Venue: Committee Room 1, Council Offices, The Burys, Godalming. View directions
Contact: Fiona Cameron Democratic Services Officer
Appointment of Chairman
To confirm that Cllr John Ward be appointed as the Chairman of the Housing Overview & Scrutiny Committee for the Council year 2017/18.
The Committee confirmed the appointment of Cllr John Ward as the Chairman of the Housing Overview & Scrutiny Committee for the Council year 2017/18.
Appointment of Vice Chairman
To confirm that Cllr Pat Frost be appointed as the Vice Chairman of the Housing Overview & Scrutiny Committee for the Council year 2017/18.
The Committee confirmed the appointment of Cllr Pat Frost as Vice-Chairman of the Housing Overview & Scrutiny Committee for the Council year 2017/18.
Welcome & Introductions
The Chairman welcomed Members, Tenants’ Panel representatives, Waverley Scrutiny Group members, and Officers to the first meeting of the new Housing Overview & Scrutiny Committee, and invited everyone to introduce themselves.
APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE AND SUBSTITUTES
To receive apologies for absence and note any substitutions.
Apologies for absence were received from Cllr Denise Le Gal.
DECLARATIONS OF INTERESTS
To receive from Members declarations of interests in relation to any items included on the agenda for this meeting, in accordance with Waverley’s Code of Local Government Conduct.
There were no declarations in relation to items on the agenda.
QUESTIONS BY MEMBERS OF THE PUBLIC
The Chairman to respond to any written questions received from members of the public in accordance with Procedure Rule 10.
There were no questions from members of the public.
The remit of the Housing O&S Committee is to provide effective scrutiny of the Council’s housing function, including:
· HRA Business Plan
· Housing Development
· Provision of Housing Services
· HRA Asset Management
· Homelessness Prevention
· Housing Allocation
· Sheltered Housing
· Tenancy & Estates services
The Head of Strategic Housing & Delivery, and the Head of Housing Operations will give an introductory presentation to provide an overview of the services provided and key issues affecting Waverley’s Housing Service.
The Chairman invited Damian Roberts, Strategic Director of Frontline Services, Hugh Wagstaff, Head of Housing Operations, and Andrew Smith, Head of Strategic Housing and Delivery, to give an introduction to the Housing Service and the wider context and issues that impact on what Waverley is able, or has, to do as a local authority housing provider.
Hugh Wagstaff began by reflecting on the Grenfell Tower fire, which would impact on how social housing was managed and relationships with tenants for many years. Nationally, there had been six different housing ministers since 2010. The reputation of social housing landlords was now very low; and the response by Kensington & Chelsea LBC had highlighted their tenants’ experience of their voices not being listened to for many years.
Hugh was pleased to say that this did not reflect the experience at Waverley. Tenant involvement, and independent tenant scrutiny, was a central principle of the co-regulation standards, and one that Waverley had signed up to fully. The government had given choice to tenants on their landlord, but local authority landlords were subject to a higher level of oversight and scrutiny through the democratic process, and members had an important role in listening to tenants and championing social housing.
Damian Roberts reminded the Committee that all district authorities had statutory strategic housing responsibilities, but Waverley was one of only a handful of Surrey districts that had retained its housing stock and landlord function. This meant that Waverley had a huge impact on the lives and life choices of council tenants. Working in partnership with tenants was important, but so were the relationships with contractors and councillors, and ensuring that there was a common goal of improving standards for tenants.
Continuing the presentation, Andrew Smith outlined the roles of the Strategic Housing & Delivery Service and drew attention to the new Housing Strategy that would come forward later this year, and the new Homelessness Reduction Act. The new homelessness legislation would put significant new burdens on local authorities to respond to homelessness applications, which would impact on Waverley’s outstanding track record of preventing homelessness and avoiding the need for households to go into temporary accommodation other than as an absolute last resort.
The Council also had statutory responsibilities in relation to the private rented sector, in responding to complaints by tenants; and also in licensing Housing in Multiple Occupation (HMOs). New regulations in relation to HMOs were expected later in the year which, again, were likely to put additional burdens on the Council.
In addition to Waverley’s own housing development activities, the team also worked with colleagues in Planning, property developers and Housing Associations to deliver as many affordable homes as possible. However, there was a fundamental issue around the lack of housing supply – both market and affordable – which was heavily influenced by local and national planning constraints.
