The report was presented by Dulal Ahmed.
Councillor Redsell sought clarification on where the 212 HMOs were and said that Ward Councillors needed to be made aware of these in their ward as there were a number of concerns with HMOs. Referring to page 25, she pointed out that the traveller site on Gammon Field was moving 100 yards away from its current site and not ‘elsewhere in the borough’ as the report stated. Dulal Ahmed answered that the Council’s website highlighted where HMOs were. He advised that concerns with HMOs should be emailed to officers and for the Planning department to be notified. The Chair requested that the link be included in the minutes (Register of licensed HMOs | Houses in multiple occupation | Thurrock Council).
The Chair asked if the service was aware of any hidden HMOs in Thurrock. Dulal Ahmed answered that the service was investigating up to 2,500 unlicensed HMOs. There had been a delay in this due to Covid-19 but was now reinstated.
Councillor Ononaji sought clarification on what were considered discretionary charges. He also asked whether a consultation took place for these. Dulal Ahmed explained that these were services that the Council provided such as Housing Enforcement Notices as it required time to carry out and a reasonable charge for the cost incurred was allowed. He said that before a notice was served, the service consulted with the landlord and gave time for the landlord to resolve the issue. A number of considerations were taken into account and enforcement was usually served as a last resort to ensure that residents were not at risk of harm.
Councillor Pearce asked if the service benchmarked their fees against neighbouring authorities. Dulal Ahmed answered that the service compared and regularly reviewed their fees against neighbouring authorities to ensure that the service was not expensive.
The Chair questioned what the penalty charge for energy efficiency on paragraph 9 was. Dulal Ahmed explained that the law had changed so that properties with an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) that had a rating lower than E could not be let. The service had identified properties with an EPC lower than E and had notified these properties. If these properties continued to be let with an E EPC, the service would need to take enforcement action but landlords were given the opportunity to improve their EPC rating to ensure that it could be legally let.
The Chair asked why discretionary charges had increased by 10%. Dulal Ahmed explained that there had been an increase in the amount of time that staff spent in removing hazards with part 1 actions. There was an increase in complaints from tenants living in poor homes with hazards of damp and mould, structure, sanitation and pest problems. The charges had increased to meet demand and the money was ring-fenced to the Private Housing Team.
The Chair mentioned that at last year’s Fees and Charges report, Members had been informed that carbon monoxide alarms would be installed in all council homes by this year’s Fees and Charges report. She sought confirmation of this. Susan Cardozo confirmed that this had been done.
Councillor Fletcher noted the increased charge for the ‘Sheltered Housing Visitor’s Room’ in the appendix and queried why this had increased by 25%. Ewelina Sorbjan explained that this fee did not fall within the remit of the Fees and Charges report for Housing O&S and would look into this. The Committee said that they did not agree with the increase in this charge.
Councillor Redsell highlighted concerns of a doorbell entry charge on Jesmond Road and Springfield Road. She would email this information to officers to look into.
That Housing Overview and Scrutiny Committee noted the revised fees, including those no longer applicable, and that Housing Overview and
Scrutiny Committee comment on the proposals currently being considered within the remit of this committee.