Councillor D Nannestad, Portfolio Holder for Quality Housing
a) presented his report regarding activity and the achievements within his portfolio
b) reported that the City of Lincoln Council Housing Strategy 2020-25had been approved by Executive and Council following a pleasing consultation process with the next step to be the implementation of the business plan
c) advised that his report covered the following main areas:
· Tenancy Services
· Housing Repairs
· Housing Investment
· New Build/Allocations
d) highlighted that the Scheduled Repairs Pilot Scheme had driven down carbon reduction with mileage by operatives having been reduced by 4,200 miles a month
e) reported that although the effect of Covid 19 had been quite severe, repairs were still ongoing with the percentage of repairs fixed first time at the end of quarter 2 standing at 90.11% and 99.95% of appointments kept
f) praised housing staff for their extreme flexibility during the pandemic being involved in jobs they had never known would be asked of them
g) thanked members of LTP for their involvement in the new complaints procedure
h) invited questions from Housing Scrutiny Sub Committee on the content of his report.
Members discussed the content of the report in further detail. The following comments/questions emerged:
· Question: Were we currently building more Council houses than we were losing through Right to Buy?
· Response: The cumulative net gain stood presently at 293. It was also a function for housing associations and other housing providers. From 2014 to date in terms of our own stock there had been an increase of 18 properties.
· Question: What were the plans to build more pure Council houses?
· Response: In terms of plans for the future:
Ø The scheme was on schedule at Dewint Court to build 70 units for tenants requiring different levels of care.
Ø A planning application would shortly be submitted for 40 new houses on Rookery Lane.
Ø There was further progress to be made at Queen Elizabeth Road.
Ø The Western Growth Corridor if it progressed forward would offer an element of social housing.
Ø The council was also buying flats under the Next Steps Programme having secured 5 already with another 10 still to come forward.
Ø Members of the public desired council houses as they offered security of tenure.
Ø The Authority would always look at ways forward to provide more council houses in the future.
· Comment: It must be careful not to attribute carbon reduction entirely to scheduled repairs. Once things were more back to normal in relation to the pandemic a measure could be taken.
· Comment: Repair times were at detriment to the tenants as there could be a 3 month wait for a leaky tap. Tenants were paying rent for this service.
· Response by Mick Barber, Chair of LTP: There was an update report to come forward on scheduled repairs which would highlight savings to the service and improvements going forward.
· Question: In respect of housing staff having been redeployed to other work which was not related to the Housing Revenues Account due to Covid 19, was the cost of this work repatriated to the appropriate area?
· Response: The Housing Revenue Account (HRA) did get repatriated for non HRA roles and vice-versa.
· Comment: The council had a statutory duty to support homeless people although this was at a loss to the General Fund. Those provided with accommodation automatically joined the housing waiting list.
· Response: It was not the case that clients presenting to the authority as homeless were automatically housed by us. They were advised to return to their home town or referred to private sector housing associations. As a landlord the Council needed funds to cover homelessness, hence it used the General Fund. It was not making money elsewhere.
· Comment: Collection of rent arrears would be less the following year due to the impacts of Covid 19 on local residents’ ability to pay. This would be at the detriment to those people paying full rent in terms of the Authority having less cash to spend on repairs/improvements/new council houses.
· Response: The increase in rent arrears was mirrored by the amount of people awaiting Universal Credit payments to be processed. The collection of rent was a priority to the Council, and it was doing everything it could to recover rent arrears in very challenging circumstances. Indeed it was performing better than other local authorities. There were people with no income at the current time. Officers encouraged people in difficulty to engage with them to offer support and help. A new ‘Right to Breathing Space’ scheme would give legality to any tenure whether private rented or owner occupier a period of time to evaluate their options, with all further action suspended. This would further impact on rent recovery. It would take a few months after lockdown ended to achieve improved rent arrears collection.
· Comment: It may be useful to obtain comparisons with other local authorities in other aspects of HRA including rent arrears performance for inclusion on the work programme for this Committee in the new Council year.
· Response: He had met with various Council leaders. Our rent arrears collection figures were much better than others. Only a like for like comparison with authorities having similar housing stock would prove be useful.
· Question; What about the arrangements when the Kier contract came to an end on 31 March 2021. Would the majority of the work be done in-house?
· Response: Reasons for making this change had been considered by Executive, for example, less travel, using local companies, engaging more directly, using local employees who then spent cash in the City. Essential Decent Homes work already being completed in different areas of the Authority would not be compromised, however corresponding savings would be realised. The gas contract was not affected.
· Question: Why was the planning application for new homes Rookery Lane pulled from Planning Committee a month ago?
· Response: The planning application had been deferred for further testing by the lead local flood authority to take place up to the end of February 2021 and was due to be considered by Planning Committee anytime soon.
· Question: Would the ‘Right to Breathing Space’ scheme affect rent payments or ASB cases as well?
· Response: Only rent.
RESOLVED that the content of the report and discussions held be noted.