To receive a presentation that introduces Waverley’s responsibilities and functions in relation to Private Sector Housing.
Simon Brisk, Private Sector Housing Manager, gave a presentation to the Committee which introduced the functions and responsibilities of the Private Sector Housing team.
Simon informed Members that he is a qualified Environmental Health Officer (EHO), and his team comprised one other full-time EHO and an administrator. There was a vacancy for a part-time EHO. The team also included a Care & Repair Officer who was part of the Guildford & Waverley Care and Repair, which is a shared Home Improvement Agency based at Guildford Borough Council’s offices.
The team dealt with a wide range of private owners and occupiers, including home-owners, private tenants, Housing Association tenants, landlords, and gypsies and travellers. The main area of work was in relation to housing complaints, and approximately one-third of private rented properties were sub-standard. The number of private rented properties in Waverley had doubled over the last 10 years, with a corresponding increase in complaints. Typically complaints related to health and safety issues, including damp, cold, mould, over-crowding, fire and electrical safety, and risk of trips and falls. Over-crowding was also becoming more common, caused by landlords over-letting, or tenants sub-letting.
The Council had a range of enforcement and other powers it could use in response to complaints including Improvement Notices, Prohibition Orders, Emergency Remedial Action, Demolition and Management Orders. There were also powers under the Smoke and Carbon Monoxide alarm Regulations.
The Council also had powers to address complaints of illegal evictions or harassment by landlords. These allowed the Council to prevent an eviction happening or to reinstate the tenant’s position post-eviction. The Council had powers to prosecute landlords who abused their position.
There were around 500 properties in Waverley classed as Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) of which 40 met the requirement to be licensed by the Council. The criteria for licensing were due to change (removing the requirement for licensed HMOs to be 3 or more storeys) which could increase the number of HMOs to be licensed. Licensing allowed the Council to set conditions on the maximum number of occupants, fire precautions, and other amenities.
The Council was also required to license all caravan sites with a valid planning permission. The Licence allowed control of conditions on fire precautions, health and safety, drainage, access and other amenities. The Council could prosecute for failure to obtain a site licence, or non-compliance with licence conditions. There were currently 39 licensed caravan sites in Waverley, including four large mobile home sites and sites for individual traveller families.
A little-known duty of the Council was to arrange public health funerals, in the absence of anyone else being available or able to do so. Last year, the Council had arranged seven funerals at an overall cost of £4,500. The Council had a first claim on the estate of the deceased to recover funeral costs.
A major part of the work of the Private Sector Housing team was management of various grants for home improvements. The Disabled Facilities Grant was a mandatory grant for disabled adaptations which was available to owner-occupiers, private and housing association tenants, and landlords. Applications were means-tested and there was a £30,000 limit. Around 40 grants were completed each year. Works reduced admissions to hospitals or care homes and saved on care costs at home. Safe and Warm Grants were discretionary grants provided by Waverley for works including heating, insulation, security or removal of housing hazards, and were available to disabled, elderly or low income households. A significant increase in the amount of funding from the government via the Better Car Fund had led to a review of the criteria for grant awards to enable better use of the funds. This was explained in the following agenda item on the Home Improvement Policy.
The Chairman thanked Simon Brisk for his very informative presentation, and the Committee agreed that the Private Sector Housing team should have much higher visibility in the community. In response to questions, Members noted that:
· student accommodation such as halls of residence or boarding school dormitories were exempt from HMO regulations.
· use of enforcement powers rarely resulted in Waverley taking landlords to court, and the issue of formal Notices usually resulted in the required action being taken. Whilst it was good that the powers were effective, a successful prosecution would provide the opportunity for positive publicity of the functions and powers that Waverley had in relation to private sector housing.
· the Guildford & Waverley Home Improvement Agency was currently funded by Surrey County Council (SCC) and through fee income. Funding from SCC would be reducing in 2018/19 and the shortfall would be funded from Waverley’s Better Care Fund allocation.
In conclusion, the Committee agreed that private sector housing was an important part of the housing supply for the borough, and provided options for people presenting to the Council as homeless. The Private Sector Housing team ensured that the supply of housing was fit for purpose.