Agenda and minutes

Agenda and minutes

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Speaking at a Council or Committee meeting

Venue: Plowman Room - Oxford Town Hall. View directions

Contact: Stefan Robinson, Scrutiny Officer 

No. Item



Substitutes are not allowed.


There were no apologies for absence



Declarations of interest


There were no declarations of interest.



Minutes of previous meeting pdf icon PDF 98 KB

For the Panel to approve the minutes of the meeting held on 12 November 2018.


The minutes of the meeting held 12 November 2018 were approved, subject to a minor typographical change.



Housing Panel Work Plan pdf icon PDF 51 KB

For the Panel to note and agree its work plan, which can be adjusted to reflect the wishes of the Panel.



The Panel raised a number of issues for consideration as part of the annual Scrutiny work planning process. These included:


·       Understanding the extent of hidden homelessness, sofa surfing and the number of families in houses of multiple occupation. This included understanding the full scale of hidden housing need in the City.

·       Understanding the benefits of community land trusts, and how they might help the council deliver its Local Plan.

·       The Council’s Policy concerning the density of houses of multiple occupation.

·       Options for supporting a collective forum and voice for private rented sector tenants.

·       The outcome of the Tenant Satisfaction Survey for council tenants.



Severe Weather Emergency Protocol: Review of 2018/19 pdf icon PDF 180 KB

To consider a report requested by the Panel concerning how well SWEP has worked for rough sleepers over the Winter, and any lessons learnt and areas for improvement.


Councillor Smith, City Executive Board Member for Leisure and Housing, explained that the Server Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) had to date been in effect for a total of 18 nights, seven of which were opened at the discretion of council officers. Next winter, a very different model of operation was expected. Subject to further work, it was hoped that a new facility would be opened at Floyd’s Row over the winter which could provide up to 60 short term emergency bed spaces. This was more than the maximum amount of spaces needed on any given SWEP night.


In response to questions, it was clarified that discretion to open SWEP was not driven by budgetary demands. In the context of the Council’s homelessness budget, SWEP was only a small portion of the overall funding pot but the current allocation did not reflect the true cost of providing responsive emergency provision. As in previous years, a significant number of those accessing SWEP were not known to services. It was possible that these people were not included in the official count figures, eg. because they were not found on the night of the count, but this was not clear.


Floyd’s Row was intended to be an engagement and assessment centre, designed to link people with the appropriate services. The facility would offer short term accommodation for up to 72 hours, whilst service links were made. Longer term accommodation would be provided up to 21 days for people whose needs had been assessed and with an agreed Housing and Support Plan to help facilitate the next stage of their journey, for example, reconnection. It was hoped the facility would open in October 2019, subject to funding and planning permission.


The Chair raised the matter of deaths among people who were, or had been, recently homeless. It was explained that this matter had been referred to the Oxfordshire Safeguarding Adults Board, which was independent of the City Council. The Council was awaiting a response for the Board, but if the referral was accepted the review was expected to be a lengthy process.


The Panel noted the broadly positive feedback given by people making use of SWEP. This was feedback gathered in response to a recommendation made by the Housing Panel on 12 November 2018. The Rough Sleeping and Single Homelessness Manager, Rachel Lawrence, explained that attendance at SWEP was lower than last year, and the data suggested that colder weather in 2017/18 was a significant factor in determining higher entry to SWEP.



Homelessness Prevention Funds 2019/20 pdf icon PDF 152 KB

To consider a report which seeks approval from the City Executive Board, on 13 March 2019, for the allocation of homelessness prevention funds in 2019/20.

Additional documents:


Linda Smith explained that the overall homelessness prevention budget amounted to over £1.7 million, which was a significant portion of the Council’s net budget. There were an additional seven bed spaces available in 2019/20 compared to the previous year, now up to 214. The Council also funded the outreach service [OxSPOT], day services and education and training programmes. The report presented proposed allocations to services for 2019/20, which were due for agreement by the City Executive Board on 13 March 2019.


In response to questions, it was clarified that people needed to have recourse to public funds in order to access most of the accommodation in the Adult Homeless Pathway. Some provision had been made – and subsidised - for people without recourse to public funds in the short term winter shelters funded by the Rought Sleeper Initiative. The Oxford Winter Night Shelter bed spaces were also available to people without recourse to public funds.


The Rough Sleeping and Single Homelessness Manager said that whilst the minimum age to enter the Adult Homerless Pathway was 18, the Council would usually seek to refer people between 18 and 25 to more appropriate pathways managed principally by Oxfordshire County Council. However, the Young Person’s Pathway frequently push back on such referrals.


