Agenda and minutes

Venue: Boardrooms 3-5 - Brent Civic Centre, Engineers Way, Wembley, HA9 0FJ. View directions

Contact: Nikoleta Nikolova, Governance Officer  tel: 0208 937 1587, Email: Nikoleta.Nikolova@brent.gov.uk

Items
No. Item

1.

Apologies for absence and clarification of alternate members

Minutes:

Apologies for absence were received from Councillor Kennelly and Ms Jaeger (co-opted member).

 

The Chair informed that Michelle Lonergan had resigned from her post as a co-opted member on the committee. The Chair thanked Ms Lonergan for her work and input on the committee and wished her every success for the future. It was clarified that there were no plans to seek a substitute co-opted member due to the disbandment of the Housing Scrutiny committee post April 2019.

 

2.

Declarations of interests

Members are invited to declare at this stage of the meeting, the nature and existence of any relevant disclosable pecuniary, personal or prejudicial interests in the items on this agenda and to specify the item(s) to which they relate.

Minutes:

There were no declarations of interest.

 

3.

Minutes of the previous meeting pdf icon PDF 155 KB

To approve the attached minutes from the previous meeting on 29 November 2018 as a correct record.

Minutes:

The minutes of the previous meeting held on 29 November 2018 were approved as an accurate record.

 

4.

Matters arising (if any)

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

Minutes:

The following matters were raised at the meeting:

      i.        Council’s Housing webpages had been updated, including information on private sector tenants.

    ii.        Cllr Southwood (Lead Member for Housing and Welfare Reform) drew members’ attention to the Greater London Authority’s (GLA) rules on balloting and explained that all future housing schemes without an already agreed planning permission or funding arrangements would be subject to a ballot. Whilst changes in relation to the South Kilburn Regeneration Scheme were likely to pose a risk on the scheme’s viability unless alternative funding arrangements were identified, officers expressed confidence in the success of the ballot, subject to appropriate preparation and communication with residents. Therefore, it was agreed that an update on South Kilburn Regeneration Project be deferred until next meeting on 26 March 2019 to also include indication on schemes which did not have specific funding arrangements.

   iii.        Information on backlog of licensing applications be shared with the Committee.

 

5.

Deputations (if any)

To hear any deputations received from members of the public in accordance with Standing Order 67.

Minutes:

None received.

6.

Petitions (if any)

To discuss any petitions from members of the public, in accordance with Standing Order 66.

Minutes:

None received.

10.

Housing Complaints pdf icon PDF 130 KB

 

This version of the 2017/18 Complaints Annual report focuses on complaints performance in the Housing directorate, with an overview report on complaints performance in the Housing directorate provided in Appendix A and a summary of the root cause of complaints and improvement actions in the Housing Directorate in 2017/18 in Appendix B.

 

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Following this item the order of the agenda was changed as set out below

 

At the invitation of the Chair, Cllr McLennan (Deputy Leader, Brent Council) introduced the report which provided Members with an overview of the Annual Complaints Report 2017-18, approved by Cabinet on 10 December 2018. The Report also provided the Committee with an outline of the Housing Directorate complaints performance for 2017-18, a summary of the main cause of complaints and improvement actions set out in detail in Appendices A and B respectively.

 

Focusing on the Housing Directorate, it was stated that the majority of housing complaints related to customer care, repairs and communications and came from three areas namely Housing Management Services, Housing Needs and Private Housing Services with a negligible number of complaints received in Housing Partnerships. However, Cllr McLennan reported that despite ongoing restructuring and growing pressures on services, data demonstrated the strong improvements made across the Council compared to previous years, including a 4% decrease in Stage 1 complaints, 8% decrease in Stage 2, 5% decrease in level of compensation and nearly 30% decrease in the number of cases awarded compensation. In welcoming the improvements, a member posed a question relating to the reasons for the increase in the number of upheld complaints, despite the reduction in overall case numbers. Irene Bremang (Head of Performance and Improvement) stated that this was a reflection of the Council’s willingness to take responsibility, while also challenging the pre-existing culture of defensiveness and hereby trying to improve the service and compensate residents when appropriate.