Hugh Wagstaff gave a brief introduction to Waverley’s Landlord Service, whose role was to manage and maintain the Council’s housing stock, including rent collection and supporting tenancies, working ... view the full minutes text for item 6.
To inform the committee of the proposal to review and roll out a revised tenancy agreement to Waverley tenants. The tenancy agreement is the contract between all tenants and the Council stating the roles and responsibilities of each party. The need to review the tenancy agreement was identified as an action in the Housing Service Plan 2017/18. A revised tenancy agreement will ensure the effective management of homes and tenancies.
It is recommended that the Committee:
Rachel White, the Tenancy & Estates Manager, introduced the report that set out the scope and timetable for the review of the Tenancy Agreement. The Tenancy Agreement was the contract between each tenant and the Council, and it set out the roles and responsibilities of both tenant and landlord.
The aim of the review was to ensure that the Tenancy Agreement clearly supported policies and procedures that had been developed to enable the Council to manage individual tenancies but also meet its obligations to tenants collectively, and the wider community. The Tenancy Agreement needed to set out tenant responsibilities without ambiguity and support Officers in taking effective and timely action when addressing tenancy breaches.
The current Tenancy Agreement had been reviewed by a specialist housing barrister, and a number of amendments had been identified to improve clarity and reflect changes in the law. Further revisions would be added to reflect specific Waverley policies and procedures.
It was important that all the Council’s services had the opportunity to review the proposed changes and propose amendments where appropriate to reflect delivery of universal services. The Tenants’ Panel would also play a crucial role in the informal consultation on the development of new Tenancy Agreement, which would take place over the summer and early autumn. The final draft of the revised Tenancy Agreement would be presented to the Housing O&S Committee in November, before the start of the formal consultation with all tenants. The aim was to implement the new Tenancy Agreement with effect from 1 April 2018.
The Committee was supportive of the principle that the Tenancy Agreement should support the effective management of the Council’s housing stock, and the process set out to review the Agreement.
Whilst recognising that this was a legal contract, Members had some concerns that the document was not in Plain English, and Adrian Waller highlighted a couple of examples of less than transparent ‘legalese’ that were not new but could cause alarm. The Committee recommended that if the document itself could not be simplified, a Plain English version should be developed to sit alongside it. Members also noted some typos in the revisions put forward by the barrister and stressed that documents needed to be carefully proof-read before being published.
Cllr Seaborne noted that he had expected there to be a national standard for tenancy agreements, but had not been able to find one through an internet search. He asked whether officers would be consulting with other landlord councils to obtain examples of tenancy agreements. Rachel confirmed that there was no standard template agreement, although there would be sections that would be common to all social housing tenancy agreements. She did have some good examples of tenancy agreements that were better laid out and more accessible than Waverley’s and the intention was to use the best ideas in setting out Waverley’s new agreement.
The Committee endorsed the review of the Tenancy Agreement, and noted the timetable for the draft to come back to the Committee. The ... view the full minutes text for item 7.
The Waverley Scrutiny Group has been invited to present their report (Annexe 1) to the Committee.
To advise the Committee how the Housing Service team will address the recommendations raised in the Waverley Scrutiny Group Void Report.
It is recommended that the Committee:
1. thanks the Waverley Scrutiny Group for their report;
2. makes any comments or suggestions on the scrutiny recommendations and Council responses;
3. supports the implementation of scrutiny recommendations; and
4. continues to monitor void performance.
The Chairman welcomed members of the Tenant Scrutiny Group – Pat Wright, James Remnant, and Phil Deans – to present the findings of their work to scrutinise the voids process.
Pat Wright began by thanking Waverley officers and Mears staff for their co-operation with the Scrutiny Group in carrying out the review. James Remnant then outlined the scope of the review, which had been quite wide-ranging, the findings and the recommendations that the Scrutiny Group had made.
They had been asked to undertake the review by the Head of Housing Operations, and to focus on the re-let standard, reducing the cost of a void, and improving value for money in the voids process. Ten recommendations had been made, aimed at: improving budgetary control of the voids process, including implementing recharges for certain elements of work; reviewing the re-let standard with tenants and promptly surveying satisfaction of new tenants; and reducing the time taken for each stage of the void process, including more accurate record-keeping.
