Venue: Civic Centre
Contact: Howard Bassett, Democratic Services Officer Telephone 01392 265115 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
To approve and sign the minutes of the Customer Focus Scrutiny Committee held on 5 October 2023.
The minutes of the meeting of the Customer Focus Scrutiny Committee held on 5 October 2023 were taken as read, approved and signed by the Chair as correct.
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.
Councillor Fullam declared a non pecuniary interest relating to Minutes 39 and 40 as an officer with Sanctuary Housing.
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 email@example.com 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 27 November 2023.
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/
No questions from members of the public were received.
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 Denning - Portfolio Holder for Council Housing Development and Support Services
Councillor Foale - Portfolio Holder for Corporate and Democratic Services and Environmental Health
Councillor Pearce - Portfolio Holder for Communities and Homelessness Prevention
Councillor Williams - Portfolio Holder for Place and City Management
Advance questions from Members relating to the Portfolio Holders should be notified to the Democratic Services Manager via the firstname.lastname@example.org email.
In accordance with Standing Order No. 20, the questions below to the Portfolio Holder for Communities and Homelessness Prevention – Councillor Pearce had been submitted by Councillor Rees and had been circulated in advance to Members of the Committee. The response of the Portfolio Holder is set out in italics.
1). What are the portfolio holder’s plans and what funds are available for helping people with the cost of living this winter?
The question could also be answered by the Portfolio Holder for Housing Development and Support Services, and he referred to the Household Support Tranche 4, which had been considered by the Executive and Council and had the main share of the funding that was available. It was a well designed scheme and he referred the Member to the minutes of those meetings.
Councillor Rees asked a supplementary question and referred to the excellent support detailed on the Council’s web site and if similar support was planned for this year.
Appropriate signposting would be in place this year.
2). Can the Portfolio Holder indicate the likely level of grant funding he is looking to recommend for inclusion in the Council’s budget for next year, to support the work of the Citizens Advice Bureau?
The Portfolio Holder for Communities and Homelessness Prevention said he was unable to advise that figure at present.
Councillor Rees made a comment and referred to the work on the homeless working group and one of themes was around the continuity of funding. She asked if he was aware of plans for funding but did not know the figure currently.
The Portfolio Holder Citizens Advice confirmed that no funding had been received since 2019, but there was a contract to provide information and advice services until the end of March 2024. No decision had been reached on a new contract or any alternative funding method if the service was continued.
Councillor Denning reported on the Council Housing Development and Support Services areas of her Portfolio, detailing the issues relating to achieving the Council’s published priorities, major ongoing programmes of work, issues impacting delivery, financial performance and budget requirements and potential changes being considered.
Councillor Denning responded to an advance question from Councillor Rees as follows:-
1). The Portfolio Holder report refers, to ‘Council owned brownfield housing development sites are unviable, and will remain so without significant government interventions.’ Is that every single site? How many of those did Exeter City Living assess? What is the funding gap between the Council funds and the additional funds required?
The cost of developing on brownfield land is higher due to the abnormal costs associated with demolition, asbestos removal, contaminated ground, utility upgrades and services diversions. The Housing team has assessed a number of sites, some in more detail than others due to the design development of each scheme, and due to brownfield development costs, tender price inflation and high interest rates all of the sites assessed are showing viability challenges. Each site is unique, and the size of the viability gap is different, but this will be a six-figure sum per property in most cases. Some of this gap can be met by bidding to Homes England for Affordable Housing Grant and that the pressure will reduce significantly if, and when the interest rates return to their previous levels. Exeter City Living have contributed towards the viability assessments carried out on the Housing Revenue Account (HRA) sites as part of their engagement as Development Agent.
Councillor Rees asked a subsequent question, noting the uncertainty of the national position, and queried whether this would this have a significant impact on the Council’s housing building targets.
The Portfolio Holder responded that this should not have an effect and the Council will still attempt to reach the house building targets. She hoped the Government would increase the funding and reduce the cost of borrowing to enable the Council to build more houses.
The Portfolio Holder offered the following responses to Members’ questions:-
· tenants living in the new passive houses built had adapted well. She had spoken to those tenants and although there was some adjustment, it was a good way to live as well as having cheaper energy bills.
· in referencing scrutiny under the Consumer Regulation Scheme, arrangements at Exeter City Council included residents’ groups including a Tenants’ Voice, and the Council Housing and Development Advisory Board which all offered the opportunity for dialogue. There was also a Compliance and Complaints Panel. Following a further comment on discussion with residents, the Portfolio Holder undertook to raise the comments in relation to the Residents’ Engagement Terms Strategy at a Portfolio Holders meeting and discuss with the Director.
· the position in relation to the Laings properties at Newman Road and Merrivale Road, had been raised regularly and was a priority to progress when there was funding to do so. She had spoken to the Assistant Director Housing, as ... view the full minutes text for item 39.
Report of the Director City Devlopment
The Assistant Director Housing presented the report which summarised the contents of the proposed Council Housing Strategy 2023-2027 and the context in which it has been developed. A copy of the full strategy document was circulated with the agenda. The Strategy set out the overarching plan for the next four years as well as setting out how they are going to manage and grow the service.
