Agenda and draft minutes

Cabinet Housing Panel - Monday 30th October 2023 7.30 pm

Venue: Council Chamber, Council Offices, The Campus, Welwyn Garden City, Herts, AL8 6AE

Contact: Democratic Services 

Items
No. Item

17.

SUBSTITUTIONS

To note any substitution of Panel Members in accordance with Council Procedure Rules.

Minutes:

The following substitution of Panel Members was made in accordance with Council Procedure Rules:

 

Cllr Tony Kingsbury for Cllr Roger Trigg.

 

18.

APOLOGIES

Minutes:

Apologies for absence were received from Cllr Trigg.

 

19.

MINUTES

To confirm as a correct record the Minutes of the meeting held on 31 July 2023 (previously circulated).

Minutes:

The minutes of the meeting held on 31 July 2023 were approved as a correct record.

 

20.

NOTIFICATION OF URGENT BUSINESS TO BE CONSIDERED UNDER ITEM 15

Minutes:

There was no urgent business.

 

21.

DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST

To note declarations of Members’ disclosable pecuniary interests, non-disclosable pecuniary interests and non-pecuniary interests in respect of items on this Agenda.

Minutes:

Councillor Kingsbury and Thomson declared a non-pecuniary interest in items on the agenda as appropriate by virtue of being Members of Hertfordshire County Council.

 

22.

PUBLIC QUESTION TIME AND PETITIONS

Up to thirty minutes will be made available for questions from members of the public on issues relating to the work of the Committee and to receive any petitions.

Minutes:

There were no public questions or petitions.

 

23.

HOUSING COMPLIANCE UPDATE pdf icon PDF 104 KB

Report of the Chief Executive

Minutes:

Cabinet Housing Panel (CHP) received the report of the Chief Executive which followed on from the update at the previous meeting and which set out the compliance position as at 13 October 2023. Electrical blocks were now 100% compliant and it was noted there were still a few access issues with domestic electricity and gas. Members recognised the work that had gone into reaching this position and commented on the need to encourage tenants to allow access for their own safety.

 

RESOLVED:

Members noted the content of the report.

 

24.

HOUSING REPAIR AND MAINTENANCE CONTRACTOR- HIGHLIGHT OF THE FIRST YEAR OF THE CONTRACT

To receive a presentation from Morgan Sindall Property Services

Minutes:

The Chief Executive introduced Ian Webb (Regional Director) and Helen Sheen (Head of Social Value) from Morgan Sindall, noting this was the first anniversary of them having the housing repair and maintenance contract. It had been a positive first year and Morgan Sindall had attended the monthly cross-party board since the contracts were signed; discussions there had led to the request that they attend CHP.

 

Morgan Sindall representatives went through a presentation that covered an overview of the contract, mobilisation, repairs and maintenance, damp and mould, voids, performance, challenges and social value. The presentation noted:

·       A number of staff had been TUPE-d into the organisation.

·       The contract term was 5 plus 5 years with an optional extension.

·       The main workstreams were delivering repairs, maintenance, out of hours work, voids and planned work and the contract was intended to promote collaborative working in order to provide seamless delivery to residents and learn from feedback.

·       Clear contract governance had been set out and there was a good understanding of what was expected in terms of contract delivery.

·       Co-location was important for staff, meaning teams were close to any queries. Conversations were encouraged and there had been a lot of investment into management and managing the workforce while making sure staff were aware of changes in ways of working and the delivery model.

·       A joint damp and mould strategy had been established.

·       Since the start of the contract there had been around 34,000 repairs cases and the challenge was to turn those affected into satisfied residents, with effective communication.

·       Plumbing was a key area of demand and it was important to understand what was behind this so a strategy could be developed to reduce that repair demand. Data relating to electrical works would also be analysed to inform a planned preventative maintenance approach.

·       Operatives were identifying cases of damp and mould when carrying out other repairs and these were validated on a daily basis and escalated as appropriate.

·       Vulnerability data was now being collected and work was taking place to link that with repairs.

·       There had been a crossover plan to ensure continuity with voids; around 360 void properties had been completed since the start of the contract. While a quick turnaround was desirable, work also needed to ensure properties were safe and clean.

·       For the year to date, 97.6% of repairs had been completed on time, with 99.3% of emergency repairs completed on time. There were challenges around first time fixes and Morgan Sindall was working with Council staff to understand how this could be improved. Appointments made and kept were at 98.3%. Resident satisfaction was at 86% which was likely to increase, and work was ongoing to understand why this figure was not higher.

·       It was important to understand residents’ rant and rave scores which were a useful operational tool, and to communicate effectively with residents so they were clear what was happening with a repair.        

