Agenda and draft minutes

Customer Focus Scrutiny Committee - Thursday 7th October 2021 5.30 pm

Venue: Guildhall, High Street, Exeter

Contact: Howard Bassett, Democratic Services Officer  Telephone 01392 265107 or email  howard.bassett@exeter.gov.uk

Items
No. Item

20.

Minutes pdf icon PDF 472 KB

To approve and sign the minutes of the Customer Focus Scrutiny Committee held on 1 July 2021.

 

 

 

 

Minutes:

The minutes of the meeting of the Customer Focus Scrutiny Committee held on 1 July 2021 were taken as read, approved and signed by the Chair as correct.

 

 

21.

Declarations of Interest

Councillors are reminded of the need to declare any disclosable pecuniary interests that relate to business on the agenda and which have not already been included in the register of interests, before any discussion takes place on the item. Unless the interest is sensitive, you must also disclose the nature of the interest. In accordance with the Council's Code of Conduct, you must then leave the room and must not participate in any further discussion of the item.  Councillors requiring clarification should seek the advice of the Monitoring Officer prior to the day of the meeting.

 

Minutes:

No declarations of interest were made by Members.

 

 

 

22.

Questions from the public under Standing Order No 19.

Details of questions should be notified to the Corporate Manager Democratic and Civic Support via the committee.services@exeter.gov.uk email by 10.00am at least three working days prior to the meeting. For this meeting any questions must be submitted by 10.00am on Monday 4 October 2021.

 

For details about how to speak at Committee, please click the following link -  https://exeter.gov.uk/council-and-democracy/councillors-and-meetings/public-speaking-at-meetings/overview/

 

 

Minutes:

No questions from members of the public were received.

 

 

23.

To receive questions from Members of the Council under Standing Order No. 20

To receive questions from Members of the Council to the relevant Portfolio Holders for this Scrutiny Committee. The Portfolio Holders are:-

 

Councillor Harvey -     Portfolio Holder for Environment and City Management

Councillor Ghusain -   Portfolio Holder for Communities and Culture

Councillor Williams -   Portfolio Holder for Supporting People

Councillor Wright -      Portfolio Holder for Council Housing Development and Services

 

Advance questions from Members relating to the Portfolio Holders should be notified to the Corporate Manager Democratic and Civic Support.

 

Minutes:

In accordance with Standing Order No 20 the following questions, which had been circulated in advance to Members of the Committee, had been submitted by Councillors Allcock, Sparling, Vizard and Wardle. The responses of the respective Portfolio Holder are set out in italics.

 

Question to the Portfolio Holder for Supporting People – Cllr Williams

 

Councillor Wardle

 

Following many reports that local people in the South West are being out priced from renting privately due to the increase in holiday homes, second homes and airbnb lettings, can the Portfolio Holder clarify the extent of this problem within the Exeter City Council area and whether a co-ordinated response with other Councils is planned, including some form of local taxation and regulation?

Response 

 

The situation in Exeter is similar to other Devon authorities but there are also differences as Exeter does not have the same problem with holiday lets but does experience changes in people’s living arrangements in coming to live and work in new locations. In the longer term it is hoped that the Council’s Liveable Exeter Vision of providing 12,000 homes by 2040 will provide a solution especially the provision of affordable homes for rent and purchase.

 

The challenge of affordability and supply is a significant one in Exeter as well as in the surrounding districts and Devon and Cornwall as a whole. The Housing Needs service has a small private rented access team that works with letting agents and landlords directly brokering homeless individuals and families into private rented property wherever suitable. The service provides a landlord incentive package including financial support to tenants (e.g. deposit and/or rent in advance, references, finders fees and/or home improvement subsidy and ongoing landlord and tenancy support).

 

The number of landlords approaching the Council has reduced over the last 18 months primarily as a result of the pandemic. The single most common reason behind the reduction in local lets is that landlords have been selling up during this time of inflated housing prices. A survey of 11 local lettings agents this week confirmed that properties are not being lost to holiday lets or airbnb’s but being bought as homes particularly by people moving into the area from other parts of the country, London being frequently cited.

 

Agents report figures ranging from 40% to 60% reduction in the number of properties coming onto the local rental market. They also report that minimum tenant income thresholds have risen to 3 x the monthly property rent (previously 2 to 2.5 x). This is likely to be the result of demand far exceeding supply meaning landlords can exercise more choice, including financial security, in their selection of tenants.

 

Our survey of agents suggests a minimal transfer of property lets to the local student market but a notable reduction in the buy-to-let market. Agents report that changes in taxation alongside costs associated with rising property quality standards have also driven up sales of former tenanted homes. Demand for tenancies has significantly increased with 100% of agents reporting an increase  ...  view the full minutes text for item 23.

24.

Presentation on Homelessness and associated issues pdf icon PDF 389 KB

To consider the report of the Deputy Chief Executive.

 

Councillor Barbara Denning submitted a proforma request to the Scrutiny Programme Board for a review to be undertaken on potential evictions, the homeless and housing. The Board referred the request to this Committee.

 

 

 

 

 

Minutes:

The Chair invited Councillor Denning to make a brief introduction as she had proposed potential evictions, the homeless and housing as a topic for scrutiny.

 

Councillor Denning advised that, with the removal of the Universal Credit uplift payment of £20 per week, more tenants in social and private housing would have difficulty in paying their rent and could become homeless. Moreover, families unable to pay their mortgages could also face losing their homes. The lifting of the ban on evictions could lead to additional homelessness with Exeter City Council being the first port of call for advice and help.

 

Councillor Denning had suggested a review of existing strategy to ensure that, in the event of a high level of evictions, the City Council, as well as other agencies, would be able to cope with the additional work load.

 

The Chair welcomed Laura Fricker, Service Lead, Revenues, Benefits and Customer Access and Richard Crompton, Service Lead Housing Needs and Homelessness who provided comprehensive presentations on their areas of work, the challenges being faced, the prevention and early interventions in place to address homelessness and further potential solutions with associated resource implications.

 

The Service Lead, Revenues, Benefits and Customer Access also provided an update on the draft documentation on the Household Support Fund recently published by the Department of Work and Pensions. The scheme would be operated through Devon County Council who would work collaboratively with Districts through the period 6 October 2021 to 31 March 2022. The Fund would primarily support households in the most need with food, energy and water bills. The information has been circulated separately to all Members. 

 

The full presentation has been circulated separately to all Members.

 

Members recognised the challenges being faced by the service, noting in particular the pressures associated with the average case load of 50 clients per case officer and the recent increasing trend in homelessness and victims of domestic abuse. Mindful of current officer workload, a review by a small working group was suggested which could focus on the design of the existing system and potentially identify savings. The involvement of Exeter Citizens Advice Bureau and the Exeter Community Trust could also be beneficial.

 

Councillor Denning moved that a Task and Finish Group be set up to review the support being offered to those presenting themselves at risk of homelessness and/or victims of domestic abuse. The motion was seconded by Councillor Pearce, put to the vote and carried.

 

The Chair advised that the Scrutiny Programme Board would be asked to agree the way forward including representation on the working group.

25.

Forward Plan of Business

Please see for noting a link to the schedule of future business proposed for the Council which can be viewed on the Council’s web site -

https://exeter.gov.uk/council-and-democracy/councillors-and-meetings/forward-plan-of-executive-decisions/

Minutes:

Members noted the Forward Plan.