He referred to the following five key objectives of: -
· enhancing the resident’s experience
· providing the right homes in the right places
· providing value for money services
· supporting our residents
· ensuring the safety of our homes and residents
The Assistant Director Housing sought Members’ enquiries and comments: -
· the majority of the contracts were outsourced, Mears was the main contractor, and there is an innovative practice of maintenance for a set price per property and price for void properties to ensure that any empty properties are then offered to a lettable standard. A team of two electricians work in house carrying out small jobs in a reactive way.
· a new contract has been secured for the gas engineering and gas safety checks. Although overseen by his colleague the Service Lead (Housing Assets) he was able to advise that the Mears contract had been running for two years, but prior to procurement, an option paper for insourcing was considered by Members.
· he welcomed the suggestion of a year on year figure to better reflect satisfaction trends. The Government have introduced through the regulation tenant satisfaction measures, with an annual set of 21 questions that every social landlord has to ask all tenants. The analysis does help to offer a comparison with neighbouring and similar authorities with retained stock. The satisfaction levels are reported to the Council Housing and Development Advisory Board, but he would in future report the stock condition survey to this Scrutiny Committee. The stock condition survey was nearly completed and will meet the Government regulations and dictates of knowledge. He added that whilst they did take seriously any response to Councillors’ enquiries, there was a process which they operated to with an explanation to the Councillors and tenants. They were reactive over a genuine problem.
· he would take the comments back to colleagues in relation to including the target performance in 2022/23 for referrals to external partner organisations and evictions. He added that evictions were rare and were at zero, but he would check that detail. The aim was to address proactively all cases where people fall into significant arrears offering support to pay or with the help of benefits.
· following a Member’s comment that eviction may not necessarily be seen as a failure of service, and the importance of having a robust back up, he announced that he would be talking to the Portfolio Holder about formulating an Arrears Policy shortly.
· he would obtain a response to a Member who raised an enquiry in relation to the assessment of need made for homes of those individuals with a range of needs. ... view the full minutes text for item 40.
Report of the Director City Devlopment
The Assistant Director Housing Service presented the report which summarised the revised Tenancy Strategy and Policy following a review and consultation. It is proposed that the revised Tenancy Strategy and Policy 2023-2027 be adopted and implemented. A copy of the Strategy and Policy documents was appended.
The Council as a social landlord, had to have due regard as to how tenancies were managed with a Tenancy Strategy and Tenancy Policy.
Particular reference was made to:-
· the proposed change of moving from a fixed term to a lifetime tenancy approach. The Council had introduced a fixed term tenancy policy in 2015 with a two to five years tenancy and introductory period for the first 12 months, provided the rent was paid and the terms and conditions of the tenancy agreement were met.
· the lifetime tenancy scheme was set out in paragraph 6.6 of the report. It was established that following a review of tenants housing circumstances that only 2% of tenants had to have their tenancy ended. A number had moved to a smaller or larger property, but the number of properties returned to let on the Devon Home Choice register was small.
· there were 418 responses to the consultation with 81% being supportive of lifetime tenancies. Reversion to the lifetime tenancy with a probationary period was around the Council’s Corporate priorities on building communities to enable those tenants to continue to engage in their local area.
The Assistant Director Housing responded to the following enquiries: -
· there are very few non-statutory successions and he would obtain the answer. They will assess their person’s housing need and if they move into a property and it was less than 12 months, if their need was less they would facilitate them moving to a smaller property to free up the larger property or the succession would not be able to go ahead.
· he explained that the succession is where the tenant passes away and someone remains in the property and their succession to the property. There can only be one succession on a tenancy. The law is that the individual must have lived there for 12 months and must be a partner to reassign the tenancy. Children were not included, as that changed in 2012 after the Localism Act.
· there should be evidence of co habitation, such as joint household bills but the team took a sensible approach.
· there was no automatic move to a lifetime tenancy and if they had been there less than 12 months there would be a case review to establish if that was an appropriate property for them to have.
· the Member suggested that the joint to sole tenancies should be reported, and the Assistant Director would report back and take forward if Members saw that as a useful measure to see what is happening in the stock in the future.
· he clarified the term succession which is where someone dies and succeed the tenancy and an assignment was when the tenancy goes from joint to sole and ... view the full minutes text for item 41.
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. This on-line document is a source for Members to raise issues at Scrutiny on forthcoming Executive agenda items:-
Also attached is a draft work plan of future scrutiny items.
Should Members wish to raise issues in respect of future business please notify Sharon Sissons in advance of the meeting.
The Chair referred to the work plan and to look at what business was coming forward and to encourage Members to look at what is moving forward and to submit any proposal for consideration using the proforma form.
A Member enquired about the circulation of the Scrutiny proforma list. It was noted that this matter would be considered by a forthcoming meeting of the Scrutiny Programme Board. A Member referred to the list of the topics raised over the last three years and suggested it be made available to Members. Following a request, a link to the scrutiny proposal form would be sent to Members.
Members also noted the Director Finance was due to attend the Scrutiny Programme Board meeting to discuss the opportunity to feed into the annual budget process at an earlier stage in the year.
Members noted the Forward Plan and the Scrutiny Work Plan.