Agenda item

Presentation from Housing Associations (Agenda Item 6)

To receive a presentation from Flagship and Broadland Housing Associations.

 

Minutes:

Housing Association representatives Stephanie Davis and Andrea Rutterford had been invited to give presentations to the Commission.

 

Ms Davis, the Registered Housing Manager for Broadland Housing Association advised that they were taking a pro-active approach to minimise the length of time that a property was empty as families were waiting to be housed and void properties produced no income.  New procedures had been introduced which included:

 

·        Inspecting properties prior to the tenant leaving

·        Providing an in-house repair and maintenance service

·        Investing in technology which in future would allow for reporting of problems and booking of appointments on-line.

·        Intelligent scheduling to cut down on travelling times

·        Convenient appointment times to suit the customer

·        Anti-social behaviour policies and procedures had been reviewed

·        Pro-active estate management and a team of eight to support tenants in their homes

·        Empty properties had a seven day ‘turn around’ time and they attempted to do all repairs in that time.  However, the average time was 11 days and that was the target for the current year.

 

There were challenges ahead.  The two main concerns were there were not enough properties and that the effects of welfare reform and the introduction of Universal Credit were unknown.  If the Association could not collect rent it could not provide a service.

 

Andrea Rutterford, Flagship Homes Head of Housing explained their approach.

 

·        They worked with new tenants to prepare the right home.  The viewing process had been extended and expectations were made clear so that the customer was set up to succeed.

·        They also had an in-house repairs team and the service was being extended to provide grounds maintenance, etc.  Repairs could be logged on-line and appointments were arranged to fit around customer availability.

·        Assets were managed over a longer term and asset evaluation, including factors such as crime rate and fuel poverty, was carried out.

·        New technology was being used.  They were looking at the use of drones for roof inspections for example.

·        All Housing Officers had mobile tablets which enabled them to be out and about and more accessible to customers.

·        New tenants were visited within six weeks of occupancy and annual inspections were carried out.

 

Welfare reform was the key area of focus.  They were working in partnership with the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP) and Local Authorities to identify customers affected by benefit changes.  Home visits were carried out and support and advice was offered.  Partnership working was crucial.  Flagship was part of the early intervention hub and would be based in Thetford with other agencies.

 

Members with specific questions were asked to provide the details to the Housing Association representatives so that they could investigate the circumstances and provide a response.

 

Councillor Jermy raised the issue of void properties as people were desperate for housing.  He asked about the target times for getting properties back into use.

 

Broadland had an 11 day average.  They had just carried out a restructure which should result in better performance, but they were unlikely to improve on 11 days in the current year.  In a small number of cases where there was a health and safety issue, or where they could not access the property before it was vacated, the turn-around time was longer.

 

Flagship was very different.  The average was about a month.  They were working to improve that and were not happy with the current figures.  Work to bring some long-term empty properties back into use was affecting figures.  They had a longer lead-in time, due to the increased viewing process.  The new procedure allowed tenancies to begin on any day of the week; previously they could only start on a Monday.

 

Councillor Brame was aware of elderly people willing to move into smaller properties, but they had problems with the on-line bidding process and the issue that incoming tenants were expected to clean and decorate their new properties.  That did not seem right for elderly people who generally left their properties clean and in good order.

 

Councillor Wilkinson said that many people were worried about the Government’s Finance Bill.

 

Ms Davis agreed that the Benefit Cap coming in November would decrease people’s income.  Some would have a huge deficit.  Not all details were known yet but it would affect a lot of tenants.  It was a difficult time for everyone dealing with very vulnerable people and for the Housing Associations it was a very uncertain time.

 

Councillor Sharpe asked about modifications for people with health problems. 


The Housing Associations had very limited budgets for such modifications but were willing to work with other agencies.  If a tenant received a grant they were usually permitted to have the works done.

 

Councillor Bambridge asked about the percentage of tenants that needed support.  That number was not known.  Stonham Housing had the contract to support people in social housing. 

 

Councillor R Richmond asked if there were minimum energy efficiency standards and whether tenants had to pay for vermin control if needed.

 

Flagship only provided a vermin control service for the vulnerable.  They did provide an energy performance certificate with their properties but Ms Rutterford did not have details of actual energy ratings.

 

Broadland only offered a pest control service for communal areas.  If any property was below C energy rating they would consider disposing of it.

 

Councillor Brame was concerned that with Universal Credit tenants would spend their benefits before paying their rent.  He asked what the Housing Associations were doing.

 

Ms Rutterford said the DWP were advising them as soon as a Universal Credit claimant was identified and they then carried out a home visit to discuss options and give help and support.

 

Ms Davis said that Broadland was reviewing their tenancy support service to see if it needed to change.  They had already had some successful switch backs.

 

Councillor Oliver asked about rent arrears and evictions policies and whether the Housing Associations had contingency plans to deal with a drop in rent collection.

 

Ms Davis explained that they already had a bad-debt write-off policy and their Board was working on the business plan.  Rent arrears were dealt with on a case by case basis and personal circumstances were taken into account.

 

Councillor Newton asked if Flagship were able to deal with anti-social behaviour (ASB) problems quickly.

 

Ms Rutterford said that they tried to.  They had dedicated ASB Officers who made visits and devised action plans for both victims and perpetrators.  They worked with other support agencies.  If tenancy conditions had been broken they were enforced.

 

Councillor Jermy noted that the Housing Associations always used to have representatives on Residents Groups, but that was not the case now. 

 

Ms Davis said they had a commitment to engage with tenants in the way that the tenants wanted.  That could be digitally or through a consumer or other panel. The Housing Association needed customer feedback and Flagship had a Customer Insight team.  Housing Managers engaged with local Councillors to find out what was going on.

 

The Chairman thanked the Housing Association representatives for attending.  If Councillors had any further questions they should be forwarded through her.  She asked Members to encourage their constituents to speak to the Housing Associations.

 

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