Agenda and minutes
Venue: Plowman Room - Oxford Town Hall. View directions
Contact: Stefan Robinson, Scrutiny Officer
Substitutes are not allowed.
Apologies for absence were received on behalf of Councillors Angie Goff and Linda Smith.
Declarations of interest
There were no declarations of interest.
Appointment of Housing Panel Co-optee
The Panel is recommended to agree the appointment of Geno Humphrey as a tenant co-optee to the Housing Panel for 2018/19.
The appointment of Geno Humphrey as a tenant co-optee was agreed by the panel for the 2018/19 municipal year.
It was agreed that more information was needed to consider whether an additional co-optee could be added to the Panel’s membership.
To approve the record of the meeting held on 8 March 2018.
The Panel welcomed the Benefits Manager, Laura Bessell, to answer any questions members had in relation to the performance of the Benefits Service, following the circulation of a briefing paper on benefits performance and councillor queries being raised outside of the meeting.
It was clarified that benefit overpayments could result in the suspension of payments so that further overpayments are not made. Members sought clarification on several other matters relating to the benefits payment process. The Benefits Manager highlighted several issues including:
· The average time taken to process a change in circumstances application was 13 days, which was an improvement on the previous quarter.
· There were over 10,000 benefits cases in Oxford for the Council to manage.
· Discretionary Housing Payments and a hardship fund are available for those who meet certain criteria for additional support. For example, in circumstances where the administration of universal credit leaves them without payments for an extended period.
· The Council receives 1,500 universal credit notifications each week, and average processing times are within the current target, as they are new claims.
· Housing Benefit should be used to pay for housing costs rather than for day to day living expenses, which other benefit entitlements should cover.
· IT infrastructure challenges at a national level means the administration of universal credit is not as intelligent as it could be. For example, it cannot take account of those who are self-employed or who have recently relocated in the UK from abroad. The systems implementation is also taking far longer to implement than originally expected.
A discussion took place on the counting arrangements for rough sleepers when the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) was in place. The Head of Housing, Stephen Clarke, said all counts were carried out in accordance with national guidance, and the Council went above this duty to count rough sleepers on a quarterly basis. During SWEP, all efforts were directed to moving rough sleepers into sheltered accommodation, and directing limited resources towards rough sleeper counts during this period would be counterproductive.
The Chair asked about what progress had been made on establishing a Homelessness Charter, as referenced in the previous set of minutes. The Head of Housing explained that the Council and the Oxfordshire Community Foundation had new staff, funded by the Council, to progress this work. There was no charter yet, but an interim steering group, which had representation from former homeless people, was working towards a further City Conversation event in November 2018. It was suggested that the Steering Group may want to present to the No Local Connection Review Group.
The Panel approved the minutes of the meeting held on 8 March 2018.
To consider the Council’s approach to the management of vacant garage units. This report is to follow.
The Tenancy Management Manager, Ann Phillips, introduced the report. She provided an overview of various garage sites within the City, and current plans to develop and restore them. Key issues included:
· Garage letting voids had reduced from 16% to 8.5% over the past year
· Several sites were being considered by the Council’s Housing Company for development
· Some sites were being considered for demolition, and resurfacing with parking spaces, particularly in Blackbird Leys
· Funding to carry out development and repair work was a challenge, and the costs were significant
· There was varying levels of demand for garages, with the City Centre having the highest demand
· Some garage blocks were narrow, making them difficult for any houses to be developed
· Void garages were sometimes used for storing items for people who had been made homeless.
Members suggested that architects may have innovative ideas to bring forward some of the more challenging garage sites for housing development. It was noted that garages also perform an important function, and it would not be appropriate to demolish all garages in favour of other developments.
It was also suggested that there may be opportunities for community projects, social enterprises and employment development schemes to make use of void garages. Officers welcomed this suggestion, and encouraged members to refer members of the public to them if they had any ideas in this area.
The Head of Housing agreed that information on the number of void units in each ward could be circulated to members of the Panel.
To consider the quarter 4 performance summary for housing and homelessness matters.
The Head of Housing provided the Panel with an overview of the key performance indicators related to housing and homelessness, as outlined in the report. He highlighted successes in relation to rent collection and the prevention of 1159 households becoming homeless.
In response to questions, it was clarified that the Council’s responsiveness to repairs performance targets a based on the urgency of the need for repair, and work was underway to increase performance in this area. Clarity was also sought in understanding the targets for several other performance measures.
The Housing Panel is requested to agree its work plan for the year, which can be adjusted to reflect the wishes of the Panel at each subsequent meeting. In addition to the proposed work plan which features items that have been requested by the 2017/18 Panel, there have also been a number of new suggestions, listed at the end of the work plan, which the Panel is asked to consider.
The Scrutiny Officer, Stefan Robinson, provided an update on the Panel’s work Plan. He explained that several items were scheduled at the request of the 2017/18 Panel, and there was space at various meetings to commission further reports, whilst having regards to the capacity of the relevant officers.
Councillor Wolff proposed that options for a Council owned lettings agency be added the Panel’s Work Plan. He highlighted that a Council motion was agreed in February 2016 which tasked the City Executive Board with considering setting up a new letting agency owned and operated by the Council. This work had not been taken forward, in part because of the Council’s focus on establishing a housing company. The rationale for establishing such a letting agency would be to drive up ethical standards in the local private rented sector, and operate as a not for profit service for the benefits of residents.
This proposal was supported by the Panel, and it was agreed that a report on options for a council owned lettings agency would be considered at the Panel meeting on 4 March 2019.
Councillor Howlett proposed that the Panel consider how well the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) is working for rough sleepers, and how prepared the Council is for supporting rough sleepers in the winter. The Head of Housing advised that new funding from HM Government was supporting new work in this area. The Panel agreed to schedule a report for 12 November 2018 to consider what provisions were in place for SWEP, and a further update report on 4 March 2019 to consider how well SWEP had worked over the winter, and the lessons that could be learnt.
Services for female rough sleepers were also considered for the Work Plan. The Panel were advised that the No Local Connection Review Group may want to consider this issue as part of their work, and that a duplication of work would be undesirable. The Head of Housing suggested that services for female rough sleepers would be picked up in wider discussions on homelessness issues, and Councillor Bely-Summers said she was involved in a project on the issue. There may be opportunity for this work to feed into the Housing Panel or Review Group’s work.
The Panela also agreed to schedule for its meeting on 4 March 2019 a report concerning how effective the Council’s purchases of temporary accommodation have been in supporting those at risk of homelessness. The issue of a private renters association was also discussed, but this was not prioritised for the Work Plan.
The Panel agreed to keep the additional outstanding items listed on the agenda as part of its Work Plan as items to be tabled.
Date of next meeting
Meetings are scheduled as follows:
11 October 2018
12 November 2018
4 March 2019
8 April 2019
All meetings begin at 6.00pm.
The Panel noted the scheduled list of meetings for the year.