It was further clarified that whilst a budget had been agreed to allow people sleeping rough to access Council leisure facilities, the detail of this scheme had not yet been finalised. The Panel noted that there was uncertainty over long term Central Government funding for homelessness services, and this was of concern.


The Panel agreed that it should consider a report concerning the Housing First Scheme, and how it is and might be used in Oxford in the Future. Further, that a report should be considered concerning the support pathway for young people experiencing homelessness. It was noted however on officer advice that this would principally require input from Oxfordshire County Council officers. The Panel indicated that it would also wish to see further proposals for Floyd’s Row at the appropriate time.


The Scrutiny Officer advised that these items would need to be scoped further through the annual scrutiny work planning process.



Options for a Council Owned Letting Agency pdf icon PDF 182 KB

To consider a report, as requested by the Panel, concerning possible options for the establishment of a council owned letting agency.


Councillor Smith explained that the notion of introducing a council-owned lettings agency would come at a significant cost, and likely have a limited impact, as set out in the officer report. It was a question of priorities. She explained that 30% of people in Oxford rent, and only 40% of those use an agency, meaning that the market is much smaller than suggested elsewhere. She also explained that the Council did a lot of work in inspecting properties and taking enforcement action against rogue landlords, to drive up standards.


Councillor Wolff, who initiated consideration of this report in July 2018, said that some lettings agencies were not serving people well, and were in some cases working to ensure a high turnover of tenants to increase the amount of fees they could generate. This in essence made people feel evicted, and it was affecting people across the income spectrum.


Councillor Smith explained that agency fees were being outlawed in June 2019, and that much of the concerns expressed by Councillor Wolff would be addressed by this. David Rundle, Private Rented Team Leader, explained that this had the potential to push some letting agencies into bankruptcy, which already operate in a saturated market. One of the principal issues, he explained, was that many tenants were unaware of their rights. David offered to circulate a number of existing briefings, which are hyperlinked below or electronic access:


·       An in depth research paper on the evolving private rented sector

·       The House of Commons briefing search webpage

·       Rental statistics on the private rented market

·       The Welsh Code of Practice for agents

·       The English Private Landlords Survey


The Panel agreed that it would wish to review in 2020 what the impact had been on the private rented sector of the outlawing of agency fees in June 2019. This would be included in the annual scrutiny work plan longlist. The Panel further resolved to note that in the current market conditions, it would not be appropriate to pursue the establishment of a Council-owned lettings agency.



Quarter 3 Housing Performance Report pdf icon PDF 78 KB

To consider the Quarter 3 Housing Performance Report for 2018/19.


Bill Graves, Landlord Services Manager, explained that rent arrears relating to Universal Credit claimants continued to increase with around £250,000 now owed by tenants who were not in arrears before claiming Universal Credit. There were some significant challenges with the management of Universal Credit rent arrears cases and for this reason  more realistic targets on debt recovery would need to be set going forward. However, when compared to other local authorities, the Council’s position in relation to debt recovery was more favourable than most. The long term aim was to help people off of Universal Credit and into paid work.


Members asked whether there had been a suggestion from Central Government of paying landlords housing benefit directly, instead of tenants. Tenants could opt to pay their housing benefit or Universal Credit direct to a landlord and landlords can also apply for an Alternative Payment Arrangement (UC) where there is a certain level of rent arrears.


Concerning the Barton Park development, anecdotal evidence suggested that the finish quality of the buildings was high, and there had been no negative comments to the officer’s knowledge about build quality to date.


The total number of affordable homes delivered year to date was 106 and it was explained that, should the target of 126 not be met, the remaining 20 should be delivered in the next year. The target would be considerably higher in 2019/20 in any case.


The Chair questioned why the number of homelessness cases prevented had not been displayed in the report. The officer explained that the Council had changed the way it records homeless prevention due to changes in national legislation. This required an extensive manual data entry process, but the new figures should be available by the end of March 2019.


The Panel asked whether there were other performance indicators available. The officer advised that many housing related performance indicators exist and the current set of indicators was agreed by the panel some time ago. The panel was offered the option of looking at a wider range of Key Performance Indicators and could choose those it wished to be reported in future.



Date of next meeting

Meetings are scheduled as follows:


8 April 2019

27 June 2019

3 October 2019

5 December 2019


All meetings begin at 6.00pm.


The Panel noted that its next meetings would be on:


8 April 2019

27 June 2019

3 October 2019