Agenda and minutes

Housing Scrutiny Committee
Thursday 14 September 2017 7.00 pm

Venue: Board Rooms 3, 4 & 5 - Brent Civic Centre. View directions

Contact: Nikoleta Nikolova, Governance Officer, tel: 0208 937 1587 

Items
No. Item

1.

Apologies for absence and clarification of alternate members

Minutes:

There were no apologies for absence.

2.

Declarations of interests

Members are invited to declare at this stage of the meeting, any relevant disclosable pecuniary, personal or prejudicial interests in the items on this agenda.

Minutes:

Cllr Harrison declared that she was a member of the BHP Board until end of September 2017

 

Cllr Long declared that she had a sister who lives in a tower block managed by BHP.

3.

Deputations (if any)

To hear any deputations received from members of the public in accordance with Standing Order 69.

Minutes:

None.

4.

Minutes of the previous meeting pdf icon PDF 130 KB

To approve the attached minutes from the previous meeting on 27 July 2017 as a correct record.

Minutes:

The minutes of the previous meeting held on 27 July 2017 were approved as an accurate record.

5.

Matters arising (if any)

To consider any matters arising from the minutes of the previous meeting.

Minutes:

The Committee heard updates on the following matters arising:

 

Information on unit cost of March 2017 fire safety assessments

 

Officers explained that the requested information was not currently available but a report would be prepared in due course and send to the relevant scrutiny officer for circulation to all members.

 

Availability of funds from the original £10m received from the installation of mobile phone masts;

 

Phil Porter (Strategic Director, Community Wellbeing) informed the committee that no specific information was available on breakdown of expenditure but that Council was aware of £144 000 annual income received from phone companies, majority of which goes to the Housing Revenue Account , with a reserve of £568 000 kept as contingency funds.

Councillors requested a detailed response on the above matter, including the number of BHP buildings in Brent which have phone masts and a review of any future contracts with phone companies, to be circulated to all members of the committee.

 

 

Outcomes from housing association meeting on 16th August

 

The committee heard an update regarding the meeting on 16th August, when a forum of housing associations and registered providers representatives met to discuss various fire risk issues. A decision was made for an ongoing sub-group to be set up. The sub-group, chaired by the BHP Fire Safety Lead, had its first meeting on 4th September and identified key areas as part of its work programme. Officers said that feedback from the sub-group work programme will be presented to the committee once the programme is completed.

 

In relation to fire safety, the Chair made reference to a BBC Newsnight report aired on 13 September 2017 on cyanide issues in a tower block in Brent and asked for a confirmation on which particular block it was on about and if any actions need to be taken. Officers explained that no specific information was available at this stage but the Council was in discussion with DCLG and landlords and soon as specific details were available they would be published on the Council’s website. 

 

Issue related to un-adopted land between Brent Council and RPs.

Officers explained that Brent Council meets with registered providers on quarterly basis and the issue had been discussed but no project as such had yet been initiated.

 

Co-opted members

 

Members heard that the deadline for recruitment of co-opted members had been extended to 29th November 2017 in order to allow for more applications to be submitted. In addition, plans were being put in place to raise the profile of the recruitment via liaison with Communications and Communication engagement groups and all members were encouraged to share the information.

 

6.

BHP Performance data pdf icon PDF 5 MB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Hakeem Osinaike (Operational Director, Housing) presented a report focusing on BHP Performance, resident engagement and council properties stock.  He explained that although fundamental issues still exist, the Council had identified the reasons for it and actions were taken to improve it. Four particular areas of concern were highlighted – delays when calling the contact centre, repairs, rents and health and safety. The transition period, coupled with IT issues and management shortage, affected performance and led to an increase in complaints. Nevertheless improvements had been made since then and with the service moving back in house they expect a significantly improved relationship. With regards to rent collection, Mr Osinaike explained that despite poor performance in Quarter 1, this area was now doing well with significant percentage of rent collected since August 2017. With regard to health and safety, he updated the members that a specialist consultancy had been engaged to undertake a review of all compliance process, during October, in terms of gas, electricity and fire safety as review staff roles and responsibilities. Finally, on the issue of resident engagement, members heard that despite all efforts, statistics show that only 3% of the residents engage with the Council, with a substantial silent majority of 97% remaining unengaged. In order to tackle this, the Council intended to explore further engagement options, including social media as well as type of residents targeted and meeting format. In addition, a paper was recently presented to the BHP Members and Resident Panel and the comments received would be taken into account in the preparation of the resident engagement strategy (officers to bring plan to HS for further discussion).

