Agenda and minutes
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Venue: Plowman Room - Oxford Town Hall. View directions
Contact: Andrew Brown
Substitutes are not allowed.
Declarations of interest
The Head of Housing said that there had been no significant changes since the previous performance report and that it represented a good set of results. He highlighted the following points:
· The use of temporary accommodation is within target but the Council was using some of its general needs stock as temporary housing.
· The numbers of people sleeping rough were high and challenging to contain.
· There had been delays in the delivery of new affordable housing.
· A housing company had been established and its two-year development plan would deliver 260 new units.
The Panel questioned how many units would be delivered at Dora Carr Close as this was referenced in two indicators that had different targets. The Head of Housing said that HP006 included other schemes but that he would provide details separately on how many new units would be delivered and when.
The Panel questioned whether social housing owned by the housing company would be subject to Right to Buy. The Panel heard that the government would do this but the details, such as qualification periods and discounts, had not yet been announced and could be different than for social housing owned by local authorities.
The Head of Housing offered to look into an empty property case in Northway.
The Private Rented Team Leader introduced the report and said that it was potentially relevant to everyone because anyone could lose their job or become ill and require Housing Benefit. Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates that are paid to Housing Benefit recipients are based on an area within a 30 minute commute of the City, not on market rent levels within the City itself.
The Panel questioned whether the 3% of landlords who accept Housing Benefit tenants included landlords of houses in multiple occupations (HMOs). The Private Rented Team Leader said that they did not. The Council did not use HMOs for statutory homelessness and had no powers to require landlords to accept housing benefit tenants. Landlords tended to perceive that people in receipt of Housing Benefit as high risk tenants and often faced paying a 30% insurance premium and higher mortgage interest rates when letting properties to them. The 3% ranged from ethical landlords to those who were maybe looking to take advantage of people but in his experience, most landlords were good.
The Panel noted that half of statutory homelessness cases resulted from private rented sector (PRS) evictions and asked about the typical reasons for PRS evictions. The Private Rented Team Leader advised that approximately one quarter of PRS evictions were due to a breach of tenancy (e.g. non-payment of rent). The remainder tended to be due to a change in the landlord’s circumstances, e.g. resulting in a decision to sell the property, or in some cases, seeking higher rents from tenants in work. However, there was no duty on landlords to provide a reason so the picture was difficult to analyse.
The Panel noted the difficulty people on Housing Benefit in particular faced in providing three months rent in advance and heard that some landlords even required 12 months rent in advance.
The Panel welcomed the Council’s new Rent Guarantee Scheme as an excellent initiative and asked for initial feedback. The Private Rented Team Leader likened the scheme to a small snowball that was rolling. There had been 8 lets to date and the scheme had just received national publicity, which had resulted in four phone calls from other local authorities in one day. The scheme was consistent with the government’s Homelessness Reduction bill which was focused on providing help at an earlier stage. He was confident that it was a good model that was working but there was a financial risk to the Council in guaranteeing rents. Tenants were selected from a prevention list and those in temporary accommodation. There were some difficult cases and it may be that some people fall out of the scheme but the Council had not had to pay out yet.
The Head of Housing added that the scheme was aligned with the Council’s approach to Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP), attaching conditionality and helping people into work through training. The scheme was experimental but was making inroads at the margins.
In response to a question the Panel heard that landlords had ... view the full minutes text for item 85.
The Rough Sleeping & Single Homelessness Manager said that the number of rough sleepers in the city was currently high (186 individuals had slept rough during September to December 2016) and that rough sleepers tended to have high needs. Rough sleeping was not illegal or banned but the Council’s view was that sleeping rough was dangerous and harmful to individuals. An assertive outreach team totalling 10 people were commissioned to support and engage rough sleepers, undertake an initial assessment and provide options for accommodation, which could include private rented accommodation, family, the homelessness pathway or contacting other areas where rough sleepers had a local connection. It was recognised that this model did not work for all rough sleepers so the Council had commissioned small specialist projects totalling 10 beds to provide accommodation and intensive support to entrenched rough sleepers and those with multiple complex needs. The Council funded a lot of services in the city but there were particular challenges around individuals who refused to engage, those who were not eligible for services (e.g. because they had no recourse to public funds), those did not wish to leave the city and those who continued to sleep rough despite having access to accommodation.
The Panel raised concerns about people sleeping in tents including people whose tents had been slashed. The Rough Sleeping & Single Homelessness Manager said that the Council did not issue tents and that these people should speak to the outreach team. This team visited all the places where people were known to be sleeping rough, either late at night or early in the morning. The police and day services were all aware of the work of the outreach team and how to refer people to them.
