and reprovisions were being reviewed which would give a clearer picture and provide solutions. Councillor Redsell went on to ask whether the service department knew what was stored within the garages and if these were checked. The ADH answered that the report would not be detailed in this aspect but the service department would check what the garages were used for.


Referring to the Council’s bid for the additional borrowing from DCLG, Councillor Pothecary asked whether the service department’s plans would be dependent on winning the additional funds. She also asked would the much needed homes within Thurrock be dependent on the private  ...  view the full minutes text for item 20.


Fees & Charges Pricing Strategy 2018 / 19 pdf icon PDF 100 KB

Additional documents:


The report was presented by the ADH and outlined the charges in relation to the General Fund within the Housing Service. The charges would come into effect from 1April 2018, these charges were listed in appendix 2 of the report. For traveller sites, the rent would be increased but the proposal was there to increase rent over two years. By setting the fees and charges appropriately, it will enable the Council to generate essential income to fund Council services and to be able to adapt to changing economic conditions.


The Chair sought clarification on the rent increase on traveller sites as Thurrock residents would be getting a 1% reduction in rent. The ADH confirmed this would be the case but the increase would be over a two year period and referred to site charges. The increase would be relatively low and this charge had not been in place before.


Councillor Pothecary asked for a comparison on the rent costs of traveller sites on HRA land and rented council homes. The ADH confirmed that traveller site rents were based on plots of land. At the end of the two year rent increase from these, the sum would be equivalent to what some council tenants would pay for their rented homes.


The Chair expressed concern on the traveller sites rent increase as he felt it would be taking advantage of Housing Benefits. He did not think that the increase was even considered within general housing needs. The ADH said the yearly increase would be 5.8% which was due to begin in April 2018. Overall, the increase would not be so high. The Chair went on to ask if a consultation had taken place with the affected persons. The ADH confirmed that none had taken place and that a consultation would be progressed where there was a specific need to.


With the information given, the Chair felt he could not recommend an increase in rent unless a consultation had taken place. Travellers were still council tenants in some form and should be given the same due diligence as the usual council tenants. Councillor Pothecary also agreed with this.


Questioning the traveller site of Gammon Fields, Councillor Redsell asked if there were site officers to maintain the site. The ADH confirmed there was a dedicated team comprising of a manager and an officer who managed the sites intensively with frequent visits.


The Vice-Chair asked whether the rent would be split and if there were any additional fees to pay. The ADH said the rent was split and included service charges of utilities such as electricity. These were paid for along with rents with a swipe card. Councillor Allen questioned whether the cost was similar to some council rents and if the plot had council tax bands. The ADH answered that there was no council tax charge as the caravan on the sites were not permanent structures.


The Committee went on to discuss the removal of waste from traveller sites. A few fly tipping  ...  view the full minutes text for item 21.


Work Programme pdf icon PDF 58 KB


An extraordinary meeting for 6th February 2018 would be setup to enable an important report on cases of mental illnesses and domestic violence within housing applications to be heard and considered by the Committee.