 

Discussions moved on with members spotlighting on complaints within the Private Housing Services, in particular the most common type of complaints received and the level of reporting. The Committee’s attention was drawn to information in the report which provided a breakdown of root causes of complaints by main service area and demonstrated that the overall number of complaints in that area was low, with the majority of cases relating to either grants and enforcement or, in a some cases, due to a discretionary payment challenges. In terms of reporting and follow up action, Hakeem Osinaike (Operational Director Housing) confirmed that previously existing backlogs had been cleared and the service was now focusing on current applications. He pointed out that the service was dealing with a range of enquiries, including such on licensing matters which were normally dealt as a service request but also standard complaints on the quality of housing services. Set processing targets were in place and adhered to, with officers agreeing to update on the exact turnaround times at the next committee meeting.

 

Finally, the Committee briefly spotlighted on the issue of recording residents’ compliments received by staff. Irene Bremang advised that compliments had been under-recorded on the Council’s complaints system and that staff had been reminded to log their compliments on the system or send them to the Complaints team to do this on their behalf.

 

 

RESOLVED:

 

      i.        That the contents of the Housing Complaints 2017/18 report be noted.  ...  view the full minutes text for item 10.

8.

Welfare Reform and Homelessness (including the Homelessness Reduction Act) pdf icon PDF 191 KB

The report provides information about the impact of Welfare Reform on housing services and homelessness in the borough, feedback on the impact of the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 as well as an overview of how challenges and outstanding risk have been managed.

Minutes:

Laurence Coaker (Head of Housing Needs) introduced the report which informed members of the impact of the Welfare Reform on housing services and homelessness in Brent as well as an overview of the challenges and outstanding risk for the borough.

 

The discussion which followed focused on some of the main changes in the Welfare Reform, namely the Local Housing Allowance (LHA), the introduction of the Overall Benefit Cap (OBC) and the replacement of six benefits with Universal Credit (UC). Firstly, the Committee was informed that introduction of Universal Credit was likely to be the most challenging change. The roll out of Universal Credit was on track as planned but the full migration was not expected to be completed before late 2020. A number of enquiries had been received regarding the impact of the new benefit but it was no specific analysis on its full impact on claimants in Brent could be given at this stage.

 

A question arose on the impact of the Welfare Reform on Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP). Officers explained that the allocation for the next financial year is not yet known but assured Members that despite ongoing cuts the DHP budget was not going to disappear. However, Committee’s attention was drawn towards growing concerns about the information given to claimants by the Department for Work and Pensions on the impact on other benefits. Subsequently, pressure was put on the Council to ensure claimants were not disadvantaged as part of the roll out process and that the situation was adequately monitored. Concerns were also expressed in terms of the number of private sector tenants, many of who were not known to the Council yet were likely to be worst impacted by UC. A robust service existed for those residents who wanted to change contribution bands, including one to one interviews and the use of a house affordability tool. Residents were given options to choose from, although larger properties were mostly available only outside of Brent. In addition, officers advised that a cooperation with RPs was crucial and assured Members that appropriate communication channels such as the Welfare Reform Forum were in place to bring such matters to their attention.

 

Members were mindful of the impact on tenants working on zero-hour contracts or those who were self-employed as they were seen as more vulnerable and likely to fall behind with payments and questioned whether the Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) could be used to help them. Laurence Coaker explained that each case was looked on an individual basis but pointed out that this was not the main purpose of the DHP. Instead the DHP was intended as an interim measure, for up to 12 week’s period and was not applicable in zero-hour contract circumstances as there was no guarantee when the resident would be back to work. Affected residents were being referred to the Council’s employment and skills service in order to seek more income stability.

 

In terms of the implications of reductions on housing related support, Laurence Coaker  ...  view the full minutes text for item 8.

9.

Performance Update pdf icon PDF 253 KB

The report outlines the current performance for Brent Housing Management from April – December 2018 in key improvement areas for the service. Performance targets are presented alongside monitoring data, commentary and progress against the improvement plan work.

Minutes:

Jo Walton (Head of Performance Insight and Improvement) introduced the report which briefed Members on the current performance in key Brent Housing Management areas for the period between April and December 2018.

 

In the discussion which followed Members raised a number of issues. Firstly, the Committee noted the variance in performance figures, with poorer rates observed in the winter months. Officers explained that this was due to the seasonal nature of calls and a combination of factors. Higher number of calls in the summer noted when most staff is on leave.

 

Referencing information in the report on number of calls answered within 3 minutes in the period from July to December 2018, Members noted that percentage of calls answered in November and December was lower than in previous months and that this did not give the impression of any improvement made. They also stated that it would be helpful to benchmark data against that of previous quarters. Officers stated that the data was recorded only because it was expected from the residents, and this was not the case under BHP. There had also been a change in telephone providers which had had an effect.

