Housing Performance and Improvement Plan - Monitoring Report July 2008 (Agenda item 6)
Report by the Strategic Housing Manager – Anita Brennan.
The Strategic Housing Manager presented the report, which set out progress against the delivery of the Housing Improvement Plan.
The report outlined the background to the development of the Housing Improvement Plan in response to the Audit Commission’s inspection report in May 2005. The recommendations contained in the Improvement Plan formed the basis of the Council’s Annual Delivery Plan and the Strategic Housing Service Plan for 2007/08 and 2008/09. These documents in turn influenced the staff appraisal process and the development of statutory documents, such as the housing and homelessness strategies.
Progress against the targets contained in the Plan had been consistent since its adoption, despite pressure on the team to respond to other national and local targets not contained within the Improvement Plan itself.
The majority of targets had been met. The main recommendation outstanding for the Housing Team was a comprehensive review of the Council’s private sector policies on empty properties and fuel poverty and the development of a new Private Sector Housing Strategy. Although work was well under way on these recommendations, the completion had been delayed somewhat by the Department of Communities and Local Government’s (DCLG) response to Breckland’s request for a district wide licensing scheme for Houses in Multiple Occupations (HMO).
Referring to the HMO scheme, the Strategic Housing Manager explained that the DCLG had requested that Breckland Council should concentrate on towns only, in particular, Thetford. Although this approach had not been supported by the Housing Team, further consultation would take place with all Town Councils. A policy would then be implemented on the market towns following which the Housing Team would lobby for a full district wide licensing scheme. This scheme would allow the Council to licence all HMO landlords. Landlords that failed to abide by this scheme could be fined an amount of £20K.
The Chairman was concerned about the Government not backing such a scheme. Another Member asked whether the Government’s response to this scheme had been published. The Strategic Housing Manager advised that no formal written response had been received; however, she had been contacted by the DCLG to discuss the Council’s desire to adopt such a scheme and to assess how the approach on market towns could be developed.
Referring to fuel poverty this policy would be brought back to the Panel in due course and would cover matters such as energy efficiency and budgeting etc. A Member was very concerned about this matter as he was aware that fuel costs would increase to £1200 for an average Band D property; for Norfolk that equated to more than 10% of an average household’s income. He felt that the figures should be modified for Norfolk and that the Council should be facing the prospective problems sooner rather than later. The Strategic Housing Manager agreed with the aforementioned comments but highlighted that there were already a number of schemes in operation which were explained. One of the schemes involved working with the Council’s RSL’s partners to wield their purchase powers to buy fuel from suppliers in bulk.
A recommendation to the Overview and Scrutiny Commission was proposed to recommend to Cabinet that a policy should be put in place to address the poverty problems that would occur in the forthcoming months. The Strategic Housing Manager agreed that there would be difficult times ahead but explained that a Financial Inclusion Policy had already been included on the Risk Register that educated residents on how they used their money, such as prioritising debts etc. Articles of this nature would also be placed in future editions of Breckland Voice. She further agreed, however, that there was an important role for Breckland Council to play, to advise all people, not just the elderly, about planning for the winter ahead.
The Choice Base Lettings Scheme was scheduled on the agenda for the meeting scheduled for 16 September 2008.
There remained a number of targets that were influenced by corporate rather than strategic housing issues/timescales and Members were requested to agree to monitor progress against these as a part of Housing Strategy 2008-2012 currently in development. These were:
a) Migration of Housing Service into Customer Contact Centre
b) Affordable Housing Policies/approach
Referring to issue (a) above, Members were informed that no timetable had been set at present for this to be moved forward. A Member felt that all contact centre staff must be well trained before the migration took place. The Strategic Housing Manager advised that she was very conscious of the appropriate advice that must be provided.
1) the Overview and Scrutiny Commission recommend to Cabinet that a policy be put in place to address the poverty problems that would occur in the forthcoming months; and
2) Breckland Council be seen to support local people by actively raising awareness of fuel poverty in the District by placing articles on this matter in future editions of Breckland Voice.
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