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Agenda, decisions and minutes

Venue: Delyn Committee Room, County Hall, Mold CH7 6NA

Contact: Sharon Thomas 01352 702324  Email: sharon.b.thomas@flintshire.gov.uk

Items
No. Item

36.

Declarations of Interest (Including Whipping Declarations)

Decision:

Minutes:

37.

Minutes pdf icon PDF 65 KB

To confirm as a correct record the minutes of the meeting held on 15 October 2014 (copy enclosed).

Decision:

Minutes:

The minutes of the meeting held on 15 October 2014 had been circulated with the agenda.

 

Matters Arising

 

Minute number 30: Welfare Reform Update - the Neighbourhood Housing Manager agreed to respond to Councillor Paul Cunningham’s question about the number of tenants who had fallen into the ‘won’t pay’ rather than ‘can’t pay’ category of rent arrears and had refused support offered by the Council.

 

Minute number 31: Welsh Housing Quality Standard (WHQS) Delivery Programme Update - Councillor Mike Reece expressed his gratitude to the Housing team for their work on solid brick wall properties and called for representations to be made to the Welsh Government (WG) for further schemes to benefit more areas.  The Chief Officer (Community & Enterprise) explained that the programme had initially been targeted at specific wards fitting the criteria set by WG, however Cabinet approval had recently been given to bidding for European funding which, if successful, could extend energy programmes across the county.

 

Councillor Peter Curtis referred to comments he had made around the cladding of high-rise flats in Flint and Councillor Ron Davies spoke about the need to use local products.  The Chief Officer confirmed that the work would be undertaken on all three high-rise blocks, as included in the Asset Management report to the Committee in June 2014.  She said that local suppliers were used wherever possible and would ascertain details of the insulation products to be used.

 

RESOLVED:

 

That the minutes be approved as a correct record and signed by the Chairman.

38.

Variation in order of business

Minutes:

Following a suggestion by the Chair, a change in the order of business was agreed to bring forward agenda items 5 and 6 due to the availability of the officers concerned.

39.

North East Wales Homes - Update pdf icon PDF 41 KB

Additional documents:

Decision:

(a)       That progress in establishing and setting up the company and the first six months’ performance be noted; and

 

(b)       That the future development plans of the company be noted.

Minutes:

The Flintshire Strategic Housing & Regeneration Programme Manager introduced the report detailing progress on the establishment of North East Wales (NEW) Homes along with progress to date against the business plan since the company had started trading in April 2014.  Members were reminded of the Council’s objectives in creating the housing company - the first in Wales to do so - which had been acknowledged in the award mentioned by the Chairman at the start of the meeting.  Information was shared on the setup and role of the Board of Directors and the working arrangement with Council officers, recharged to the company.

 

To date, 15 new-build properties had been transferred to the company by developers as part of Section 106 obligations, with a further ten expected over the next 12 months.  These properties currently managed by the company (2-3 bedroom homes in Penyffordd and Penymynydd) were helping to address local housing need in those areas and provided income streams for re-investment.

 

Although the take-up on the landlord management offer was below that projected, it was felt that the target number in the business plan may have been too ambitious in the first year, however negotiations were ongoing with other interested private landlords.  Proposals were also outlined for an over-55 lease scheme (identified as an area of need), although slower progress was anticipated due to the complexities involved.

 

Work was being undertaken to develop a robust framework to deliver services in the long-term and there were plans to increase marketing of the company which had so far been limited.  As part of the Strategic Housing & Regeneration Programme (SHARP), the number of affordable properties managed by the Council would increase in future years and discussions were taking place on proposed sites, with the successful bidder due to be announced by May 2015.  Although progress on NEW Homes had been slower than expected, partly due to some issues outside the Council’s control, it was felt that excellent progress had been made overall and lessons learned which would be taken forward.

 

Councillor Rosetta Dolphin said that slow progress was positive as it was important to get it right.  In response to queries, the Flintshire Strategic Housing & Regeneration Programme Manager advised that the properties managed by the company were exempt from Right to Buy legislation and that no future delays were expected on gifted units as the process previously used was now in place and the Welsh Government aware of the company’s aims.  Assurances were given that charges for Council officer time and the type of work undertaken for NEW Homes was closely monitored so that this was not at the expense of the Council.  As the company’s portfolio developed, future income streams would enable staff to be directly employed.  In response to comments on the over 55 lease scheme, this would take longer to develop due to the complex process involved and to ensure that this was not to the detriment of individuals already on the housing register.

 

Whilst Councillor Amanda Bragg welcomed the  ...  view the full minutes text for item 39.

40.

Housing Act Wales 2014 pdf icon PDF 36 KB

Additional documents:

Decision:

That the progress of the pilot and the early findings and implications be noted.

Minutes:

The Community Support Services Manager introduced an update on progress and early findings from the Council’s pilot of the new homeless prevention duty to be introduced as part of the Housing Act Wales 2014.  The report detailed the key changes to homelessness legislation required by the Act to be implemented from April 2015.  As part of this, Councils would be required to take all reasonable steps to help individuals threatened with homelessness, irrespective of their priority need status.  To help prepare for these significant changes, a pilot had been carried out by the Housing Options Team on aspects of the legislation, with the support of a Shelter Cymru worker, and utilising funding from Welsh Government (WG).

 

The Community Support Services Manager summarised the results from the first six months of the pilot, as appended to the report, which would be shared with other Councils and WG.  During this period, there had been no reduction in the number of homeless applications, however an improvement had been shown in the reduced use of bed and breakfast accommodation.  Following this first update, the team was keen to develop some of the key areas and a further progress report would be brought back to the Committee at a later date.

