The report outlined the reasons why local authorities were required to have an up-to-date Housing Allocations Policy. Further detail within the report would set out the context surrounding several areas of existing policy where engagement feedback indicated needed updating. The report recommended changes that the council should make to the Housing Allocations Policy which would ensure that the document adapts, remained fit for purpose, meet the needs of residents seeking to access the Housing Register and supported the delivery of the aims, objectives and principles of the housing service and wider organisation. Members were referred to the appendix which was a draft working document.
Councillor Mayes thanked officers for the report. Councillor Mayes agreed to reducing the age criteria for sheltered houses but stated he felt this should not go any lower than 55. He was also mindful that some residents needed more help than others and residents should not be charged for items they do not need or use. Ryan Farmer commented that the concept of sheltering housing was less about the age of those that lived in them and more around those that needed housing related support.
Councillor Redsell referred to “Band 5 – No Housing Needs” and questioned why these were still required as there was no need for them. Ryan Farmer stated when the policy had been last updated, no applicants would be accepted into Band 5 except for those who had been within the age criteria for sheltered housing at that point in time. A strategic decision had been made that if residents wanted to move to sheltered housing and benefit from the support even if there was no housing need, they would continue to be supported. The renaming of this band could be considered to prevent any confusion. Councillor Redsell referred to the “Stay Put Policy” and stated residents needed to know more about this policy to which Ryan Farmer stated the high-rise blocks were built with compartmentalisation in mind and designed to be that way to keep people safe and also those tackling the fires. He stated this was the advice given and shared with residents and there remained a need to inform residents. Officers shared handy leaflets and lots of guidance to residents and also took time to talk to residents about what they would need to do in the case of fire.
Councillor Liddiard referred to page 103, paragraph 1.1.1 and questioned whether this was true that the sheltered housing officer makes courtesy calls to every tenant each morning. Stated that warden duties were different dependent on who the warden was and more needed to be done. Councillor Liddiard referred to page 105, paragraph 6.1.1 and asked for clarification that those applicants with rent arrears on a current tenancy or council tenancy within the last six years would not get onto any band. Ryan Farmer stated sometimes the best thing to do for those people was to help them to move, sometimes into a smaller property where they would pay less and have access to benefits, they would be entitled to. There were some rules in the policy where discretion could be used to do the right thing. Councillor Liddiard referred to the housing strategy and the model of sheltered housing and how this could look very different in the future. There was an aspiration in the strategy to look at this provision, what it meant, what was required, and this was currently a piece of work that was being explored and were committed to.
Councillor Liddiard questioned whether some sheltered housing scooter recharging facilities could be made available to which Ryan Farmer stated he had been managed to look at this type of facility to ensure there was a good consistent approach as this could be a lifeline for some people.
Councillor Hebb referred to page 104, paragraph 5 of the report and questioned what the figure were of people in terms of High-Rise Allocations and Band 4 Cumulative Need. Ryan Farmer referred to Band 4 stated this was very difficult to tell as circumstances changed all the time, the information recorded at that point in time was only accurate at that point in time. The work had been ongoing with the tenancy management office visiting every property of high-rise residents to ask questions about what people would need to evacuate their property. Councillor Hebb requested whether this information could be supplied to members through a briefing note.
Councillor Hebb referred to page 106, paragraph 7 of the report, Identify and Eligibility Verification, and questioned what safeguards were in place for someone professionally verifying someone’s details. Ryan Farmer stated this would come down to truth, professional accountability and responsibility and anyone found in breach of that accountability the appropriate action would be taken.
Councillor Hebb referred to narrative on extra care on page 108, paragraph 11 of the report and questioned whether this would be a change of policy or change in infrastructure and questioned how long this had been a concern. Ryan Farmer stated this had been a challenge for some time. This had been addressed the last time the work had been undertaken and the time before that. That consideration for need would be made at that point and were learning with every development with schemes built by the council, who would be responsible for the reactive and responsive needs of residents.
Councillor Hebb referred to foster carers and questioned how a foster carer’s status was being continually reviewed to validate that exemption, to which Ryan Farmer stated detailed reporting was being undertaken and could be produced to identify anyone with a priority. With this group being a small cohort of people, it would be quite easy to track.
Councillor Worrall referred to the number of applicants on the housing list and stated she thought there were a lot of people out there that needed housing following the clear out of Band 5. It was important to recognise succession in resident’s situations and how unfair this approach was. There was also a need to build the right houses for the right people that were coming forward. Ryan Farmer stated succession was a very difficult situation but was proud of the direction it was taking with the person-centred approach. Where there was opportunity to do the right thing for residents, discretion could be used by colleagues looking to do the right thing for them. The needs would be reviewed when new developments were proposed.
Councillor Worrall congratulated Ryan Farmer for the good piece of work.
Councillor Liddiard referred to foster carers who take in children, who would be moved to a new house and then six months down the road the child moved on, they don’t take any more children and stated that could not be right and was there anything that could prevent this from happening. Ryan Farmer stated this was a difficult situation, when someone had been awarded a tendency unless that tenancy came with particular grounds to end, there was currently nothing that could be done in that situation.
Councillor Mayes stated that if a house was provided to someone for a specific reason such as foster care, why the tenancy would not be time limited and whether this would be something that could be put in place. Ryan Farmer stated that tenancies offered were not time limited and work had been explored around flexible tenancies and fixed term tenancies which had been halted by cabinet. Ewelina Sorbjan stated that nationally there had been a move away from debating the sort of fixed term tenancies which had been the direction of travel that the council was getting from government.
Councillor Redsell questioned whether “downsize policy” had completely gone or because there were still people living in homes that were too big for them. Councillor Redsell also asked for the current status of that policy to which Ryan Farmer stated the policy had not stopped, there was an officer within the team dedicated to downsizing which had been very proactive. There were some households who may be interested in downsizing, and they were being reached out to. A good package of support, financial support and logistical support would also be provided.
Councillor Mayes stated he understood the broader strategic view and the sense of not necessarily wanting to add time limits onto tenancies but those two, three or four-bedroom houses with only one person living there would be far more beneficial to a family. Councillor Mayes questioned whether any data was available on how many of those two, three and four bedroom homes only had one person in them.
Councillor Mayes thanked Ryan Farmer for the report and thanked members for their comments.
Housing Overview and Scrutiny Committee noted and commented on the recommended changes to the Housing Allocations Policy as set out in sections 3.2, 4.2, 5.2, 6.2, 7.2, 8.2, 9.2, 10.2, 11.2, 12.2 and 13.2.