Agenda item - Issues Raised by Members
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Issues Raised by Members
To consider the following matters raised by councillors:
(a) Petitions: to receive any petitions submitted to the full Council or at the meeting itself;
(b) Written Questions: to consider any written questions;
(c) Letters: to consider any letters;
(d) Notices of Motion: to consider any Notices of Motion referred from Council or submitted directly to the Committee.
24.1 To consider the following matters raised by councillors:
(a) Petitions: None
(b) Written Questions: Three written questions were received.
Question 1:Councillor Meadows to Chair of Housing Committee
Housing Repairs Figures
At the last meeting of this Committee the Chair presented the following housing statistics for May 2022:
a) Empty homes (210)
b) Repairs backlog (9,608)
c) Capital cost of accumulated repairs (£1.5m)
d) Lost rent from empty homes (£1.343m, exceeding the void rent lost budget of £636,000)
e) Average re-let time (177 days)
Can the Chair update these figures for a-e to the latest available? With void rent lost currently running at more than double what has been budgeted for this item, can the Chair advise the number of the current empty homes that would need to be filled in order to bring this back within budget.
Response: Thank you for your question, Updated figures are as follows:
a. Empty Homes 170 (August 2022)
b. Repairs Backlog 9127 (July 2022)
c. Capital cost of accumulated repairs (£1.5m)
d. 2022/23 forecast rent loss £1.005m exceeding the void rent lost budget Of £0.721m
e. Average re-let time 150 days (August 2022)
Officers in the council’s Housing Repairs & Maintenance service have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to provide tenants with an essential repairs service.
However, as reported to Housing Committee, a backlog of routine repairs and empty council homes has built due to Covid19 impacting staffing levels and contractor capacity required to complete the typical number of jobs raised each month.
The Housing Repairs & Maintenance service continues to make good progress in its Covid recovery programme, in particular, improving performance in relation to empty council homes.
The number of re-lets during 2021/22 (472) was up on 2020/21 (213) and above pre-pandemic levels seen during 2019/20 (445). In August y 2022 the service let 62 empty council homes.
The average 'key to key' re-let time for previously occupied homes was 150 days in August 2022 compared with 177 days in May 2022 and 210 days in 2021/22. While re-let times continue to improve, they remain higher than we would wish, In particular, as we re-let some homes which have been empty for long periods of time.
Our performance on forecast rent loss from empty homes has improved from 1.343m in May 2022 to £1.005m. The focus for rent loss reduction is to increase turnover and reduce the key-to-key time to a minimum. It is not possible at this stage to convert this into a number of void properties as the impact on rent loss of each property is variable. However, if we can improving on estimated void rent loss at the current pace it will be possible to bring the actual rent loss by the end of the year in line with budget. When we get the updated figures in January it will be clearer whether we are on track to achieve this
Officers continue to focus on void recovery. During the first 5 months of this financial year the % of council homes empty on the last day of the month as measured by Housemark has fallen from 2.1% in April to 1.5% in August 2022, The overall figure for the last financial year (2021/22) was 2.2%.
In December 2021 the number of outstanding repairs was had not yet stabilised. At that time, the Council was part way through its recruitment process and therefore the incoming works still exceeded officer capacity. With recruitment now complete, the number of outstanding repairs has begun to level off and reduce, dropping from 9,608 in May 2022 to 9127 in July 2022...
To put these figures into context, over 2000 responsive repairs are completed each month. This level of performance is resulting in a reduction in the volume of work outstanding.
To further speed up progress, the Council is employing additional trade resources, and officers are part-way through recruitment, which will be completed in October 2022. The additional resource should being to show a return to a more typical work-in-progress figure during the next financial year.
As outlined in our Performance Report considered on today’s agenda, Housing Repairs & Maintenance service performance against key performance indicators on emergency repairs completed within 24 hours and calls answered by Repairs Helpdesk both show significant improvement and our KOI on surveyed tenants satisfied with repairs standard of work is on target at 96%.
Supplementary Question: Repairs are backing up, and there are 500 have been actioned than before. If the £1.5m budget is not enough what will happen and how many visits are duplicates, and what is the cost?
Response: A written response will be sent to the councillor.
Question 2: Councillor Barnett to Chair of Housing Committee
Estate Inspections and Council Offices
The Council’s Housing Officers used to conduct fortnightly ward inspections of the council’s housing estates, which the ward councillors also attended. In my ward these inspections used to take place on Tuesday mornings, every fortnight. They were always in the diary - sometimes the Housing Department had to cancel but not very often.
These inspections were warmly welcomed by the residents and helped resolve issues that had emerged on the estates and put a human face to the council’s housing department.
Then in 2018 the then Labour Council decided to change all this and bring in Field Officers instead under its new policy and the regular estate visits immediately stopped. The Field Officers policy has failed housing and left residents in the council’s estates feeling completely disconnected from the council.