·       Challenges over the year had included culture change and new ways of working. Large volumes  ...  view the full minutes text for item 24.

25.

DAMP AND MOULD POLICY pdf icon PDF 130 KB

Report of the Service Director (Resident and Neighbourhood)

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Panel received a presentation (attached as an appendix to these minutes) and the report of the Service Director (Resident and Neighbourhood).

 

A summary of the discussion is below:

·       A Member asked whether mould wash worked as residents had said mould had recurred and asked about the interface between using mould wash and installing proper insulation, as well as progression with zero carbon homes work. Officers explained mould wash got rid of the immediate risk as an interim measure and the Council then determined what works were required. A stock conditions survey would be starting soon which would provide more data; it was hoped to then make a bid for more funding. Morgan Sindall was helping with the latest phase of decarbonisation funding and the Climate Change officer was speaking with relevant teams.    

·       A Member noted the cross-party group received figures showing the number of damp and mould cases which were not included in the report. Officers advised so far this year there had been 926 damp and mould cases; 810 had had their first inspection, 39 were to be inspected and 77 were cancelled as damp and mould cases as they were due to other issues eg leaks. Of the 810 properties inspected, 226 had further works ongoing and 584 had been completed. There was a small KPI that provided some information about damp and mould and the Council had requested one specifically for damp and mould cases that could be tracked.

·       A question was asked about how to encourage people with damp and mould to come forward. Officers advised there would be a communications campaign; training had been carried out with staff and contractors so they could look for damp and mould when doing other works; and it would also be looked for during tenancy audits.

·       A Member reflected that the policy did not reference private sector housing. Officers noted the communications campaign would be amended so private renters were aware of how to report damp and mould.  

·       The flowchart in the report (page 23 of the agenda pack) did not reference what would happen if there were vulnerability or safeguarding issues. Officers undertook to revisit this and amend as appropriate.  

·       It was agreed a tracked changes version of the report would be produced so the changes were evident.

 

RESOLVED:

Cabinet Housing Panel:

1.     Noted the self-assessment the Council took of its approach to damp and mould against the Housing Ombudsman’s guidance and the proposed actions to further enhance the approach; and

2.     Noted and agreed the damp and mould policy which would incorporate the changes agreed at the meeting and comments from the Residents’ Panel.

 

26.

PROPOSAL TO END THE USE OF FLEXIBLE (5 YEAR FIXED TERM) TENANCIES pdf icon PDF 160 KB

Report of the Service Director (Resident and Neighbourhood)

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The panel received a presentation and the report of the Service Director (Resident and Neighbourhood). The Council had introduced flexible 5 year fixed term tenancies from April 2013; nationally it had been found that these types of tenancies had not realised the anticipated benefits to tenants/ providers and the government, as well as many councils and social housing providers, had moved away from providing this sort of tenancy. Following a report to CHP in 2022 which recommended a review of flexible 5 year fixed term tenancies, a consultation with existing and prospective tenants was undertaken and the ending of fixed term tenancies was overwhelmingly supported by the majority of respondents (94%). 

 

Members welcomed the report, noting the policy would be a positive outcome for all tenants given the financial hardship faced by many; people who were secure led more productive lives.

 

RESOLVED:

Cabinet Housing Panel:

1.     Noted the report’s findings in terms of the effectiveness of fixed term tenancies and the feedback from the public consultation which overwhelmingly supported the ending of fixed term tenancies and the transfer to secure tenancies, and

2.     Recommended to Cabinet that fixed term tenancies should end with immediate effect and that all new tenancies were granted as secure Council tenancies.

 

27.

ANTISOCIAL BEHAVIOUR POLICY pdf icon PDF 129 KB

Report of the Service Director (Resident and Neighbourhood)

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The panel received a presentation and the report of the Service Director (Resident and Neighbourhood). The updated draft policy provided guidance on how the Council would tackle antisocial behaviour (ASB) through a framework of prevention, early intervention, support and enforcement. The changes that had been made included referencing the Respect standard and noting that accidental damage as well as actions that were not persistent might not be considered ASB. A new paragraph had been introduced whereby ASB complaints deemed to be vexatious or dishonest might not be investigated and the Vexatious and Persistent Behaviour policy might be invoked. Additionally, as well as using the community trigger process to review ASB cases, the ASB review process could also be used. 

 

Members commended the report. The following points were made in the discussion:

·       It would be a delicate move to manage potentially vexatious claims. Officers responded that it was rare for them to have to use the Vexatious and Persistent Behaviour policy; the intention was not to deter people from reporting ASB but to avoid people causing distress to others over something that had not taken place.

·       A question was asked about who it was best to approach when ASB was linked to drug use, for example. Officers said it was best to approach the ASB team who would work in collaboration with other teams and partners as appropriate.

·       A Member sought clarification about what was considered ASB with response times to investigate. Officers advised they would respond within 24 hours when cases were urgent eg hate crimes/domestic violence which would include involving other agencies, whereas less urgent cases would be responded to within 5 days. 

·       A Member asked how the policy would be shared with residents. Officers explained it would be on the website and that staff would reference it as appropriate when they had contact with victims, potential perpetrators and people reporting ASB, as well as during communications campaigns.

 

RESOLVED:

Cabinet Housing Panel:

1.     Recommended to Cabinet the adoption of the updated ASB policy set out in Appendix A of the report; and

2.     Recommended to Cabinet the adoption of the updated ASB strategy 2023/25 set out in Appendix B of the report.

 

28.

INTRODUCTION OF A PET POLICY pdf icon PDF 114 KB

Report of the Service Director (Resident and Neighbourhood)

 

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The panel received a presentation and the report of the Service Director (Resident and Neighbourhood). It was a requirement of the Council’s current and proposed new tenancy agreements that tenants must seek permission before keeping pets in their home. It was intended to introduce a pet policy for Council housing in order to formalise arrangements, give clearer guidance to residents and provide clarity over their responsibilities and circumstances where they might be required to rehome their pet or have enforcement action taken against them. 

 

The following points were made during the discussion:

·       Members noted the importance of supporting responsible pet ownership.

·       A Member asked how the policy would impact on housing when people wanted to install a cat flap. Officers advised it was important that fire doors were not compromised. A cat flap would be considered a tenant alteration which would need permission; each case would be decided on its own merit.

·       A Member commented on the expectation that residents who had a pet and had not sought permission should apply for it retrospectively and asked about the resources required for this as well as enforcement powers. Officers explained enforcement would be dealt with under the tenancy agreement; officers had obtained injunctions where necessary as a last resort and support was provided to tenants who needed to rehome pets. The Council already had details of pet ownership but a triage system would be implemented should there be an influx of applications.  Asked about people breeding pets, officers advised that a licence was needed for dog breeding which would involve liaising with the Licensing team; there was not specific legislation that applied to cat breeding. Tenancy agreements stated that no animals should be bred in Council properties.

·       A Member asked if appropriate resources were in place and officers confirmed arrangements were being formalised within existing resources. 

 

RESOLVED:

Cabinet Housing Panel:

1.     Considered and noted the policy; and

2.     Recommended approval of the pet policy to Cabinet.

 

29.

CHP HOUSING PERFORMANCE REPORT Q2- 2023-24 pdf icon PDF 176 KB

Report of the Executive Director (Place)

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The panel received the report of the Executive Director (Place) which provided a summary of the key performance indicators (KPIs) and commentary on performance across the Council’s housing services. The KPIs were monitored quarterly by the Senior Management Team and Cabinet at the Council’s performance clinic meetings.

 

·       Members asked for an update in respect of targets that had not been met. Officers advised domestic electrical testing and gas servicing had been discussed under the Housing Compliance report.  CHP had received a report about the action plan for addressing voids in June 2023 which had taken longer than they would have liked but the key-to-key process (from a tenant handing in their key to when a new tenancy was taken up) was being improved and internal changes were being made to reduce void times. CHP would be advised when these measures had been more fully implemented with a progress report on voids performance.

·       A Member was unclear about the way some data was presented within the report and felt it would be helpful to include actual figures; it was agreed this would be done in future so the number of cases was clear.

·       A Member noted the KPI for Housing Options applicants to receive an assessment within 14 days of being assessed to an officer (BPI 126) was below target and asked how this would be addressed, as well as the KPI for the percentage of Housing Needs Register applications being assessed within 35 days. Officers advised the demand for the service where both KPIs were concerned had substantially increased and the Chief Executive undertook to provide a written response after the meeting. Another Member commented that in respect of BPI 126, the average time taken to assess cases was 12.4 days which suggested the KPI was particularly short of the target.

·       A Member asked whether there was a KPI specific to ASB. Officers explained the ASB team had KPIs in terms of how many cases they had per month; details about that, how long cases were open for etc could be shared with Members as part of the narrative. It was agreed this would be provided to a future meeting.      

 

RESOLVED:

Cabinet Housing Panel noted the contents of the report.

 

30.

CHP WORK PROGRAMME 2023-24 pdf icon PDF 86 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Members agreed the work programme.