Agenda and draft minutes

Housing Overview and Scrutiny Committee
Tuesday, 5th February, 2019 7.00 pm

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

Contact: Tisha Sutcliffe, Democratic Services Officer  Email: Direct.Democracy@thurrock.gov.uk

Items
No. Item

26.

Election of Chair for the Meeting

Minutes:

As Councillors Rice and Spillman had sent their apologies, it was agreed that a stand-in chair would be elected for the duration of the meeting. Councillor Redsell was nominated by Councillor Pothecary, and Councillor Liddiard seconded this nomination. Therefore, Councillor Redsell was elected Chair for the duration of the meeting.

 

27.

Minutes pdf icon PDF 86 KB

To approve as a correct record the minutes of the Housing Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting held on 18 December 2018.

 

Minutes:

As Councillors Rice and Spillman had sent their apologies, the minutes from the meeting held on 18 December 2018 could not be agreed.

28.

Urgent Items

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.

Minutes:

There were no items of urgent business.

29.

Declaration of Interests

Minutes:

There were no interests declared.

30.

Garages Review - Phase 1 progress report pdf icon PDF 68 KB

Minutes:

The Corporate Director Adults Housing and Health introduced the report and stated that this was a progress report on a piece of work that had come before the committee twelve months ago. He outlined the progress that had been made, as detailed at point 2.3 of the report, and used the examples of finding £200,000 in the HRA budget for urgent repairs; undertaking an initial condition survey; liaising with the Community Payback Team; reviewing tenancy agreements; and filing up-to-date records and registers. He stated that due to the poor condition of some garages, some may have to be demolished and pulled down, but that the garages project team was meeting later on in the week to discuss these types of issues. He discussed the fact that a small amount of funding had been found in the HRA budget, and once this had been agreed by Cabinet, urgent remedial works could begin. He summarised by stating his team’s commitment to improving the condition of garages in the borough.

Councillor Redsell opened the debate by commenting that many of the borough’s garages were reaching the end of their life, and it was important to find out who owned them. The Corporate Director replied that records had not been in a good enough state, and described how Thurrock were going to undertake a full record and audit to be able to identify the owners of garages. The Assistant Director Housing added that she would be leading the garages project team to ensure targets were met and it remained focussed on issues.

Councillor Pothecary stated that she was pleased to see that progress had been made, and added that when garages fell into disrepair it often led to an increase in anti-social behaviour, which caused concern for all councillors. She asked if the urgent, remedial work on the garages would always rely on a subsidy from the HRA, or if in future the maintenance of garages could be self-sustaining. The Corporate Director clarified that work on garages was a part of the HRA, which contained a small repair budget. He added that extra money had been found from within the HRA to fund the repair of garages, but this could not come from the capital receipts budget. He also commented that although the council received income from garages, there was a high void level and demand across the borough varied significantly.

The Housing Tenant Representative continued the debate and mentioned the fact that some garages were unsuitable for large cars. She then asked if applications for garages were renewed every year. The Assistant Director Housing responded that it was understood that people rarely used their garages for cars anymore, and used them as extra storage space instead. She commented that the council were going to review tenancy agreements with the legal team, as the change of use could affect issues such as insurance. She clarified that when a resident applied for a garage, they remain on the waiting list.

Councillor Redsell added that she  ...  view the full minutes text for item 30.

31.

Homelessness Prevention Strategy Review pdf icon PDF 72 KB

Minutes:

The Housing Strategy & Quality Manager introduced the report and stated this was a review of the approach to homelessness in the borough. He elaborated that this was a statutory duty that the council had to undertake every five years, and the current strategy was coming to the end of its life. He stated that this was compounded by new government legislation which would affect the borough. He discussed how the strategy was divided into two sections, the first being a strategic analysis in the context of Thurrock, and the second being the consultation phase with key partners and stakeholders, such as Youth Cabinet, and Members. He stated that the first stage analysis would begin in February 2019 and run until April 2019, with the second consultation phase running from May 2019 until August 2019.

Councillor Redsell began the debate by stating she felt homelessness was a problem across Essex, such as in Southend, Basildon and Brentwood. She asked which stakeholders would be consulted with at the consultation phase. The Corporate Director replied that although homelessness was a problem, the number of street homeless had been declining in Thurrock, and there were currently only 140-150 people living in temporary accommodation across the borough. He added that people staying in bed and breakfasts were only there for a short time, and compared this to other boroughs, which had significant numbers of people in bed and breakfasts and temporary accommodation. He then commented that people placed out of borough had also been decreasing. He felt that there was more work to be done to tackle the issue, but that the council had a robust policy and could implement it well. He finally stated that the team would be consulting with key stakeholders, and people who work with the homeless on a day to day basis.

Councillor Liddiard felt that there had been a change in the past four to five years in the reasons for homelessness, as it used to be primarily divorce, loss of employment or health issues; but felt now homelessness was often due to tenants being evicted by landlords and given a Section 21 notice. He mentioned that he had also heard that London borough councils were offering landlords significant reward to take their tenants, and wanted the council to find out from London boroughs why this was happening and how many people from outside Thurrock were being housed. He then gave the personal example in his Tilbury ward of a block of flats which was being used to house Newham residents. The Assistant Director Housing replied that as the cost of renting was increasing and benefits were decreasing, more landlords were giving out Section 21 notices. She stated that the council were working with landlords and tenants to solve problems, and added that there was a dedicated financial inclusion officer in the housing team who specifically helped those residents. She clarified that some London boroughs did offer rewards to landlords to house their tenants, but this was happening in  ...  view the full minutes text for item 31.

