Presented by Carol Hinvest, the report set out the actions that had been taken by the Housing service due to the challenges which had been faced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The questions and comments provided by Lynn Mansfield were read out by Democratic Services:
Carol Hinvest explained that the Housing service did not organise the food packages as it was managed by another team. Those who had been identified as vulnerable had been offered contact and the service had called them. Those in sheltered housing had been contacted by their Sheltered Housing Officer at least twice a week with most tenants being contacted on a daily basis. For those who had not requested a call would have still had a phone call at least to check on them. The service had received the list of those who were shielded.
Councillor Redsell said that she had received some good feedback from residents. However agreed that Lynn Mansfield had a good point on an aftercare package as some residents who were shielded were elderly and were likely to be feeling lonely. She went on to say that some residents did not have the technology and it was important that residents received a phone call to ensure they were checked on. Officers gave assurance that contact with shielded residents would not stop. The service’s shielding list had started off with 3,000 and was now over 10,000 and these were classified as critical risk which had been cross referenced with the Social Care Team. The food package support from government should continue until the end of July and after this ended, it would be for the Council to continue the support. When a person was identified as vulnerable, volunteers aimed to make contact within two hours.
Councillor Redsell mentioned that Councillor Piccolo had sent letters and medals out to thank those who had been helping in the COVID-19 pandemic. Councillor Abbas echoed this thanks and also thanked the service for all the hard work they had done in these times. He was pleased to see the service had delivered on their promise regarding rough sleepers and in preventing homelessness. He went on to raise concerns where a few private landlords had been evicting tenants and questioned what process the service had in place to prevent this. Carol Hinvest said that the government’s prohibition on eviction for those who had tenancy agreements were clear and those without one but lived with someone or their landlord may be on a licence agreement which did not offer the same protection. The latter may present themselves to the service as homeless although there had been few representations made recently. If the service was aware of an eviction threat, the service could intervene. She asked Councillor Abbas to send any details over that he had and would ask the Private Housing Officers to investigate. The Council did not intend for people to return to the streets. Currently the service had 33 households that had been identified through the government approach to homelessness. 10 people in these households were over 35 so a bulk of these would be placed in shared housing unless they were earning their own income. Two of these people had no recourse to public funds so they would need to be able to support themselves or regulate their immigration status. The remainder of the people in those households would be allocated housing according to their needs and those with higher needs would be provided support.
Councillor Piccolo said that he was happy in sending the thank you letters out as mentioned earlier. He went on to say that he had received some feedback from those letters where volunteers said they had not been able to help as much as they could as the help was not needed. He suggested that the TCCA volunteers could be used to help with phone calls to shielded residents. Roger Harris said that the ‘Stronger Together’ group had been looking at how volunteers could be utilised in these times and would let the team know of Councillor Piccolo’s suggestion.
The Chair echoed the praises to the service and congratulated the service on their hard work particularly where there had been issues in sheltered accommodation that had been resolved quickly. She went on to ask if the service was working with private landlords on rent issues. Carol Hinvest explained that the service had a dedicated team that worked with landlords to find suitable homes and the team was currently working on a press release to encourage private landlords to work with the service as it was one of the ways to provide housing to those who needed it. The Chair went on to question if the rent issues through private housing had affected the service’s budget. Carol Hinvest reminded the Committee of the increase in Universal Credit had resulted in some arrears but the collection rate was 86% which was still considered good. The service had been communicating with tenants and had Financial Inclusion Officers as well as the St Mungos organisation to advise tenants where needed. The last 10 weeks of the current financial year had seen the debit amount of £10,766,00 and collection rate of 95.93% which was good as there had been no arrears letters sent out and no court actions either. The service had been monitoring circumstances of tenants and had been encouraging a move away from the use of payment methods that required physical contact or going out e.g. paypoint. Instead methods such as direct debits and standing orders were being encouraged.
Housing Overview and Scrutiny Committee noted and commented on the contents of this report which sets out the response of the Housing service in relation to the challenges faced during the COVID-19 pandemic.