Rent and Management of Travellers site
Decision maker: Housing Scrutiny Committee
Decision status: Recommendations Approved
Is Key decision?: No
Is subject to call in?: No
Hakeem Osinaike presented to the Committee a report on rent and management of the Lynton Close travellers’ site. He explained that Lynton Close was an Irish travellers community of settled families who rent pitches from Brent Council on which they live in permanent mobile homes. The report set out progress that had been made against four key areas - financial inclusion, overcrowding, fire safety and anti-social behaviour- and the next steps to be taken.
In the discussion which followed members had an opportunity to scrutinise some of the site’s financial issues. With regards to rent collection and arrears, Mr Osinaike explained that in addition to Council rent, residents of Lynton Close were paying rent to a private mobile home provider. The implementation of a benefit cap had meant that some resident could not receive a full housing benefit and therefore were not in a position to pay the shortfall, thus resulting in an accumulation of arrears (total arrears figure was £238 000). He explained that although there were no plans to waive the arrears, the Council would not seek enforcement but would instead review rents of this site and will seek to propose to Cabinet a reduction of these charges to make the rents more affordable.
Furthermore, members asked questions on the contract with Oxfordshire County Council (OCC), which manages the site on behalf of Brent Council, what was included in it and how would planned future improvements be paid. Members heard that the cost of the OCC management constituted the greatest single cost and despite the competitive tendering exercise carried out on 2016 the procurement process did not generate any savings. Officers explained that no council tax money was being used in the scheme and in essence it was self-funded, with revenue gained from rents used to pay for the site management resulting in a net nil. Non-collection of rent, however, remained an area of high risk so the Council was
now in meetings with OCC to discuss the issue with the high cost of the contract and work was in progress. On the question on how improvements would be paid, Hakeem Osinaike explained that this would be done through the Capital programme. As a point of clarification, he explained that although money was available to spend, they were not ring-fenced and sat within the realm of HR.
In terms of overcrowding, the committee heard that this was largely a result of the constant movement of people to and from the site which made it difficult to keep track of the number of residents living in each property and caused issues for both current residents and the Council. In efforts to improve the situation the Council was putting together a team whose aim would be to visit the site, understand better the individual needs of each family and find appropriate housing options for them. The overall aim was to engage with residents and hear their views before coming with proposals on how best to improve the situation and tackle ongoing anti-social behaviour issues.
Members asked for an update on progress made with finding a second site, to accommodate growing number of travellers and whether there were plans to prioritise travellers under the allocations policy. Officers responded that there were no plans for a second site but instead the Council may seek to find a larger, more suitable site. With regard to the allocations policy, there was work ongoing between families living at the site, OCC and BHP and housing needs service on finding out what the situation at the site was and the level of overcrowding it created, which in turn would give the Council a better understanding on the level of
overcrowding as a whole, the need to look for a larger site and whether or not current
allocations policy needs revision. Decision on this would need to be made by December 2017.
Finally, members discussed the issue of fire safety and health and safety on the site. In line with BHP’s wider fire safety policy, Fire Risk Assessments (FRA) were carried out annually for high risk properties, including sites like Lynton close, with a copy of the most recent assessment available in the agenda pack (Appendix C) .Officers explained that although the Council had statutory responsibility for the site, it was down to the occupants to look after their individual caravans. Issues such as accessing the site by emergency services were ongoing, with access to the site regularly blocked by abandoned vehicles. In addition, spacing between caravans was mentioned, with concerns expressed about not meeting the required distance of six metres between caravans.
Further fire safety related issues included the lack of adequate provision of sockets in the kitchen facilities and storage of cylinders on site which posed a fire risk. Hakeem Osinaike explained that conversions were inevitable albeit costly and that plans were being made to gradually replace all kitchens and toilet units. Furthermore, smoke alarms and heat detectors were installed in all mobile homes at Lynton close, with the Council and BHP maintaining a close relationship with London Fire Brigade which makes regular site visits and informs residents of the fire safety issues created by overcrowding.
The discussion was joined by Cllr Conneely who made a contribution by explaining that Lynton Close was a very well established site with generations of travellers living there. She insisted that the Brent was not meeting the legal requirement for total number of pitches available, which presupposed the need to find a larger more suitable site where residents could relocate.
i) traffic enforcement report in June/July 2018 to be presented at a scrutiny
meeting in the next municipal year;
ii) work to continue on finding a larger travellers site and explore increasing
number of pitches;
iii) report on children and adolescents from Gail Tolley (Strategic Director, Children and Young People) to be shared with the committee
iv) Housing Services team to share with committee members a breakdown of the
contract with Oxfordshire County Council.
Publication date: 02/11/2017
Date of decision: 14/09/2017
Decided at meeting: 14/09/2017 - Housing Scrutiny Committee