The problem is that field officers have responsibilities for seven areas, not just housing: including parks, seafront services, community safety, planning enforcement, environmental health and noise nuisance. There is a sense that currently Field Officers are more focused on people dropping cigarettes in the city centre than visiting the housing estates to engage with issues there.
Under the Field Officer policy a disconnect between the council’s housing department and housing tenants has opened up. Not only have the regular estate visits from housing officers stopped but housing tenants and leaseholders are now no longer able to visit the housing offices as they used to before the pandemic as these offices are
not open, which has put up another barrier.
We recently heard that estate inspections might be starting up again and that there was one in Portslade.
Can the Chair advise:
a) Are estate inspections being brought back?
b) When will the Council’s Housing offices fully reopen again for residents so that
people can walk in and see someone as they did before the pandemic?
c) Does he accept the Field officer policy has failed Housing?
d) How many of the seven FTE field officer equivalent positions are currently filled and what proportion of their time is currently allocated to housing?
Response: Thank you for your questions.
A) Between May and August this year the Council ran an Estate Walkabout Pilot across the city.
The walkabouts were facilitated by area Housing Managers and involved Residents, an Environmental surveyor, Councillors and Community Engagement Officers.
During the pilot 12 different estates were visited, with an overall aim to improve the look and feel of the local environment. The walkabouts also aimed to raise awareness of the funding available to residents to improve their neighbourhood, such as the Environmental Improvement Budget, and create the opportunity for officers and councillors to engage with residents.
· Following the walkabouts, Officers made several improvements to the estates. Such as, improving bin storage, raising vegetable beds, removing graffiti, and cutting back of overhanging vegetation.
The Community Engagement Team were also able to discuss setting up new tenants & residents associations in areas that don’t have representation.
The Council is now reviewing the feedback, gained from Residents, Councillors and council staff, during the pilot to help inform future Estate Walkabouts.
Once this is complete, the Council will promote the walkabout schedule for the year remaining year will be promoted. Officers will also publish and celebrate the improvements made as a result of the walkabout.
B) The Housing Service aligns to Corporate guidance on opening of customer facing officers.
The Customer Service Centre is open at Bartholomew House, Bartholomew Square, Brighton. This has a drop-in self-help area supported by customer service advisors including telephone and computer facilities. The advisers are linked in with our Housing Customer Services team.
C) A review of the Field Officer service is currently being undertaken by the Safer Communities team with the expectation that a report on its findings will be presented to TECC in January.
D) All posts in the service are currently filled. It is difficult to assess what proportion of their time is currently allocated to Housing due to the diversity of the tasks they carry out for a number of services.
Supplementary Question: The misuse of drugs and cuckooing are an issue. Is this monitored?
Response: Monitoring is being carried out and more visits are being arranged. A review is underway, and more walkabouts are being scheduled.
Question 3: Councillor Nemeth to Chair of Housing Committee
Re Knoll House
Please provide an account of the situation from a housing perspective following what was ultimately an eviction by Brighton & Hove City Council of 37 residents of Knoll House in Wish Ward.
Response: Thank you for your question.
The legal relationship of occupation at Knoll House was between those living at the property and the company that in effect employed them to ensure that property was secure. The Council and East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service (ESFRS) have worked with the company in question to ensure appropriate safety measures were put in place but when it became clear actions were not being followed through, ESFRS had little choice but to serve notice that the property was unsafe.
Being aware that such an outcome was likely, the Housing team put in place measures in advance, to prevent those living there from becoming homeless. Several advice surgeries were run on-site, to provide information and assistance to those affected. On the day the closure notice was served, we ensured none of the occupants were street homeless as a result. Where required, temporary accommodation was provided. For those who were unable to find alternative accommodation, individual Personalised Housing Plans (PHP) have been agreed setting out the reasonable steps both they and the Council would undertake to prevent or relieve their homelessness.
Supplementary Question: How are the council helping residents moving out an why such short notice?
Response: The scenario was unfortunate; however, officers and Members considered this the best way forward. Any one become homeless was supported. It is noted that the council has a statutory need to supply housing and advise surgery’s have been held on site and temporary accommodation has been provided.
(c) Letters: Two letters were received
Letter 1:Councillor Barnett to Chair of Housing Committee
Dear Cllr Gibson,
Member Letter (Procedure rule 23.3): Housing policies relating to Travellers
The Housing section of the Council’s website states that the St Michael’s Way Traveller site (also known as Horsdean Traveller site) has 12 permanent caravan pitches and 21 transit pitches where caravans can be stationed for up to 3 months.
It states all transient pitches have access to water and electricity amenities and a communal shower block. There is a management building for the Traveller Liaison Team that provides links to other council services such as health and education.