The Panel questioned whether clear guidance was provided to recipients and providers on how the local connection rules were applied and what peoples’ rights were. The Panel heard that these rules flowed from the Council’s Allocations Policy which had been agreed by full Council but that the homelessness pathway was less stringent than the Allocations Policy.
The Panel asked about a group of people sleeping at Osney power station who had recently moved there from a former car showroom site on Iffley Road, and how the Council was engaging with them. The Head of Housing said that the Council had made efforts to engage with this group but had been refused. Because of this the Council had no way of verifying whether these people were from Oxford and had previously been sleeping rough in the City. The Panel questioned whether the assertive outreach model may be too intrusive and pushy to be effective with groups such as this. The Panel commented that some rough sleepers had agency and a voice and could potentially provide useful feedback to the Council. The Head of Housing said that dialogue was key but that the model was deliberately assertive because the Council believed that sleeping rough was bad for people.
The Panel questioned how the repatriation process worked ... view the full minutes text for item 86.
The Rough Sleeping & Single Homelessness Manager introduced the report which set out how the Council would spend £1.4m of homelessness prevention funds in 2017/18. The provision of homelessness services were about to go through unprecedented changes due to the withdrawal of 100% of the County Council £1.5m budget for housing related support, which would end completely in 2019. A pooled budgeting arrangement involving the City Council, the other Oxfordshire district councils and the Clinical Commissioning Group would replace some of the homelessness beds that were being lost. Through this arrangement the Council had committed £161k of prevention funding to maintaining supported accommodation that had previously been funded by the County Council. The Head of Housing said that the city needed a minimum of 150 beds (the pooled budget will fund 78 beds for city use beyond April 2018) and the Council would prioritise making up the shortfall. The most pressing issue was the replacement of Julian Housing (dispersed housing across the city) as 83 beds would be decommissioned from June 2017. The Council was already in discussions about this.
In response to a question, the Rough Sleeping & Single Homelessness Manager confirmed that no prevention activities would stop in 2017/18, aside from one small funding reduction to a provider that was becoming self-sufficient. In 2018/19 there would be a need to reallocate funding to meet the challenges from County Council funding. At this stage there were uncertainties about the impacts of the Homelessness Reduction Bill and Homelessness Prevention Trailblazer funding but officers would come back to members with costed proposals for 2018/19. The Panel also noted that £150k previously allocated to topping up Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP) was being removed in 2017/18 but heard that only a fraction of this funding was likely to be utilised in the current year and the Council’s DHP grant allocation had been significantly increased for the coming year.
The Panel questioned whether the severe weather emergency provision was sufficient. The Head of Housing said that there was sufficient flexibility to meet need and that any people seen sleeping rough during severe weather had done so not because of a lack of provision but through choice.
For the Panel to approve the report on university housing needs for submission to the Board Member for Planning and Regulatory and the Executive Director for Regeneration and Housing, to inform the local plan review.
The Panel agreed that the report should better reflect the following areas of disagreement between the Panel and the University of Oxford:
· The University’s claim that the Council had not delivered new housing.
· The University’s claim that sites in Wolvercote and Northern Gateway are too far from university facilities to be suitable for student or postdoc accommodation.
· The Panel’s view that the University should do more to maximise accommodation on sites they own.
· The Panel’s view that the University should do more to ensure that their lower paid support staff can be suitably accommodated in the City.
The Panel agreed that the recommendations should include the following points:
· The need for a continued dialogue with the universities aimed at building shared concerns and shared effort.
· The need to encourage the University to present their plans for accommodating students and postdocs.
· The need for the University to do more to ensure that their lower paid support staff can be suitably accommodated in the City.
For the Panel to note and agree its work plan, which can be adjusted to reflect the wishes of the Panel.
The Scrutiny Officer will introduce the work plan and advise the Panel on any suggested changes to it.
For the Panel to agree and note the record of the meeting held on 9 November 2017.
Date of next meeting
Meetings are scheduled as follows:
7 March 2016
5 April 2016
7 July 2016
5 October 2016
9 November 2016
1 March 2017
3 May 2017
All meetings begin at 5.00pm.
Cllr Goff apologised that she would be unable to attend the next meeting.
The Panel questioned whether substitutes could be allowed. The Scrutiny Officer said that he would advise against this and that consistency of membership was important due to the focused nature of the Panel’s remit. Suggested meeting dates for next year would be shared with Panel members for their agreement.