Agenda item

To receive presentations from the Housing Associations

To receive presentations from Broadland Housing Association and Flagship Housing Association.

Minutes:

Housing Association representatives Mr Justin O’Connor and Mr Adrian Barber had been invited to provide presentation to Members.

 

Mr O’Connor, Head of Asset Management for Broadland Housing Association explained there were 5,300 homes owned or managed throughout Norfolk and North Suffolk covering a range of mixed tenures.  A new development was underway in Beeston and further homes would be built in Great Hockham in Spring 2021.

 

Broadland Housing were keen to promote building communities by ensuring that properties met the needs of the tenants from providing family homes through to sheltered housing.  The Homes for Cathy commitment had given the organisation a renewed focus in helping to tackle homelessness which had seen a vast reduction in evictions for rent arrears over the last 3 years.  The organisation was keen to provide digital access to their tenants which would free up resource in order to support the non-digital customers.

 

Mr Barber, Managing Director (Victory Housing) informed Members that the Flagship Group had entered into a partnership with Victory Housing Trust in 2019 with circa 5,200 properties. In February 2020 Suffolk Housing joined the Flagship Group with circa 3,000 homes.  Breckland was one of the largest areas of their housing stock, with Breckland Council being a key partner.  Mr Barber explained that as a result of the amalgamations, that Norfolk, Suffolk and parts of Essex would be divided up to ensure local connections and strong local relationships were maintained as a priority.

 

Members heard that there was a strong desire to progress the digital agenda that would see tenants being able to manage their own accounts and report issues easily.  It would also free up resource to allow time to be spent with the non-digital customers.

 

Councillor Bambridge asked Flagship for an update on the issue of Japanese Knotweed within his Ward which caused concern to his parishioners, and what could be done about the spread.  Mr Barber confirmed that a specialist contractor had been asked to visit the site and would make recommendations for the removal; however, he was appreciative of the concern raised and would follow up the issue.

 

As a Ward Member, Councillor Wickerson said that he received direct calls from residents asking for an update on their case, but these issues did not seem to be resolved.   Members were informed that Flagship had a learning and resolution centre where complaints were dealt with and Mr Barber agreed that communication could be better, and once the locality hubs were formed, Members would receive information on who their local teams were and the contact details.

 

Councillor Jermy said that tenants who were in rent arrears would often share with him their frustration as they would not be aware that they were in debt.  He asked if the digital solutions would include the possibility of receiving their balance through an app and therefore empowering tenants to be responsible for their accounts.

 

Councillor Jermy went on to ask for a list of the stock of assets within his area, including the land as this would make these situations clearer for him.

 

Mr Barber stated that whilst there was a register of properties owned by Flagship the ownership of land would prove to be a challenge.  Mr Barber also informed Members that there had been a portal where tenants could report maintenance issues and look at their accounts, however, this had been withdrawn.

 

Mr O’Connor said that Broadland Housing Association did have an online portal for their tenants where repairs could be reported and view accounts. It was hoped that the Portal could be developed further to allow gas and electrical safety certificates to be added.

 

Councillor Turner asked if the Housing Associations could assure Councillors how tenancies were monitored and managed especially where the tenancy agreement had been breached. Members were informed that Flagship would be introducing a larger anti-social behaviour team of specialists that would assist and provide tenancy support.  Mr O’Connor added that there were tenancy support teams within Broadland Housing Association who also worked with multiple agencies to assist with any breach of tenancy agreements.

 

Councillor Bushell asked how the Associations could make the communication process smoother, especially for their older residents, should a repair be delayed. Councillor Bushell also asked how often the properties were inspected.

 

Mr O’Connor said that there were full time scheme managers onsite at sheltered housing complexes who provided assistance when required.  In addition, the move towards the digital agenda would free up resource for those that required support.  Properties were inspected during a rigid 5-year cycle process, and in addition an independent survey was also carried out on the condition of the properties.

 

Mr Barber added that during the lockdown period they too had made contact with their tenants to offer support, and as a result over the forthcoming 2-year period data would be gained that would assist with knowing where support was required.

 

Councillor Kybird asked Flagship if the property maintenance team were based in-house and how the performance of the team was monitored.  It was confirmed that RFT was part of the Flagship group and that the local boards received performance data.

 

The Executive Member for Health and Housing said that the relationships between the Housing team and the Housing Associations had been good.  During the pandemic Councillors had been alerted to incidents where properties had been left unsafe which was a worry.  COVID-19 had been a difficult time and it needed to be recognised that issues needed to be carried out as a matter of urgency. 

 

The Chairman noted that reference to rent arrears had been made and asked if the Housing Associations had seen an increase in rent arrears since the pandemic and, if a tenant should be evicted, what happened to them.   He also wanted to know if any compensation was paid should any maintenance be delayed and in respect to the increase in consolidation of organisations, the Chairman asked Flagship if there were likely to be any further acquisitions.

 

In response, Mr O’Connor explained that whilst there had been an increase in arrears during the pandemic, it was not as much as had been expected and felt that the furlough scheme had supported tenants with their rent payments.  Evictions would only be carried out if there was an absolute reason and it was important to continue to liaise across partnered organisations.  During the lockdown period, emergency repairs had been carried out regardless.  The team had worked on setting expectations for when a repair would be expected to be carried out and it was hoped that all would be back on track by the end of March 2021.   A report had been forwarded to the Leadership team to consider a fee should an appointment be cancelled. 

 

Mr Barber said that Flagship had more that £1m in rent arrears since the pandemic but hoped most to be recovered by the end of the financial year.  He agreed that Flagship had grown as an organisation; however, it was important to retain local connections, and it was his role to ensure that Flagship delivered services for Breckland.  He informed Members that Flagship residents had a right that if a repair had not been carried out within in a specified time then the resident would be able to have the work carried out and re-charge the cost.

 

Councillor Martin raised concern on how the Breckland area would be split for Flagship and felt it could lead to inconsistency across the district.  Mr Barber said he would be the main point of contact for Breckland and the Managing Directors of Flagship were working closely to ensure that continuity remained across the District.

 

The Chairman thanked both Housing Associations for their presentations.

 

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