In 2012 the Greens and Labour voted for this site to be built on South Downs National Park land at great expense to the city (£2.3 million) and a cost to the environment. This site opened in July 2016 and has been open for six years.
Residents are extremely disappointed that despite this facility having been built, travellers continue to use city public parks for their housing instead – including, this week, St Helen’s Park in Hangleton in my ward, which is within a conservation area.
This letter requests that the Committee Chair:
1. Outlines the Council’s current housing policies relating to travellers.
2. Informs the committee how many travellers are passing through the city each year and how this has changed over time since the Horsdean facility opened.
3. Advises housing take-up rates at the Horsdean Traveller site over the six municipal years it has been open.
COUNCILLOR DAWN BARNETT
Response: Thank you for your letter
1. Current Housing Policies relating to Travellers
The Council aims to balance the needs of the settled and Traveller communities. Unauthorised encampments are jointly assessed by the Traveller Liaison Team and Sussex Police.
Within 24 hours of a report of an unauthorised encampment, welfare checks and a Community Impact Assessment are carried out by officers during joint visits., and the outcome of this assessment determines the enforcement measures that are used to bring an encampment to an end.
The capacity of the 21-pitch transit site allows the Council to ask the Police that they use their powers to re-direct any Traveller households, from an unauthorised encampment to the Council’s transit site.
The transit site has water, electricity and washing facilities, and affords households a maximum stay of 12 weeks, during which time Travellers can access health and education services and explore other accommodation options.
In the event of Travellers declining pitches on the transit site, police powers require them to leave the city for 12 months.
In the example of the recent incursion of Travellers on St Helen’s Green, the council requested that the Police use their powers to direct the households to the transit site. This was agreed, and notices were served. The families declined the transit site pitches and left the city.
The capacity of the transit site, that enables the use of these powers, is effective in reducing the length of stay of unauthorised encampments, and in returning public land back to use for the local community.
The average length of an unauthorised encampment is three days.
2. Data for Travellers passing through the city.
The number of unauthorised encampments in the city peaked in 2015 at 123, when the transit site was closed whilst the permanent site was being built.The number of unauthorised encampments has reduced over subsequent years since the transit site re-opened in 2016 when there were 79 encampments, to 18 encampments in 2022.
3. Occupancy figures at St Michael’s Way.
Since opening in 2016 the permanent Traveller site has been fully occupied.
4. Transit site occupancy rates since 2018:
The percentages shown for 2018/19 and 2019/20 are based on 21 available pitches; the percentages for 2020/21 and 2021/22 are based on a reduced capacity of 10 available pitches, due to the pandemic and measures put in place to reduce the spread of infection.
The committee agreed to note the letter.
Councillor Meadows to Chair of Housing Committee
Dear Cllr Gibson,
Member Letter (Procedure rule 23.3): Tents and the council’s homeless bill of rights
I am writing this letter to bring the committee’s attention to the high number of tents present in public places and parks in the city over the course of the summer, which has potentially been caused by the Council’s new Homeless Bill of Rights policy.
Over the summer, the council has tolerated tents being camped along Valley Gardens and other places for extended periods. The lack of action from the council to remove these encouraged them to multiply further and it reached the point where tables and chairs were being put out by tent occupants.
When Valley Gardens was opened in August 2020 the Council provided assurances to residents that it would not allow these new public gardens to become a place for tents to be pitched. However, since then the Greens and Labour have introduced a Homeless Bill of Rights, changing the City’s policy on tents in public spaces.
I am concerned that this new policy is restricting the ability that officers once had to remove tents and keep parks and public places free for the safe enjoyment of residents. Residents’ Associations such as the Old Steine Community Association are deeply concerned about the lack of action from the Council on tents.
Can you please advise whether the council’s adoption of the Homeless Bill of Rights will be reconsidered in light of the impact it is having on permitting tents in the city’s parks: and respond to these concerns expressed by residents and their associations.
Cllr Anne Meadows
Response: Thank you for your letter
The Administration has been clear the Council will not tolerate unauthorised encampments in the City and that tents will be removed as quickly as possible.
There is a joined up and coordinated approach between several partners, led by Safer Communities Team and the commissioned Street Outreach Team.
We will always attempt to engage with occupants via the outreach service to ascertain whether they may be homeless and in need of advice and support in the first instance. This is in line with our ‘welfare first’ approach which has been in place for some time and prior to the Council’s adoption of the Homeless Bill of Rights.
There are no plans to reconsider the homeless bill of rights.
The committee agreed to note the letter.
(d) Notices of Motion:
Housing Repairs Task Force
Councillor Meadows introduced the Motion. Councillor Barnett seconded the Motion.
The chair invited Councillor Williams to introduce the Labour Group amendments. Councillor Fowler seconded the amendments.
Councillor Gibson supported the amendments.