 

In the discussion which followed, members asked further questions on customer experience and the performance on the contact centre. They felt that the delays in customer enquiries and the responses received were unsatisfactory and instead more focus should be paid on face to face engagement with tenants and leaseholders.

 

In response, officers explained the fundamental issues off BHP service delivery still existed, which made it difficult to have direct contact with residents. However, issues had been identified and transformation programme in place. Members were reassured that the Council was determined to make the new structure more flexible and responsive and actions were being taken to improve this, including a new head of customer service due to start soon and service managers posts currently being advertised. In addition, the Council was looking to set up a dedicated customer insight team to provide insight on the different customer types as well as an improved housing management computer system to ensure that information held is correct and managed well.  Once the above system had been put in place, members would be presented with an equality impact assessment, particularly on the levels of vulnerable residents living at BHP properties.

 

Further area of discussion brought up at the meeting was the variance in ground maintenance in different estates and ways to identify blocks in Brent who have unsatisfactory levels of service. Officers explained  ...  view the full minutes text for item 6.

7.

Implementation of actions previously recommended by Local Government Ombudsman pdf icon PDF 200 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Laurence Coaker (Head of Housing Needs) presented a report on the outcome of the recommendations made by the Local Government Ombudsman in August 2016 and the further recommendations by the Community Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee on 23 November 2016 on how London Borough of Brent should deal with cases of domestic

violence and the implementation of the actions which resulted from this.

 

Further recommendations included a review of West London reciprocal arrangements (arrangements between West London areas on what happens to tenants who move from one borough to another and how not to lose their social tenancy) which were eventually taken over by the pan-London agreement to which all Local Authorities were now signed up to. In order to avoid having two separate agreements, a decision was made by directors that the west London agreement was put on hold and that the pan-London agreement was adopted on a trial basis. A project group was set up between BHP and housing needs officers to review those processes and new procedures had been drafted and sent out to officers. Training on domestic abuse was also being delivered by Shelter. In addition, the Council was leading on a mystery shopping exercise across six participating boroughs which would test how officers were dealing with cases on domestic abuse and would set a benchmark against which to measure improvements. Finally, Mr Coaker stated that an Outcome Based Review had been launched, which highlighted some housing issues and the findings of which would be discussed at a scoping event due to take place in October 2017 and make recommendations to enhance the service.

 

At a question by members on numbers of suitable accommodation available to victims of domestic abuse, Mr Coaker explained that availability was dependent on certain factors and each case would need to be looked on an individual basis, based on its tenure, location and

protected status to determine which scheme to use. At a question on whether any Invest4Brent Properties could be used on a short term basis for victims of domestic violence. Officers explained that these were private properties but could be used if deemed suitable.

Members further enquired on the issue of retaining social housing status and right to buy in cases where the victim has to relocate and stressed the importance of ensuring that victims were not punished by the process or end up as private tenants. Mr Coaker, reassured the committee that in general detainment of social housing status was on a like for like basis but that secure tenancy depended on the individual circumstances as well as the policies and procedures of the receiving borough. The issue had already been identified in the OBR and was yet to be tested via the pan-London agreement. In addition to this, officers explained the OBR was still in progress, with housing services staff actively involved in the OBR process. A visioning event would be held on 4th October 2017 when all data that had been collected would be shared with stakeholders to  ...  view the full minutes text for item 7.

8.

Rent and Management of Travellers site pdf icon PDF 96 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

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  ...  view the full minutes text for item 8.

9.

Scope - task group on fire safety in social housing pdf icon PDF 265 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Committee unanimously agreed to have a task group on fire safety in social housing with an invitation to join to be extended to other Brent councillors.

10.

Scrutiny Committee's Work Programme 2017-18 pdf icon PDF 136 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Noted

11.

Any other urgent business

Notice of items to be raised under this heading must be given in writing to the Head of Executive and Member Services or his representative before the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 64.

Minutes:

None.