Presented by Carol Hinvest, she gave an outline of the report on pages 15 – 22 of the Agenda which highlighted a strong year of performance within the Housing service and that overall, levels of satisfaction with the service had increased in 2019-2020 compared to what the data showed from 7 years ago.
The questions and comments provided by Lynn Mansfield were read out by Democratic Services:
· Why were voids increasing, these needed to be looked at as these were far too high. Lynn was aware there was a standard but these should be all the same.
· The full consultation that was undertaken was good.
· Lynn noted that there was no mention of Local Area Co-ordinators (LACs) who should be mentioned as the work they undertook was just as good as what Inclusion Officers did, so well done to LACs as well.
Carol Hinvest explained that the voids were not increasing and that the number of days to turn around standard and capital voids. Regarding LACs, these were unrelated to housing performance and had focused on the Financial Inclusion Officers who had been able to collect 98.5% of rents despite the challenges in the current climate of welfare reforms that resulted in an increasing number of residents on Universal Credit. Support from the LACs were appreciated when they were involved but not all residents required a LAC in financial difficulties.
Referring to paragraph 3.4 on page 19 of the Agenda, Councillor Abbas sought clarification on the increase of 47% in tenants claiming Universal Credit. Carol Hinvest explained that the increase was due to a tenant’s change in circumstances such as a change in jobs or moving homes so resulted in a move from their old benefits and onto Universal Credit. She went on to say that the government’s reform was to move working age adults from benefits and onto Universal Credit. She explained that the service’s officers had visited these affected 47% tenants (which amounted to 1390) and had secured discretionary housing payments for 55% of those tenants who had submitted an individual application for this. This had been the result of it being a 53 week rent year which occurred every 6 – 7 years but many social landlords along with other lobbying organisations, had been asking the government to change the rules regarding Universal Credit as it currently took into account 52 weeks being in a rent year.
Referring to the lists of measures shown on pages 16 – 18 of the Agenda, the Chair questioned if these were the full lists of performance indicators for the service and whether a more detailed breakdown of the indicators (such as separating housing statistics into sheltered housing, low rise flats etc) could be given to the Committee if requested. Carol Hinvest explained that the lists showed the corporate performance indicators that were reported to the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee. Within the service, there were other indicators used to measure the service’s performance but these were reported together and not broken down into flats and houses or into sheltered and general housing needs. The Chair thought an alternative approach could be undertaken through looking at a breakdown of services such as caretaking services in flats as houses did not receive this same service.
Referring to KP107 on page 16 of the Agenda, the Chair asked whether these families were still residing in a Bed and Breakfast and if they were in Borough placements. Carol Hinvest answered that none of those families were still in a Bed and Breakfast but would find out if they were in Borough placements.
The Chair asked how many complaints there had the service received in the year (2019/2020) and how many of those were upheld. Chris Seman answered that 547 complaints had been received in the last year and 37% of those had been upheld. The Chair went on to question whether there was a trend identified in the complaints. Chris Seman explained that there was no trend but that some areas of the service received more complaints than others due to the nature of the service such as repairs which had more transactions than other services.
The Chair noted that 31,000 repairs were undertaken last year but only 2,679 tenants were surveyed and sought clarification on why this had been the case. Chris Seman explained the aim was to undertake a survey using a sample of 10% of those tenants who had repairs done. The 2,679 tenants surveyed was just under the 10% as not all tenants in that sample had responded to the survey that the service’s market research organisation had carried out. The Chair queried whether this was a market marker and if other councils undertook the same approach. Officers answered that the 10% sample was a reasonable representative sample and that the volumes varied between social landlords as it was dependent on the number of social properties that a social landlord had and in some cases, there were multiple repairs undertaken. When undertaking market research, the aim was to not survey the same tenants in a 6 month period as it led to ‘tenant fatigue’ with constant surveys and explained why sometimes tenants did not respond to surveys which resulted in a dip in the representative sample.
Giving compliments to the good report, the Chair went on to ask for a figure on the number of tenants on Universal Credit currently. Officers responded that the figure was higher than last year as it had increased sharply in April 2020 but the numbers had now returned to normal. It was explained that the 47% figure in the report indicated an increase and not 47% number of tenants on Universal Credit. It was estimated that around 2,500 tenants were on Universal Credit, 1,500 tenants on benefits, some housing benefits were paid directly to the council and other tenants paid their own rents.
Regarding discretionary housing payments, the Chair asked which budgets these were paid out of. Officers explained that the service received a grant from central government for discretionary housing payments which had steadily decreased over the last few years. The grant was used to cover a range of payments including tenants who had a loss in income as well as addressing a number of welfare reforms but had more recently been used to cover gaps such as the 52/53 weeks in a year issue as mentioned earlier. The discretionary housing payments were used to cover a short term period where a tenant experienced financial difficulty or fell foul of issues such as the 52/53 week problem but it was not to be used as a permanent rent subsidy. The grant was almost spent in one year but every year, the service would look at the criteria. The Chair and Officers discussed that the grant was used for young people in Houses of Multiple Occupancies (HMOs) in which it was to be used as a temporary subsidy to enable young people to have more time in finding the affordable housing they needed.
The Chair questioned whether bailiffs had been needed for housing rent issues during the COVD-19 pandemic and what measures had been in place to help tenants who had fallen behind on rent payments. Carol Hinvest explained that bailiffs had not been used and that since the lockdown restrictions had been put in place, no tenants had been evicted as no evictions had been going through the courts. Currently, the service was also not serving notices seeking possession and if there had been any, no cases would be going to court until October. The service had been working with tenants in financial difficulties and using a system called Rent Sense to prioritise cases to deal with and have been trialling a text messaging service from the same provider. Following the success of the text messaging the service would be entering into a contract for this system.
That the Committee noted and commented on the report.