Councillor Meadows accepted the amendments.
A vote was taken, and the committee agreed unanimously to accept the amended Notice of Motion.
1) Notes that since the housing repairs service was insourced in March 2020, a backlog of repairs has accumulated due to primarily the Covid crisis;
2) Notes that tenant and leaseholder representatives were advised in August that the council is now looking to establish a housing repairs task force and will employ 11 separate contractors to try and address the backlog;
3) Requests that a report be presented to this committee that:
a. Clarifies the council’s current housing repairs policies regarding insourcing and the use of contractors; and
b. Outlines how a proposed housing repairs task force will address the current backlog, including how much this will cost and how it will be funded;
c. Provides statistics on the progress on addressing the backlog.
Recognition of Mr Andy Winter
Councillor Barnett introduced the Motion to the committee and Councillor Meadows seconded the Motion.
The Chair invited Councillor Williams to introduce the Labour Group amendments. Councillor Grimshaw seconded the amendments.
Councillor Shanks supported the amendments.
Councillor Gibson noted that homelessness and addiction are issues.
Councillor Meadows considered that Andy Wynter had strong views and they supported the third section of the motion.
Councillor Grimshaw requested that the third section be removed.
A vote was taken, and by 8 to 2 abstentions, the committee agreed the Labour Group amendments.
1) Records and sends its appreciation to Mr Andy Winter for his work as CEO of Brighton Housing Trust over 20 years, following the announcement of his retirement.
2) Recognises the positive impact Mr Winter’s work has had on the lives of tenants and clients of Brighton Housing Trust.
Ethical Landlord’s Charter
Councillor Osborne introduced the Motion, which was seconded by Councillor Gibson.
The Chair invited Councillor Williams to introduce the Labour Group amendments, which were seconded by Councillor Fowler.
Councillor Williams expressed concerns regarding the motion and who the Green Group have been working with and considered the charter would need more work. The councillor considered that section 1 should be removed, and number 2 kept.
Councillor Osborne requested an adjournment to discuss the motion. The adjournment was seconded by Councillor Powell. The Chair agreed to a 15 minute adjournment.
Following the adjournment Councillor Osborne stated that they had agreed with Councillor Williams a cross party agreement to remove all actions.
Councillor Meadows expressed concerns on the motion and requested that they be invited to cross party talks on the matters raised.
A vote was taken, and by 8 to 2 abstentions the committee agreed the following:
RESOLVED:Committee notes that:
· Housing Committee has previously received a deputation on a Minimum Standards Charter from ACORN in 2019 which demanded on behalf of renters in the city a commitment to better standards relating to affordability of rents, security of tenancies and evictions, expected quality of repairs and general service, and discrimination;
· Housing Committee has also previously agreed to support the idea of an Ethical Landlords Charter;
· Other councils have previously produced their own versions of ethical landlord charters, including Bristol, with had a Bronze, Silver and Gold standard which with varying asks for each, as well as several London Boroughs, Norwich, and others;
Committee agrees to:
· establish a cross-party task and finish member working group to work towards drafting and adopting such a charter.
- Con Grp Mbr Qs - 28.09.22, item 24. PDF 471 KB View as HTML (24./1) 17 KB
- Cover Page - Member Letters, item 24. PDF 4 KB View as HTML (24./2) 5 KB
- Member Letter - Cllr Barnett - Housing Committee 28.09.22, item 24. PDF 137 KB View as HTML (24./3) 10 KB
- Member Letter - Cllr Meadows - Housing Committee 28.09.22.pdf, item 24. PDF 454 KB View as HTML (24./4) 10 KB
- Con Grp Housing Committee Sept22 Housing Repairs Taskforce, item 24. PDF 106 KB View as HTML (24./5) 18 KB
- Con Grp Housing Committee Sept22 Recognition of Andy Winter, item 24. PDF 104 KB View as HTML (24./6) 17 KB
- Grn Grp Housing Committee Sept 22 - Ethical Landlord's Charter, item 24. PDF 199 KB View as HTML (24./7) 10 KB
- Ethical Landlord Charter FINAL Motion table, item 24. PDF 413 KB View as HTML (24./8) 16 KB
- LG Amendment - Housing 28.9.22 Item 24d - Housing Repairs Task Force, item 24. PDF 333 KB View as HTML (24./9) 17 KB
- LG Amendment - Housing 28.9.22 Item 24d - Recognition of Mr Andy Winter, item 24. PDF 325 KB View as HTML (24./10) 13 KB
- LG Amendment - Housing 28.9.22 Item 24d - Ethical Landlords Charter, item 24. PDF 427 KB View as HTML (24./11) 17 KB
- Example Ethical Landlords Charter - LG Amendment - Housing 28.9.22 Item 24d, item 24. PDF 437 KB View as HTML (24./12) 18 KB