In order to reduce the amount of paperwork printed for this meeting, in line with the Council’s commitments in the Carbon Reduction Plan, the Executive Committee have agreed that only the covering report for this item will be printed in the main agenda for this meeting. A small number of paper copies of the full report, including the appendices, will be printed and the entire report can be accessed online.
This report will be pre-scrutinised at a meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee scheduled to take place on 16th March 2023. Any recommendations on this subject arising from that meeting will be published in a supplementary pack for the Executive Committee’s consideration.
The Head of Community and Housing Services introduced the Housing Policies report for Members’ consideration. Members were advised that changes were proposed to various housing policies in the report to ensure that the Council remained compliant with best practice. There were varying amounts of discretion available to the Council in relation to the content of these housing policies, although there were also a lot of specific legislative requirements that applied to the delivery of Housing Services which the Council needed to comply with.
During consideration of this item, Officers from the Housing Department delivered a presentation that provided further information about the updates to the various housing policies for Members’ consideration. In addition, information was provided on the subject of the updated Tenancy Management Policy and Tenancy Management Agreement and Members were advised that, whilst the latter document did not need to be presented, Officers had wanted to consult with Members on the content. The proposed changes to both of these documents would subsequently be subject to consultation in a two-stage process with local tenants and each tenant would be provided with a paper copy of the policy as part of this process.
Once the report had been presented, Members discussed the following points in detail:
· The significant amount of work that had been undertaken by Officers in preparing the report. Members thanked Officers for their hard work in respect of this matter.
· The value of the Council’s housing stock in providing social housing to some of the most vulnerable residents in society.
· The increasing demand for social housing in a cost of living crisis.
· The need for the Council to provide support to tenants whilst also protecting and preserving the Council’s housing stock.
· The benefits to both tenants and the Council of clarifying the respective rights and obligations of both Council tenants and the Council as landlord.
· The need for the Council to ensure compliance with safety standards for Council properties.
· The arrangements by which Officers could access Council houses where needed, such as to undertake gas maintenance inspections.
· The need to protect Council houses from malicious damage that could be caused by tenants. Members noted that the tenants who caused such damage were in the minority.
· The potential for tenants to be incentivised, where appropriate, to downsize, thereby providing larger properties for the use of families.
· The extent to which tenants would be required to acknowledge receipt of their copy of the Tenancy Management Policy. Officers clarified that copies of the policy would be posted to tenants and tenants would not be required to acknowledge receipt. A similar approach had been taken at other local authorities and this approach was considered to be reasonable.
· The action that would be taken to ensure that responses received to the consultation in respect of the Tenancy Management Agreement and Tenancy Management Policy were not submitted by the same person from the same IP address multiple times. Officers explained that an email address had been created for consultation purposes and Officers could monitor whether multiple submissions were being received from the same IP address.
· The level of engagement that was anticipated in the consultation process. Officers explained that it was difficult to determine in advance how many responses would be received through consultation and this might vary between the two stages of that process. The Council did not have to consult with a specific proportion of local tenants however, officers were hoping to receive feedback from tenants from a range of demographic backgrounds.
· The need for alternative consultation options to be made available to tenants who did not have access to electronic forms of communication, such as paper copies of the consultation papers. The Executive Committee was advised that a paper copy of the consultation papers could be included in the papers dispatched in the post to tenants.
· The potential for roadshows to take place as part of the consultation process, whereby Officers could meet with tenants face-to-face. Officers advised that this could be included in the consultation process.
· The powers available to the Council to assess the condition of Council houses during the course of a tenancy. Members were informed that there would be annual tenancy audits which would provide an opportunity to identify issues. In addition, staff in the Tenancy team, through their familiarity with their tenants, would be in a position to identify any issues mid-year that needed to be addressed.
· The potential for the Council to require residents to pay a deposit before moving into a Council property and other methods available to the Council to recharge tenants for the costs of causing malicious damage. Officers explained that the various options available to the Council were detailed in the Recharge Policy.
· The potential for residents to be housed in accommodation outside the local authority’s boundaries. Officers clarified that the Council did make placements in other local authority areas but the Council continued to have ongoing duties to these residents.
· The temporary accommodation options available to the Council and the implications to the authority of placing residents in bed and breakfast accommodation. The Executive Committee was advised that residents could be placed in bed and breakfast accommodation but legally these placements could only last a maximum of six weeks.
· The potential for some of the Council’s existing housing stock to be repurposed to provide temporary accommodation. Members were advised that the Council was already in the process of converting a unit into medium-term temporary accommodation.
· The opportunities available for the Council to work with private sector and Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) organisations to provide additional social housing to meet demand. Officers clarified that the Council was involved in a private sector housing project with Cornerstone Housing and had also been working closely with St Basils in respect of providing suitable accommodation to young people at risk of homelessness.
· The potential for the Council to offer content insurance to tenants, which could help in the event of a fire. Officers explained that all tenants were offered the chance to pay for the Council’s content insurance when they signed up as tenants, but this could not be made into a mandatory condition of tenancy and some residents chose not to pay for the cover.
· The extent to which photographs of the impact of fire damage might encourage more residents to opt for content insurance and the potential for Council staff to share this with tenants who did not have any coverage. Officers confirmed that photographs could potentially be shared and action to encourage take up of content insurance would be welcome as the number of fires had increased in the Borough since the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic.
· The possibility of Redditch Borough Council developing a consultation app that could be used for all consultation exercises undertaken by the authority. Members commented that this could be used to help mitigate against the risks of fraud occurring during consultation.
· The difficulties that could arise where tenants reported that they had not been visited by Council staff when booked to undertake property inspections, particularly where this was contradicted by reports from staff. The Executive Committee was informed that the Council had tracking devices to identify where Council vehicles were located. In the future reminder text messages would besent to residents about forthcoming appointments, including on the date of the appointments, with messages also sent when operatives arrived at a tenant’s property.
· The potential for bereavement training to be provided to staff to enable them to support residents experiencing bereavement in a sensitive manner, including in cases where there were no succession rights available to family members to remain living in a property. Officers explained that they were in the process of attempting to identify bereavement training that could be delivered to Council staff. Members suggested that a couple of staff members could be asked to specialise in providing support to tenants experiencing bereavement under these circumstances.
· The need to house victims of domestic abuse in appropriate accommodation where they could access key facilities, in order to help them manage their lives without needing to make contact with their abusers.
During consideration of this item, Members referred to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee’s pre-scrutiny of the Housing Policies report at the meeting that took place on 16th March 2023. Members noted that the Overview and Scrutiny Committee had requested an update in the new municipal year on the outcomes of the consultation process with respect to the Tenancy Management Agreement and Tenancy Management Policy and Members welcomed the contribution of the Committee in this context.
1) the following Housing Policies be approved for adoption:
(a) Tenancy Management Policy
(b) Housing Revenue Management Policy
(c) Garage Policy
(d) Repairs and Maintenance Policy
(e) Rechargeable Repairs Policy
(f) Equipment and Adaptations Policy
(g) Voids Policy
(h) Temporary Accommodation Placement Policy
(i) Temporary Accommodation Charging Policy; and
2) delegated authority be given to the Head of Community and Housing Services and/or Head of Environmental and Housing Property,following consultation with the Portfolio Holder for Housing, to agree any revisions to the Housing Policies following the consultation and in line with any legislative or government guidance updates.