The Scrutiny Group was pleased that the recommendations had largely been accepted by Waverley Housing Officers, and actions identified to address the issues identified.
The Committee thanked the Scrutiny Group for their very thorough report and the practical recommendations. The Committee felt that there were some issues identified that had not been carried forward into the recommendations: the lack of a marker on Orchard to indicate the end of the warranty period; differences in key dates between Waverley’s records and Mears’; and, the lack of version control on the re-let standard. The Committee was concerned that the report may have been influenced by officers. James reassured the Committee that there had been no pressure from officers to drop recommendations, and the Scrutiny Group had been guided by advise from the Housing Quality Network to keep recommendations focussed. The Scrutiny Group did have some concerns about whether there were gaps in the computer interface between Waverley’s and Mears’ systems that might lead to discrepancies and lost time in the voids process.
Cllr Seaborne raised the issue of budgetary control, and the model used for setting the budget for voids. He asked if there was a better model that might be used that reflected the typical range of properties that became void over the course of a year, rather than a simple average.
In responding to questions, Hugh Wagstaff advised that great improvements in the voids process had been made over the previous 2 years, but the 20 day target continued to be a challenge and there was clearly scope for further improvement. The work of the Waverley Scrutiny Group had provided a fresh impetus to drive improvements forward and bring the re-let target to 15 days.
Budget-setting was based on historic data about the average number of properties that became vacant in a year, and the average cost of bringing them back to re-let standard. Whilst it was a very simple model, it was difficult to develop a model that would take account of the different age ... view the full minutes text for item 8.
To receive a presentation updating the Committee on the progress of the Ockford Ridge Regeneration Project.
The Chairman invited Andrew Smith and Louisa Blundell to update the Committee on the Ockford Ridge regeneration project. He recognised that the project was a massive investment for the Council that would provide new and refurbished homes for tenants, as well as new rental income for the Council from the net increase in houses. It was an area of the Council’s work that was ripe for scrutiny, but there were different perspectives that could be explored and he was keen to hear the views of the Committee.
Louisa Blundell gave a presentation that briefly covered the history of the estate, and the development of the regeneration project in 2012 which was made possible by the reform of council housing finance that took place with effect from 1 April 2012. The master plan for the redevelopment and remodelling of Ockford Ridge was developed in the first half of 2013, followed by a consultation with residents of Ockford Ridge. The project was split four sites (A, B, C and D) and in August 2014 the Council’s hybrid planning application – outline permission for 83 dwellings on Sites A, B and C, and detailed planning permission for 16 dwellings on Site D – was granted.
Given the length of the lead-in time for the project, from inception to work happening on Ockford Ridge, it had taken lot of work with residents to demonstrate to them that the Council was committed to the project. The show homes completed towards the end of 2016 had been a key milestone and a tangible demonstration of what was to come. These properties had already been let, and work was well underway on the construction of Site D.
The next site to be developed would be Site A, and the detailed planning application had been submitted and was due to be considered in September 2017. The number of dwellings proposed in the detailed application had been increased compared to the outline permission, which would enable all the residents from Sites B and C to be decanted, as will as residents of Site A who wished to return. Officers were now working on bringing forward Site B, with the detailed planning application coming forward in the autumn of 2017.
Alongside the redevelopment, a pilot phase of 6 refurbishments had been carried out over the winter of 2016/17. Some important lessons had been learned, including freezing the design at an early stage and having tenants formally agree to the design to be tendered. Lessons had also been learned in relation to the way that Waverley appointed experts to oversee the refurbishments, and a more simplified arrangement had been tendered for Phases 1-3 which would streamline communication and clarify responsibilities and accountability. On Waverley’s side, the Development Team had also been configured so that each officer had specific responsibility for a particular element of the overall project.
Throughout the project, the role of a dedicated Tenant Liaison Officer had been crucial to the ongoing progress and success each stage, particularly in ... view the full minutes text for item 9.
This report provides a summary of the Housing service performance over 2016/17. The report details the team’s performance against the indicators that fall within the remit of the Housing Overview & Scrutiny Committee for the fourth quarter of the financial year. It also provides customer feedback data and a summary of the completed actions from the 2016/17 Housing Service Plan.
