This report introduces a revised Private Sector Home Improvement Policy for Waverley that will allow the Council to extend the range of assistance available to vulnerable residents to help them remain living safely and independently in their own homes.
That the Housing Overview and Scrutiny Committee recommends adoption of the Home Improvement Policy to the Executive.
Simon Brisk, the Private Sector Housing Manager, introduced the report which set out the proposed changes to the Home Improvement Policy. The current policy had been approved in 2013. Until recently, Waverley had received around £250,000 of government funding a year for Aids & Adaptations, and typically had spent around £400,000 a year. In 2015, government funding for this work was replaced by the Better Care Fund, and the funding allocation to Waverley and other Surrey boroughs and districts was significantly increased: in 2017/18 Waverley had received £640,000. The increased level of funding was expected to continue at least until 2020.
In 2016/17, Surrey County Council (SCC) and the Surrey boroughs and districts jointly commissioned an independent review of how to make best use of the increase in the Better Care Fund award in relation to home adaptations. The recommendations included dispensing with means testing for simple adaptations, providing “Relocation Grants” to help people move to somewhere more suitable and providing “Prevention Grants” for minor works to reduce care packages, hospital/care home admissions and bed-blocking.
Some of the recommendations had already been implemented at Waverley, but revisions to the Home Improvement Policy were needed to implement the full range of recommendations. Processes had been revised to speed up grant approvals, including extra funding to pay for private Occupational Therapist (OT) assessments rather than waiting for SCC OT assessments. Removing means testing for minor adaptations and enabling works to be carried out as quickly as possible would have a big impact on people’s quality of life.
Cllr Frost was particularly pleased to hear that private OT assessments were being obtained to reduce the time it took for residents to get suitable adaptations to their homes. Cllr Gordon-Smith asked if the Relocation Grant could assist people who were downsizing, without any specific need for disabled adaptations. This would potentially release family homes in the general housing market. In response, officers advised that whilst the EasyMove scheme had helped Waverley tenants downsize, particularly where they were over-occupying, it was not a good use of resources to try to provide and subsidise a similar facility for general market housing.
Cllr Seaborne welcomed the general approach set out in the policy, and the revisions that would make it easier to help residents needing home adaptations. He was disappointed that there had not been an opportunity for Members to have more meaningful input to the review of the Home Improvement Policy. He felt that the Policy Statement needed to emphasise the enabling role of the Council, rather than the mechanism of awarding grants; he also suggested the version number of the Policy be included on the front page, and that the procedure for reporting back to Members should be documented within the Policy.
Cllr Frost suggested that Cllr Seaborne follow-up with Officers off-line on any detailed points that he had, but reminded Officers generally that Members wished to have the opportunity to contribute to the review of policies before they were finalised.
The Housing O&S Committee supported the proposals to relax some of the constraints on allocation of grant funding in order to widen the type of assistance available and increase the number of vulnerable residents eligible to apply for help to remain living safely and independently in their own homes.
The Committee noted that it was proposed to extend eligible works under the Safe & Warm Grant to include re-wiring, asbestos removal, and removal of hoarding. The Committee suggested that works might also be included to address flooding, damp and mould, as these could have serious impacts on health.
The Committee agreed to recommended that the Executive adopts the revised Home Improvement Policy, subject to eligible works under the Safe & Warm Grant also including works to address flooding, damp and mould.