Agenda item

Brent Housing Management Services and Performance

This report updates the Community and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee on Brent Housing Management Services performance.

Minutes:

Councillor Southwood (Lead Member for Housing and Welfare Reform) introduced the report, which updated the Committee on the operational performance of Brent Housing Management (BHM). She advised that the service had considered what good performance meant, and were focusing on particular areas. One area of focus was around how the service handled complaints when things went wrong. Another area of focus was on customer service and reminding staff across BHM of the customer experience, how it felt to be a customer and why transactional surveys had been introduced, in which customers who received a service from BHM immediately received a survey about their experience. She felt the report provided a solid evidence base for where BHM would be focusing its efforts.

 

The Chair noted that performance of BHM had been previously reported to the Community and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee, in which the Committee had made some recommendations about better customer engagement. He highlighted that a theme running through the paper was about resident engagement and satisfaction, with the paper highlighting that satisfaction had gone down. In response, Councillor Southwood advised that the past 18 months had been difficult regarding housing and how people lived in and experienced their homes, which might be reflected in the dip in satisfaction. She highlighted that other Housing Services had seen a similar drop. The Committee were advised that residents reported being dissatisfied with anti-social behaviour and the cleanliness of the area they lived. She also acknowledged that since performance was last presented to the Committee the service had focused on improving processes and now needed to focus on the support and communication offered to residents, which was where the conversation was evolving now with the leadership team.

 

The Committee felt that there had been a noticeable effort to improve communications with residents but felt it was not where it needed to be yet. They requested that a map of who was who in housing be provided, from the director of housing down, so that councillors and residents alike could know who a resident’s Housing Officer was. Members of the Committee noted that contact details given to residents to respond to section 20 notifications and consultations sometimes posed challenges including where there was no named contact, or a phone number dialled through to a full mailbox, which could impact section 20 consultations. In addition, the Committee felt there was still mistrust between residents and the housing department, and residents did not feel listened to. Councillor Southwood assured the Committee that the intention was to nurture and support residents and resident groups such as associations. She highlighted that there had been a plan to move to a patch based model, where Housing Officers had responsibility for a particular area, so that residents would know who their officer was and the officer was accountable, however for various reasons relating to the pandemic that plan had been slowed down. She felt the service could be smarter in terms of resident communication and engagement and would think about how they involved councillors in supporting that relationship between housing officers and residents, which may help resolve some of the cases on the ground. The service had also conducted two ‘spotlight’ sessions for residents which had presented a mix of opinions. Hakeem Osinaike (Operational Director Housing, Brent Council) added that Housing Officers had resumed walkabouts at all levels and himself, Councillor Southwood, and the Strategic Director Community Wellbeing had also done walkabouts, where officers took pictures, agreed actions and went back to residents on issues. He advised there were a lot of actions that had only recently started to happen due to pandemic delays that he believed would have an impact in the weeks and months to come.

 

Continuing to discuss resident engagement, the Committee highlighted the data in the report that 31% of residents felt the Council did not listen to or act on their views, which had resulted in a number of changes such as Housing Officer presence, surveys and workshops, and hosting meetings at a more local level. They queried what assurances could be given to residents that those processes would result in them being actively listened to. Councillor Southwood felt one way to assure residents was to be completely clear about why the service had made a particular change or improvement, and therefore a monthly newsletter called Spotlight had been introduced to highlight these changes. The newsletter aimed to be explicit about what the service had heard and what the service had done about it. She advised that the service wanted to get much better and stronger about letting residents know how they had acted on their feedback on a much more regular basis. Hakeem Osinaike added that the Council had a customer experience panel which was made up of tenants and leaseholders from different parts of the Borough, who served as a form of informal scrutiny through looking at BHM’s performance, and as a consultation body through testing out new systems, policies and processes.

 

In relation to the Council’s communication with residents about repairs, the Committee highlighted that residents did not always get enough communication as to what was next in the repair process, for example for a complex repair where multiple tradespeople or contractors were involved. Councillor Southwood agreed to give further information on the repairs system which would clearly set out what people should expect from repairs. Where residents were not being communicated with regarding ongoing repairs, Councillor Southwood agreed it was not good enough and even if the repair could not be immediately resolved communication could always be done. She was clear that whoever delivered a repair or service to Brent Council residents, the relationship was between the resident and the Council and therefore the Council needed to hold accountability for communication. With regard to complex repairs, Phil Porter (Strategic Director Community Wellbeing, Brent Council) advised that the Council were working with Wates to put together a specific team within Wates who would batch those complex repairs together, including a specific Repairs Manager who would manage those on a daily basis through very tight supervision. Giuseppe Coia (Head of Service – Housing Management Property, Brent Council) added that Wates had now moved into the Civic Centre and worked closely with officers within the Council. Issues with complex repairs, where there was more than one step involved in a repair such as multiple operatives, was identified as a problem a few months prior to the meeting, and it was acknowledged that the multiple appointments and different surveyors and visitors entering the home caused frustration and disruption to residents. The new team set up to manage repairs on a planned basis would ensure ownership of these complex repairs either by Wates, the Council, or jointly, and that responsible party would see the repairs through to completion. There were currently around 700-800 complex repairs but he was confident that the new team had already started to make inroads and that the work would be successful.