 

The Committee commented on the potential issue of staffing and enquired on the possibility of the Council recruiting more agency staff. In response, officers stated that contact centre resources were being reviewed as part of a wider structure review. New information to be used in order to establish what resource were required and ensure appropriate staffing levels.

 

Referencing customer satisfaction targets, officers acknowledged that there were areas where the Council was underperforming. Whilst overall call response by the Council’s customer services was rated good, the Committee heard that delays in carrying out repairs were more common from a contractor’s side. They acknowledged that there was a failure to manage response times appropriately just as much as Wates’s own poor performance. It was explained that issues often arose from the type of repairs – minor repairs were resolved quickly whereas more complex ones often required two or more operatives which, if not managed well, led to delays. A series of workshops and meetings had been held with Wates and actions were set for them to work towards. 

 

Discussions moved on, with the Committee referencing information in the report and spotlighting on the downward trend in the percentage of repairs completed within 14 days. Officers stated that residents often come up with false statements to ensure Council attends quickly to their repair, because they don’t trust it will be done otherwise. As a result the two week measure had been introduced to ensure repair response are carried out promptly and consistently within specified deadlines. In terms of carrying out repairs below the agreed standard, officers explained that performance on that was measured. It was explained that as part of the contractual agreement with Wates any contractual services were charged at a flat rate, per property. This in turn created an initiative for the contractor to carry out repairs  ...  view the full minutes text for item 9.

7.

Brent based Registered Providers (RP) delivery of social housing pdf icon PDF 146 KB

The purpose of this report is to provide the Housing Scrutiny Committee with an overview of the Registered Providers (RP)s operating in Brent.

Minutes:

At the invitation of the Chair, John Magness (Head of Housing Supply and Partnerships) introduced the report which provided Members with an overview of the Registered Providers (RPs) operating in Brent.

 

The Committee was informed that there were an estimated 55 RPs operating in Brent ranging from small to large size organisations. A designated team had been set up within Housing Services to manage the relations with Registered Providers (RPs) and seek to develop a more consistent way of developing and managing these partnerships. Discussion were under way to develop a shared code of practice between the Council and RPs  as a way of streamlining management standards and ultimately ensuring RPs adhere to and work towards Council objectives. No central depository of RP related information existed which created issues in terms of analysing data but also pinpointing exact location of properties. However, basic performance information was available as well as a central government league table developed by central government which provided some benchmarking data. This created issues both in terms of Members acknowledged existing problems but stated that there had been ongoing communication issues with some RPs thereby recommending the setting up of clearer contact routes in order to simplify signposting and dealing with residents’ queries.

 

With regards to resident related performance officers explained that the Council was exerting influence where possible vis a vis section 106 but acknowledged that more work was needed and stated that relations were better with those RPs which tended to share Council’s values. A lot of master planning was in place and the aim was to deliver the most affordable housing possible for residents. A key factor in the relationship with RPs was the need to provide more affordable housing for local residents. Some leverage was available in the form of access to land in the borough and Right to Buy Receipts but despite Council’s access to land, RPs offers could not be easily turned away due to the wider access to funds available to RPs which in turn contributed towards alleviate at least in part some of the acute housing problems in the borough. The role of smaller RPs were also acknowledged particularly due to their capacity to provide more specialist accommodation.  Viability of smaller RPs scheme was generally safeguarded with any struggling providers encouraged to consider a merger with another provider.

 

Finally, discussion centred on the RP’s management of service charges. It was explained that service charges were split into 2 types – provision of services and actual charges for works. Officers stated that specific information on service charges was not available but explained these were defined in legislation and RPs were being regulated in similar ways to other housing providers. Any difference were a result of improper management, with any issues flagged up mostly via the complaints channels. Responding to queries on whether the shared ownership policy would include service charges, it was explained that affected properties were likely to be of leasehold character and for them the rent was calculated  ...  view the full minutes text for item 7.

11.

Work Programme 2018/19 pdf icon PDF 79 KB

Minutes:

RESOLVED that the contents of the Housing Scrutiny Work Programme 2018/19 be noted

12.

Forward Plan pdf icon PDF 128 KB

Minutes:

RESOLVED that the contents of the latest Forward Plan be noted

 

13.

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 60.

Minutes:

None.