32.

Housing Allocations Policy Review 2018 - Financial Qualification pdf icon PDF 85 KB

Minutes:

The Corporate Director introduced the report and stated that this had gone to Cabinet following discussion at Housing Overview & Scrutiny Committee, with some amendments based on the committee’s comments, such as the introduction of a Sheltered Housing Register. He commented that this was being sent back to the Housing Overview & Scrutiny Committee to consider the financial qualifications. The Housing Strategy & Quality Manager elaborated that the financial qualification used an affordability ratio, which was the national guideline of housing costing 1/3rd of a person’s net income. He continued that the council then looked at property size to determine affordability and used the 30th percentile as the affordable benchmark to rent and buy. He commented that the calculation worked out a person’s net salary affordability for both renting and buying, and then used the more expensive of the two figures to set the threshold. He drew the Committee’s attention to page 27 of the agenda, and the table at 3.7 which set out the five thresholds and rationale behind them. He stated that the majority of thresholds used renting as it was the highest value, other than three and four bedroom properties, where it was more expensive to purchase. He summarised by stating that the council then used local earning salaries which were below the thresholds to work out how much money residents bought home, and how much they would need to earn to qualify for council housing.

Councillor Redsell asked if there were people what didn’t qualify for council housing as they earnt too much, but were earning too less to afford to rent and buy. The Assistant Director Housing replied that Cabinet had believed this because section 5 of the report had originally used net incomes rather than gross incomes, which made the figures look lower. The Corporate Director clarified that Cabinet had asked the Committee to consider whether they felt the threshold should be higher, and stated that the more detailed analysis had shown there were very few people who could not afford to rent or buy, but earnt too much for social housing.

Councillor Pothecary stated that she felt concerned as the threshold had been set using the 30h percentile, and asked whether the 50th percentile would have been more representative. The Housing Strategy & Quality Manager confirmed that the threshold used the more expensive figure of either buying or renting depending on property size, which ensured the figure was representative. Councillor Liddiard then drew the Committee’s attention to the problem of residents over 55 who could afford mortgages, but the banks would not allow them. Councillor Pothecary asked when the threshold would be reviewed as it was a good idea to do this every year, and the Corporate Director replied it would be every year, although the review may not be as detailed as the report in the agenda. Councillor Redsell summarised by stating this was a comprehensive report and felt it would be good to see the review next year.

RESOLVED: That:

1. The  ...  view the full minutes text for item 32.

33.

Fire Safety update including a Review of Fire Suppressant (Sprinkler) System pdf icon PDF 95 KB

Minutes:

The Technical Services Delivery Manager introduced the report and stated it focussed on the whole portfolio, rather than just tower blocks. He gave some context to the report and stated it had come before committee due to the tragedy of Grenfell Tower and the government review on fire safety, which the MHCLG were currently working on, and although recommendations had not yet been published, the council were being proactive. He commented that in March 2019 a fire risk assessment from the chartered institute would be carried out, although the council were already upgrading fire doors. He stated that to install a suppression system in all tower blocks across the borough would cost £3.3million, and although Essex Fire and Rescue would give the council £10,000 per block, it would not be enough money to install them. He summarised and discussed how during a fire in a block of flats in Chadwell St Mary, the compartmentalisation system had worked, so no one was injured and only a small number of properties were damaged.

Councillor Redsell opened the debate and stated that the Chadwell St Mary tower block fire had shown that the systems in place were working as the fire had remained in one flat. She asked if the Essex Fire and Rescue policy of staying inside your homes if there was a fire was also followed by Thurrock Council. The Technical Services Delivery Manager replied that the ‘stay put’ policy was supported by Thurrock Council and was in place in all tower blocks. He stated this was the most effective way of keeping a fire from spreading as residents did not impede firefighter’s in stairwells and kept the fire from spreading as doors remained closed.

Councillor Liddiard questioned if the council was replacing front doors on flats, or communal doors, and it was confirmed that front doors on flats were being replaced, although it was felt some communal doors might also require upgrading. Councillor Pothecary then stated she felt there were problems in tower blocks of communal fire doors being left open, and asked if the council could communicate with residents the importance of keeping them shut for their safety. The Technical Services Delivery Manager replied he would look into this, and stated that as communal doors were used most, they were the doors which needed replacing more often. He stated that officers undertook monthly walk-throughs in flats to identify issues, and CCTV was in place to identify residents who were abusing fire doors, and tackle the source of the problem. The Assistant Director Housing added that she chaired the monthly fire safety meeting, during which officers shared pictures of problems in communal flat blocks so issues could be solved.

Councillor Pothecary expressed her concern with residents smoking in lifts, as this was anti-social behaviour as well as being a safety concern. She stated she felt glad there was CCTV and asked if this could be checked regularly, to which the Technical Services Delivery Manager replied affirmatively. Councillor Redsell agreed with  ...  view the full minutes text for item 33.

34.

Work Programme pdf icon PDF 47 KB

Minutes:

Members stated that this was the last meeting of the municipal year, so there was nothing to add to the Work Programme.