The Panel received a presentation from Officers on a number of areas relating to how the Council maintains its housing asset.
How the Council manages voids (empty properties)
The following points were raised and noted:
- Void properties were categorised under different groups (V5, V10 and V15) by council surveyors and Mears (the Council’s contractors) following a joint pre work inspection of the vacant property. The categorisation reflected the amount of work required before the property could be provided to a new tenant, with the number referring to the target number of working days to complete the work. A VE category was reserved for properties which had suffered from extensive structural damage, such as those which have been hit be a car
- During this pre work inspection the work that would be required is agreed by the parties
- The pre work inspection process has been in place for over a year
- Tenants would not be involved at the pre work inspection phase
- Damp issues would be expected to be identified during the void period, but there are occasions things have come to light only after the tenant has moved into the property. Officers confirmed that they would not allow a tenant to move into a property that was known to have a damp issue
- Ideally small “snags identified in a post work inspection would not hold up a property being let. However if there have been a multiple of issues, of if there are major issues, then the property is not let until the necessary works have taken place
- Maintenance issues which are not health and safety issues, are logged and would not delay a property being let. For example if a front door required to be replaced, as long as the property remained safe and secure, the team would seek to let the property whilst the replacement door was being sourced (which could take several weeks)
- Gas connections are capped when the property is vacant to protect the safety of the operatives whilst they work at the property and can only be uncapped once the tenant had begun to occupy the property and there has been a gas safety check carried out. This means heating systems are not tested, although the age and state of the boiler is noted
- That Members would benefit from seeing the forms used during the pre and post inspection visits, and the Void Standards
- Passive ventilation is installed on chimney breast to comply with building standards in order to avoid damp issues, but they can be closed if required and should not have a noticeable impact on heating and room temperatures
- There is a recharge process for reclaiming the cost of tackling issues that have been caused by previous tenants, but the circumstances under which void properties are returned to the council has varied considerably and this is not always possible. Homes are vacated in different circumstances, and this can include evictions and abandonment.
- A simplified “Key to Key” process map was noted by Members. This refers to the time between the property being handed back to the council and property being reallocated and let to another tenant. The process map demonstrated the different process that are considered during the void phase
- In parallel to the repair and maintenance work, an allocation process would be undertaken to identify appropriate tenants
- Once the property is ready, prospective tenants are invited to view the property and confirm it meets their needs, with tenants invited in order of their priority on the housing needs register
- Multiple teams are involved in managing a void, including neighbourhood teams, property service offices and contractors, and the allocation team
- Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) can be divided into Strategic/Corporate KPIs , Operational KPIs and Contractual – Property Services KPIs, which are reported up through the corporate performance clinics
- The ability to meet KPIs has been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown restrictions, both in terms of undertaking the necessary work, but also in allowing properties to be viewed by prospective tenants. However Members noted that only one KPI target had not been met in Quarter 3
Planned maintenance and investment
The following points were raised and noted:
- Officers currently used the Lifespan software to manage the asset database
- The database is then used to plan the rolling 5 year programme of maintenance and investment
- A decision has been taken to move to the Orchard Asset Management system. This would facilitate integration with the Orchard Housing and Finance system currently used by the team, and being a live system would help reduce duplication of records and other administrative inefficiencies
- Surveys carried out do cover communal areas in apartment buildings and sheltered accommodation
- Officers believed the level of investment and upkeep of assets compared favourably with councils of a similar size and with similar stock. However such comparisons could be limited given that local context (for example having a garden city in compassion to an inner city location) and historic levels of investments could differ significantly between councils (with those councils who have invested heavily in their housing stock in the past potentially not needing to invest as much into maintenance work now)
- The Decent Homes Standards is the standard the council works towards when implementing its maintenance programme and developing new properties. The standard uses the phrase “reasonable” which is open to interpretation. However Officers believed that the Council’s expectation as to what constituted reasonable was of a higher standard than other councils. The Decent Homes Standard is being reviewed by the Government by way of a consultation process
The Corporate Director (Housing and Communities) set out the interconnectivity of the work around void properties and the need for a number of cross team groups and meetings to share information and coordinate activities. A high level cross team officer review had been initiated to consider how effective current working arrangements were and identify where improvements could be made and operations modernised. This would also include getting feedback from Mears and the Tenants Panel, as well as investigating the use of automated workflow and agile working systems and processes. On this last point the Panel acknowledged the need to protect sensitive data of the tenants.
Customer engagement was being reviewed to ensure customers were better able to shape the provisions they received across the housing service area.
The Panel noted that the Council turned around approximately 500 void properties a year.