 

In discussing the Council’s relationship with Wates as a contractor, the Committee queried what KPIs had been set up and asked how the Council put pressure on them to complete targets. Councillor Southwood agreed to share some written details on the contract with Wates to the Committee. Councillor Southwood advised that the relationship with Wates was regular, with officers interacting with Wates on a daily basis. Senior management also met with Wates regularly with Councillor Southwood attending where there were particular issues. For example, a few years prior when concerns had been raised on the progress of fire safety work everybody contributed to improving that situation. Hakeem Osinaike advised that Wates did around 30,000 repairs a year, and where things went wrong the Council and Wates tried to act very quickly to address those issues. With the introduction of transactional surveys BHM could learn very quickly and address the issues just as quickly. Phil Porter added that the Council were clear with Wates what they wanted them to achieve and held them to account on repairs.

 

Continuing their discussion of the repairs process, the Committee asked what the average timescales were. Hakeem Osinaike advised that the intention for repairs was to complete all repairs as soon as possible. If somebody made a request for a repair through the app they could make an appointment straight away at their own convenience, and similarly if someone reported a repair through the telephone contact centre they would be given an appointment depending on their own availability. BHM monitored how many repairs they were able to complete within 2 weeks of it being reported, and these figures were detailed within the report. There were some statutory repairs that needed to be completed within 24 hours and those targets for emergency repairs were met 100%. He added that most landlords had targets to complete ordinary repairs within 28 days, compared to BHM who did them within a maximum 2 week period, with the majority completed within a week depending on the availability of the person requesting the repair. In the case of a repair that affected more than one flat and therefore required access to 2 homes there was a written down process. Hakeem Osinaike advised that the law prevented BHM from accessing other people’s properties without permission, and therefore there was a need for extenuating circumstances before they could do so. If the issue was serious then BHM could access the property without consent and fix the issue, but if not then they made every attempt to contact the residents for access, with the final resort being to apply for a court injunction to enter the property.

 

The Committee queried how the fire safety programme was carried out and how fire safety messages were being communicated to residents. Phil Porter advised that there had been some delays at the start of the programme but it had now been delivered with high levels of satisfaction. Giuseppe Coia advised that the programme was very ambitious and highlighted that, to undertake and deliver the programme, there was a need to access every single low and medium rise block, conversion and flat in the Borough multiple times due to the different trades involved. This required the Council to write to residents, hold consultation meetings, arrange newsletters and hold additional visits and there had been many problems with access throughout the programme. The programme had now been delivered which had left all low and medium rise homes in a very good condition for fire safety and also in décor, meaning they were fit for the future. He acknowledged that moving forward there was a need to find a way to work and engage better with residents where there were access requirements for the delivery of a programme.

 

In response to queries from the Committee about the master key for access to buildings mentioned in section 4.10 of the report, Giuseppe Coia advised that the common areas of Council blocks and conversions belonged to the Council, and while the Council recognised and respected that residents used them for access the Council were responsible for maintaining those areas. There was now a lot of specialist fire safety equipment in those areas needing to be maintained, and in the past the Council and contractors had serious problems attempting to access those areas. For that reason, the Council had written to all residents explaining the need for a master key to access communal areas. Residents still had their own key to their own homes, but the main entrance door to each property had a key the Council could use to gain access to communal areas whenever was required. Where possible, the Council also gave notice to residents that they would be accessing the block.

 

The Committee queried whether there were any residents waiting for adaptations within their homes. Hakeem Osinaike advised that the current year a budget for adaptations had been set at £800,000 for Brent Council properties, but BHM had realised that would not be enough so a further £300,000 had been allocated to adaptations. The previous year the Council had spent £1m on adaptations and had an £800,000 provision in the budget each year for the next 2 years. He advised that at the beginning of each year the Council assessed what people needed and had a contractor in place who would do those adaptations within the year. There was a priority list for the type of adaptation as it was assessment based. Residents could self-refer or were referred by Adult Social Care, Hospitals, GPs and Primary Care. Phil Porter added that they had done more adaptations across Council Housing and the Private Rented Sector last year than they had ever done, and he was not made aware of any people waiting longer than a year for adaptations.

 

The Committee highlighted section 3.12 of the report which stated that email and text notifications to residents generated no interest. Phil Porter advised that when surveys were sent out on an automated basis did not always get a good response which was why the Council had pursued residents and made call outs. He agreed that, as well as dealing with clauses in Wates contract, it was important to focus on resident satisfaction and therefore the Council would not only rely on semi-automated responses but would follow up to gather the best understanding of resident views and the problems they might be facing.

 

Hakeem Osinaike confirmed that the Council knew exactly how many tenants they had, where they were leaseholders including the people who lived in them, and conducted tenancy audits to verify their information.

 

The Chair drew the item to a close and invited Committee members to make recommendations, with the following RESOLVED:

 

i)              To recommend that officers provide the Committee with an annual progress report on resident engagement which includes engagement with Section 20 consultations and the challenges of digital exclusion.

 

ii)             To recommend that the engagement framework is made available in an accessible way for all residents.

 

iii)           To recommend a report detailing the progress of fire safety work is brought back to the Committee at its meeting on 22 February 2022.

 

A number of information requests were also made during the discussion, which were as follows:

 

i)              For officers to provide the Committee with a structure chart of the service, including details of Housing Officers.

 

ii)             For officers to provide the Committee with further information on what users can expect from the repairs service, including a clear step-by-step guide of the repairs process.

 

iii)           For officers to provide the Committee with further information on adaptations they undertake, including the approach taken, the waiting list, and priority assessment process.

 

iv)           For officers to provide the Committee with information on any work underway so that community facilities on estates can be utilised by residents.

 

v)            For officers to provide the Committee with written details of the Wates repair contract including how the Council monitor key performance indicators.

 

 

Supporting documents: