This report will be pre-scrutinised at a meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee that is scheduled to take place on Thursday, 3rd September 2020. Any recommendations on this subject arising from that meeting will be reported to the Executive Committee in a supplementary pack for this meeting.
The Deputy Chief Executive presented the Housing / HRA Strategic Improvement Plan Progress Report.
During the presentation of the report the following matters were highlighted for Members’ consideration:
· The purpose of the report was to provide assurance to Members that action was being taken in relation to Housing Services as agreed.
· The update was being delivered in the second year of the Council’s three year improvement plan for Housing Services.
· The Covid-19 pandemic had impacted on rent income and a budget gap of £2 million was projected for the HRA moving forward.
· Council tenants had also been significantly affected by the pandemic and there were financial challenges for many tenants, especially in relation to claiming Universal Credit and household finances.
· The Housing Capital programme remained in place but some projects had been postponed or had been impacted by Covid-19.
· Compliance was a key priority, particularly with respect to Housing capital projects and progress had been made.
· There was a growing pressure in relation to homelessness in the Borough. As the furlough scheme would be ending in October 2020, Officers were anticipating that homelessness would continue to be an issue in the medium and long-term.
· In introducing the new Housing Management system, the Council would be required to update a range of Housing policies and procedures. To ensure that this could be achieved in a timely manner delegated authority had been requested to enable Officers to finalise some policies and processes. Major changes to Council policies would continue to be reported to the Executive Committee and Council.
After the report had been presented Members discussed the following points in detail:
· The progress that had been achieved in the previous two and-a-half years in terms of addressing the issues that had previously been identified in the Housing Department.
· The impact that the new Housing Management IT system would have on the efficiency of the service.
· The presentation of the report for the consideration of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee the previous week and the support that had been provided by scrutiny Members over the previous two years in respect of this matter.
· The hard work of staff working in Housing Services during the period.
· The potential for further information to be provided to explain how the Council had calculated that there could be a loss of £2 million income to the HRA by the end of the financial year. Officers explained that information had been provided to central Government in respect of this matter and the figure of £2 million had been identified based on weekly returns.
· The early intervention work being undertaken by Officers to help tenants ensure that rent debts did not escalate to a point where they could not be paid. The Committee was advised that payment plans could be put in place to enable tenants to pay debts in a manner that was affordable for them.
· The thirty-year business plan for the HRA and the timescales for updating this. Officers explained that this plan was due to be reviewed in 2021.
· The potential for the Government to provide the Council with additional funding for Housing and to address the gap in the HRA.
· The extent to which the Trades Unions had been consulted about changes to Housing Policies. Officers explained that the unions were not consulted about changes to every policy but instead contact was made with the unions when service reviews and other projects were proposed that would directly impact on staff.
· The potential for Members to be kept informed of any changes made by Officers to Housing policies and procedures under delegated authority. Officers confirmed that this would be possible to arrange.
· The cost to the Council of providing temporary accommodation to rough sleepers. Officers explained that £41,000 had been spent on providing temporary accommodation to homeless people, including rough sleepers, during the lockdown. Temporary accommodation had been provided in hotels and bed and breakfasts as part of this process. A number of families were in temporary accommodation and action was being taken to provide two- and three-bedroom void properties for their use. Further information would be provided to Members on this subject as it became available.
1) the Executive Committee consider the content of the report and endorse the progress reports detailed in the Improvement Plan; and
2) the Executive Committee agree that authority be delegated to the relevant Head(s) of Service for the revision/amendment and creation of new housing policies to ensure compliance with revised legislation and working practices/procedures, with the exception of any policy where there is a discretion or fundamental change in policy. All revisions/amendments to be undertaken following consultation with the Portfolio Holder Housing and Procurement.