The report was introduced by the ADH which gave an update of the proposed changes to the Repairs Policy upon review. The overarching aim was to ensure the policy remained fit for purpose whilst addressing all the current statutory requirements. It should empower council tenants where possible through access to information and enable them to be involved in the maintenance of their homes.
This policy did not include leaseholders as a separate document would be drawn up for them. The policy had certain sections added in such as damp and mould which was a big issue and other sections were reworded for clarity. Referring to the Housing Repairs FAQs in appendix C, the ADH invited the Committee to provide feedback and suggestions on the clarity of the FAQs.
In reference to paragraph 2.12, Councillor Allen mentioned that many tenants took pride in taking on their own repairs. He questioned if it was fair for them to ask for permission to remove wallpaper as this sometimes resulted in damage to the plaster wall. The ADH explained decorative processes could result in damage to the property which would fall to the Council to repair and be charged back to the tenant. There was an expectation that council tenants should look after the property.
Councillor Allen continued by referring to a case which had blown windows and another that had a broken window that was not the fault of the tenant who needed a crime reference number in order for the Council to repair it without cost. This had been due to a window fail. He asked what tenants had to do in order for repairs to take place without the need of a crime reference number.
In response, the ADH explained that if the broken window had been faulty, there would need to be several reports from the same street to identify a faulty batch. A crime reference number was needed in order to prove the damage had not been done by the tenant. He listed certain criterias of repairs that was listed within the policy and said that the service would use the stock condition data to take a more planned programme towards repairs.
Echoing Councillor Allen’s comments, the Chair added that a blown double glazed window would lose its efficacy and would cause damp and mould to the property. Attempting to raise this as a responsive repair with the Council, tenants would be told the repair was not a responsive repair which was frustrating. Understanding the point made, the ADH answered that damp and mould was a responsive repair and potentially, the blown window would be part of the works to address this. If a blown window did not cause any damp and mould, it would still be secure and a tenant could still see out of it so would not be a responsive repair. The Chair went on to say that this was not always the case. He felt the new system should be more responsive and less rigid. In response, the ADH said that exceptions were made and the policy was set aside when needed. The service hoped to have a programme to ensure serious deteriorations did not occur and to consider repairs where necessary. There needed to be a more strategic and planned approach towards repairs and this was not just for windows. The Stock Condition Survey had shown people were not always reporting defects and this had to be done in order for the service to take full ownership of their assets. This would enable them to roll out cost effective programmes and value for money programmes to maintain their stock. Funds were being used effectively in most needed areas such as single glazed windows and damp and mould. The service needed to find a balance between the findings within the Stock Condition Survey and tenants’ needs along with the overall responsibilities of a social landlord which the service was trying to do.
Councillor Redsell commented on the exterior state of certain properties she had seen and felt tenants should take care of their gardens as well as the interior of their homes. She had seen how unattractive some shared gardens were as well and said tenants needed to be encouraged to take better care of gardens. The ADH stated that a performance report would be brought to the Committee in which one of the priorities was to encourage people to take better care of their gardens. The service wished to put together a Tenants Representative Association to generate a greater sense of pride with the desire to foster the spirit of participation. He went on to mention that there were various issues in the tenancy agreement which could be enforced but the service wanted to take a softer approach via conversations.
Responding to this, Councillor Redsell agreed a softer approach was good as officers could encourage tenants to look after their gardens. One house with a poorly looked after garden in a row of houses could bring the area down, same as a garage in a bad condition. The ADH said that it was not always council tenants as the service had found many leaseholders were also not maintaining the best standards of appearance on their properties.
In regards to the FAQs, Councillor Pothecary posed the following questions:
1. Referring to the wording on the 24 hour timeframe for emergency appointments, she asked if the wording could be stronger for clarity e.g. stating tenants ‘may need to wait 24 hours but not more than 24 hours’.
2. She expressed concern on the 24 hour timeframe when it came to certain issues of smoke detectors or faulty windows on higher floors where children could be living. She asked if certain repairs could be prioritised as higher due to safety issues.
3. Could carbon monoxide alarms be installed in properties? She suggested installing a certain model that could be more cost effective.
The ADH agreed that the wording of 24 hours in an emergency appointment could be better worded and the scripting would be looked at. He felt Councillor Pothecary’s second question was an interesting point and said he envisaged a database to show certain criterias to judge the priority of a repair. In regards to carbon monoxide alarms, it was not standard to have these installed whereas smoke alarms were. The service was looking at carbon monoxide alarms and the costs to have these installed through a company.
Referring to council tenancy agreements, Councillor Allen sought clarification on whether gardens were included. Confirming this was the case, the ADH said that it was an obligation of the tenant and came under the law. Adding to this, the Housing Tenant Representative (HTR), Lynn Mansfield, mentioned that she had noticed the state of some gardens during an inspection. She went on to say she had seen a housing officer accompanied by an anti-social behaviour officer speaking with tenants and felt that was not a soft approach as discussed earlier. The ADH explained that this may have happened as the tenant in question could have had a warning flagged up on their database. Otherwise, it was not usually the case to have two officers speak with a tenant.
The Chair ended the item by congratulating the ADH and service department on the improvements in service which could be seen from data table within the report.
1.1 That the Housing Overview and Scrutiny Committee commented on the report and the current operation of the repairs function.
1.2 That the Housing Overview and Scrutiny Committee commented on the proposed changes to the published repairs policy and the other proposals for improvement which are set out in the report.