Agenda item

Council Housing Strategy

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. He did reassure the Member around adaptations is that the HRA has a significant sum ring fenced to provide aids and adaptations. The Council has an occupational therapist in their service, who can offer an assessment to make sure any referral was carried out quickly.

·         with regard to buying in built properties, there was a small acquisitions budget to buy suitable properties from the open market. They were also able to use a portion of the Right to Buy receipts. Those people who have purchased under the Right to Buy Scheme were asked to give the Council first right of refusal when they wished to move on.

·         Environmental Health oversee the Empty Homes, but there are grant incentives for owners to renovate the property requesting an undertaking that they could be used in the temporary housing stock for a period. It remained a challenging area.

·         the Housing Officers were the first contact for dealing with anti-social behaviour, where there were 75 to 85 open cases at any one time, with up to 10 cases open and closed a month. The main complaints related to noise nuisance and child nuisance particularly during the summer months. A multiagency Anti-Social Behaviour Action team chaired by the Council’s Environmental Health service with representatives from Housing, the police, social services and other registered social providers in the region to discuss more complex anti-social behaviour and agree an action plan. The Anti-Social Behaviour Policy Strategy was currently being reviewed and would be presented to Members in due course.

·         the level of anti-social behaviour averaged at 120 cases a year with seasonal peaks and troughs ranging from 53 in April 2023, to 97 in August. The level did not dramatically increase during the Covid pandemic, but reports were still received during the lockdown.

·         in terms of using recent technology, the component sensors for door entry systems for communal flats sit with the Council and they will be introducing a key fob system for contractors to monitor their visits. With the support of the Council’s IT company Strata, an online tenant’s portal will enable tenants to log onto their individual accounts as well as make payments and report repairs. He was proud that they were one of the first services in the Council to introduce this opportunity.

·         all of the data would be included in the report to the Executive.


The Assistant Director Housing also responded to advance questions from a Member relating to whether the number of individuals in Council temporary accommodation was a static or rolling figure, of the projections for temporary need, as well as the pressure for temporary accommodation and managed as part of the service budget. The temporary accommodation figure was now at 150, and it was a rolling figure that changed with demand. His colleagues in the Housing Needs and Homelessness team were looking to lease properties to reduce the costs of bed and breakfast to aggregate the costs paying to meet those demands that we have.


He also responded to the Member’s question on the assessment of need in relation to the Council Housing Strategy, and what assessment in relation to planning of need has been undertaken for Gypsies, Roma, and Travellers (for fixed or travelling sites)?

He stated that a Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Assessment was also currently being undertaken by consultants on behalf of the City Council.  This will identify the need for permanent and transit pitches for the Gypsy and Traveller community (including Travelling Show-people).  The results will be used to plan for the provision of additional accommodation for Gypsies and Travellers in Exeter, including through the emerging Exeter Plan. This information would be included in the Strategy.


The Assistant Director Housing agreed to feedback the comments and request for  some training in relation to completing the Equalities and Assessment relating to providing an assessment of the impact on those members of society with protected characteristics. The Members thought that this was an area that might be strengthened through training.  He would talk to the Policy Officer who looks after equalities within the Council. The Chair suggested a discussion on the support training for officers on the EQIA which may promote a be a wider question revisit.


The Chair referred to the importance of the knowledge of the housing officers of their tenants and the service, and he asked the Assistant Director Housing how the Scrutiny could receive feedback. In reflecting on the changing role of the Housing Officer, it remained a challenging and difficult job, dealing with more complex issues working with other support agencies such as police, health and social services who were under their own pressures. He was happy to arrange an opportunity to have an informal chat with housing officers to talk through the day-to-day changes. The Chair welcomed the opportunity to understand how the Council supported officers in this regard. The Portfolio Holder also referred to the good relationship and communication work with tenants and the Housing Officer.


Members welcomed the comprehensive and informative report.


RECOMMENDED that the report be noted, and that Executive note and Council approve the new Council Housing Strategy as summarized in the circulated report.

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