The Committee has the opportunity to comment and scrutinise the presented performance data. In addition the Committee may identify future committee reporting requirements regarding performance management.
It is recommended that the Housing Overview & Scrutiny Committee:
1. considers the performance figures, as set out in Annexe 1, and agrees any observations or recommendations about performance it wishes to make to the Executive;
2. considers the customer feedback data and agrees any observations or recommendations about performance it wishes to make to the Executive;
3. considers the Service Plan Outturn report, as set out in Annexe 2, and agrees any observations or recommendations about performance it wishes to make to the Executive;
4. considers scope of work and identifies areas for the Committee future workplan; and
5. considers how performance monitoring should be achieved in 2017/18 and agrees a way forward.
Annalisa Howson introduced the performance management report that covered the 4th quarter of 2016/17 (January – March 2017) and the overall performance for the year. Performance had generally been good, with just three indicators missing the target.
The voids re-let performance had fallen below target, with the average number of days to re-let normal voids in Q4 being 24 days. The average for the year was 22 days. This was a marked improvement from 2015/16, but did demonstrate that the 20-day target was challenging and did not allow for any slippage in processes.
It was not considered that there was any fundamental weakness in the voids process, and a range of actions had been taken to further support the process and address issues.
The performance on gas safety checks was a snapshot at the end of the quarter, and it was not unusual for a small number of checks to be outstanding. Every reasonable effort was made by the contractor to schedule appointments in good time to achieve compliance, but occasionally there were unable to obtain access to a property without the intervention of the Council. There was a very clear escalation process from the contractor to the Council, and the Council did not delay in referring cases to court for a warrant. Two checks were outstanding at the end of March, and both had been completed in April after a court warrant enabled access.
The responsive repairs ‘fixed first time’ indicator had improved again in Q4, to 76% of jobs, although it still fell short of the target of 78%. There had been steady improvement over 2016/17 in this indicator, and this was reflected in the corresponding improvement in customer satisfaction with the responsive repairs service.
In response to questions from the Committee, it was noted that:
· The performance indicators were suite of indicators that were used with in the service as a performance management tool.
· There was no target set for the number of affordable houses delivered each quarter as they tended to be completed and handed over in multiples as developments were completed.
· Where possible, hard-wired smoke alarms were installed in council homes, and these were checked as part of the gas safety check. It was likely that there would be changes in requirements for smoke and fire alarms in some types of property as a result of the Grenfell Tower fire.
The Committee had been asked to consider how it wished to monitor performance in the Housing Service in future, and the Chairman noted that two of the O&S committees had decided to take the report by exception. He had originally felt that the Housing Committee might do the same, but on reflection he was inclined to suggest that the report format should continue as it was for the time being, as it provided useful context for the work of the Committee.
The Committee noted the overall good performance, and the exceptions, and agreed that they wished to continue receiving the full performance monitoring ... view the full minutes text for item 10.
The Housing Overview & Scrutiny Committee, along with the O&S Co-ordinating Board, is responsible for managing the Committee’s work programme.
The current work programme (attached) includes items agreed at the O&S Co-ordinating Board and takes account of items identified on the latest Executive Forward Programme (Annexe 2) as due to come forward for decision.
Members are invited to consider their work programme and make any comments and/or amendments they consider necessary, including suggestions for any additional topics that the Committee may wish to add to its work programme.
The Chairman reminded the Committee that as a result of their discussions a report had been requested on the compatibility of the IT systems used in Housing and whether there were any issues arising from a lack of compatibility.
Cllr Seaborne had asked for information about the budget model for void costs in order to understand the variability of cost in relation to the type of dwelling or characteristics of the departing tenant. The Chairman suggested that a discussion off-line with Hugh Wagstaff might answer any questions of Cllr Seaborne.
Adrian Waller asked for an update on the outcome of the Tenants’ Scrutiny review into cleaning of communal areas and community rooms. Hugh Wagstaff advised that the target date for the contract to start was September 2017, and it had been disappointing that this had been delayed for so long after the good work that had been undertaken by the Tenants’ Scrutiny Group.
The Chairman agreed that it was important that actions that were agreed by the Committee were monitored and progress reported back to the Committee at each meeting so that they were not lost, and any delays could be challenged.
A site visit to Ockford Ridge would be arranged for later in the month or early August, and a report back made at the next Committee.