 

Councillor Paul Cunningham praised the early proactive approach being taken by the team.  In response to a question, the Community Support Services Manager said that those unable to pay rent were referred to Supporting People where help was available to retain tenancies and prevent homelessness.  Further feedback would be given in future update reports.

 

Councillor Peter Curtis spoke of the Council’s duty on homelessness and the challenges of allocating properties to perpetrators of anti-social behaviour which impacted on neighbours.  He was advised of the Council’s stance in taking action against any tenants demonstrating persistent bad behaviour, however evidence suggested that the majority of homelessness occurred when individuals were unable to pay their rent through no fault of their own.  A breakdown of reasons for homelessness would be included in the next update report to the Committee.

 

Councillor David Cox welcomed the approach taken by the team and felt that a greater financial responsibility should be taken by WG to deal with homelessness in view of the legislation.

 

Comments were raised by Councillor Gareth Roberts on prioritising the allocation of Council properties and the importance of retaining local connection in some cases.  In response, it was explained that ex-offenders would be treated the same as other homeless presentations under the new legislation.

 

RESOLVED:

 

That the progress of the pilot and the early findings and implications be noted.

41.

Service Charges/Assisted Gardening Service pdf icon PDF 56 KB

Decision:

(a)       That the agreed plan for the phased implementation of service charges for existing tenants from 2016 following detailed consultation, be noted;

 

(b)       That full implementation of service charges will take effect for new tenants from April 2015 be noted; and

 

(c)       That the proposals in the report to re-introduce charging for the assisted garden service in 2016, following detailed customer consultation, be supported, on the basis that there should only be two charges for grass cutting and one for hedges, and that payments can be made weekly.

Minutes:

The Chief Officer (Community & Enterprise) presented the report detailing options for the Council to separate services from base rents and to introduce service charging to individual tenants, as required by the Welsh Government (WG).

 

Proposals to introduce service charging had been agreed as part of the rent policy for Council housing, approved by Cabinet in September 2014.  Whilst a full range of chargeable services had been set out by WG, the Council had taken a view that additional charges should not be applied for services that were essential to living in particular accommodation.  It was proposed that charges would be made for communal services such as cleaning as well as individual services for grass and hedge cutting.  A review of quality/provision of services was planned, together with a full consultation process prior to the introduction of charging on a phased approach over three years starting in 2016, with new tenants due to incur the charges from April 2015 having received notification of this at the tenancy offer stage.

 

Explanation was provided on the outcome of changes to the assisted gardening service in April 2014, which had prompted a review.  The new approach was more simplified: two different charges for small or medium/large gardens and a single charge for hedge cutting.  Charges would be payable weekly/monthly with rent payments and discounts would be applied for older or disabled tenants who were unable to carry out the service themselves.

 

In relation to the options for the service charging policy, Councillor Peter Curtis commented on the need for fair charging on the use of shared services by those in sheltered accommodation.  He stressed the importance of meaningful consultation with involvement of Members, and raised concerns about the effect of charges on tenants and the potential challenge for tenants who were living off a pension or disability benefit.

 

Councillor Rosetta Dolphin raised concerns about the cost of grass cutting, the additional percentage of charges on top of base rent and possible discrepancies in the levels of rent paid for flats and houses.  Whilst noting that 67% of Flintshire’s tenants were currently in receipt of full or partial housing benefit, she pointed out that the remaining tenants may be just above the threshold and therefore unable to afford this additional cost if they required the services.

 

The Cabinet Member for Housing pointed out that the proposals demonstrated fairness in ensuring that tenants were not paying for services that they did not require.

 

The Chief Officer acknowledged the concerns raised but pointed out that the proposals reflected the minimum requirements to comply with the WG mandate and that extensive work had been carried out to consider the fairness of options, taking into account the different needs of individuals.  Those in receipt of full housing benefit would be exempt from the charges (apart from the individual gardening service which was not eligible) and those in receipt of partial housing benefit would receive a proportionate discount.  In terms of base rent on properties, the Council had followed the  ...  view the full minutes text for item 41.

42.

Forward Work Programme pdf icon PDF 24 KB

Additional documents:

Decision:

That the Forward Work Programme be updated accordingly.

Minutes:

The Housing & Learning Overview & Scrutiny Facilitator introduced a report to enable the Committee to consider the Forward Work Programme.  The following changes were agreed:

 

·         Update on Tenant Involvement to be deferred to 24 April 2015

·         Performance of the Anti-Social Behaviour Unit to be brought forward to 14 January 2015

·         Allocation Policy for Sheltered Accommodation (in response to concerns raised by Councillor Rosetta Dolphin) to be added as a future agenda item

 

The Facilitator gave a reminder of the workshop scheduled for 7 January 2015 on the introduction of self-financing for the Housing Revenue Account.  Notification had been issued to all Members by email and letter.

 

Members who had been unable to attend the recent Welsh Housing Quality Standard (WHQS) workshops would be forwarded the information which had been circulated, with the opportunity to raise any questions with Tony Jones.  Councillor Peter Curtis commended the information and responses provided at the workshops.  The Chief Officer said that she would pass this feedback on to those concerned.

 

RESOLVED:

 

That the Forward Work Programme be updated accordingly.

43.

Members of the Public and Press In Attendance

Minutes:

There was one member of the press in attendance.

 

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