Agenda and minutes
Housing and Homelessness Panel (Panel of the Scrutiny Committee) - Thursday 3 September 2020 6.00 pm
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Declarations of interest
Housing Panel Work Plan PDF 214 KB
For the Panel to note and agree its work plan, which can be adjusted to reflect the wishes of the Panel.
The Panel considered the proposed workplan for the forthcoming year, which was NOTED. It was suggested, however, that if relevant items came up for the next meeting that they should also be added to the work plan.
Notes of previous meeting PDF 464 KB
For the Panel to approve the record of the meeting held on 03 August 2020.
The notes of the meeting held on 03 August 2020 were AGREED.
Requested updates from previous meeting
At its meeting on 03 August 2020 the Panel requested an update on a number of items:
1) The activity of the Lived Experience Advisory Forum and any joint working with the Council since the Housing Panel’s meeting in November 2020. Paul Wilding, Programme Manager Welfare and Benefits, will provide a verbal update and be present to answer any questions.
2) The progress on the Champion Way community-led housing project since the Housing Panel’s meeting in November 2020. Dave Scholes, Housing Strategy and Needs Manager, will provide a verbal update and be present to answer any questions.
3) The Council’s position regarding domestic rent arrears, particularly with a view to the end of the eviction ban. A note regarding the Council’s approach to debt recovery due to Covid-19 is attached (the relevant section is to be found under: Rent Arrears (House/Garage/ Leaseholders/OCHL/RGS). An additional note providing more detail and context around the process and support provided by the Council for those in rent arrears is also attached. Tanya Bandekar, Service Manager – Revenue and Benefits, and Phil McGaskill, Revenues Manager, will be present to answer any questions.
Further to its requests at the previous meeting, the Panel heard a number of verbal updates.
1) Lived Experience Advisory Forum
Paul Wilding, Rough Sleeping and Single Homelessness Manager, gave a verbal update to the Panel on the activity of the Lived Experience Advisory Forum.
The Lived Experience Advisory Forum (LEAF) had been established by the Oxford Homeless movement on the basis of its belief in the importance of having people with lived experience of homelessness be able to work with and influence professionals around homelessness issues.
Activities from LEAF had been curtailed somewhat due to the pandemic. Nevertheless, two LEAF members were now part of the wider Oxford Homeless Movement’s steering group. A coordinator for the Forum had also been funded by Oxford Homeless Movement to support its work and monthly meetings for members were taking place. In terms of its work, LEAF had
- Participated in research on how homelessness in Oxfordshire as a whole could be tackled through a housing-first approach, including training LEAF members to undertake interviews of homeless people, of which LEAF undertook 20.
- Worked with the Blavatnik School of Government on magazine articles relating to co-production.
- Worked with Aspire’s new housing project on governance to ensure systems were in place to allow the project to be tenant-led.
Having been newly appointed to the post of Rough Sleeping and Single Homeless Manager, Paul Wilding was keen that he would be able to work with LEAF in the development of services from the Council also.
The Panel asked questions about demographic representation on LEAF, and work with St Mungo’s on homelessness prevention. Regarding the latter, it was hoped that the new coordinator would help to raise the profile and reach of LEAF further, including on issues around services relating to homelessness prevention.
2) Champion Way and Community Led Housing
Dave Scholes, Housing Strategy and Needs Manager, gave a verbal update to the Panel on the progress of the Champion Way Community Led Housing project and the wider Community Led Housing concept locally.
Since the Panel had received the report the previous November, the Champion Way site had received planning permission for four one-bed properties. An easement right had needed to be alterered. Heads of terms for the use of the site were being developed with the Oxfordshire Community Land Trust. Grant funding from the Oxfordshire Growth Deal was being sought, potentially with a top up from the Council via s. 106 developer contributions. On a strategic level, the Local Plan had been adopted, with a requirement for all sites of over 50 houses having to offer 5% of the space for Community Led Housing and self-build. The Council had also met with multiple Community Led Housing organisations, including the Community Land Trust, the Co-Housing group and the Collaborative Housing hub, where a protocol and shared understanding for information-sharing and taking sites forward was agreed, with one site being about two weeks away from being sufficiently progressed to be named. A report from the Growth ... view the full minutes text for item 13.
Selective Licensing PDF 166 KB
On 09 September the Cabinet will consider a paper concerning proposals around the introduction of a Selective Licensing scheme. The Panel is recommended to consider the report and make any recommendations to Cabinet accordingly.
Ian Wright, Head of Regulatory Services and Community Safety, will be present at the meeting to answer any questions.
In light of the importance of the issue under consideration and the wish to understand the reactions of stakeholders from outside the Council to the proposals, the Housing Panel invited a number of representatives from local organisations to give their reactions to the report. The organisations represented were the Oxford Citizens’ Advice Bureau, the letting and estate agency College and County, and the Oxford branch of the ACORN union.
Speaking prior to the presentation of the report, the Panel’s external attendees presented their views. All were in agreement with the proposals, but raised a number of issues and questions. The most clear-running theme was the importance of enforcement of all properties, particularly given that those in the least secure housing should not be expected to whistleblow on their landlords. Without across the board enforcement, licensing would become a burden on those seeking to comply, leaving those willing not to do so, those operating within the shadow lettings market, with an advantage. It would be important to avoid the perception of ‘entrepreneurial bureaucracy’, the taking of license fees from compliant landlords to pay to tell them that they were compliant, rather than identifying and cracking down on those providing homes with category 1 and 2 health risks.
Whilst broad-spectrum enforcement was recognised to be a challenge, it was also recognised to be extremely valuable. Having minimum standards for the right to let would be a useful tool for advice agencies and unions in supporting tenants, and if done effectively would be of greatest benefit to the most vulnerable. Given the most vulnerable were identified by the CAB as those with English as a second language, on low pay and or those with mental health conditions there was seen to be a clear equalities justification. Extending licensing across the entire private rental sector, rather than simply on HMOs would also have the benefit of closing loopholes which allowed landlords and agents deemed unfit to provide HMO accommodation still able to let within the wider private rented market instead.
Other important messages were raised in relation to the importance of transparency, and the value for tenants of being able to look up on a database whether their property was licensed.
From the landlord side, an important point to note was that there was a recognition within the professional sector that licensing had been successful in raising standards in the HMO sector. Support was given to the proposals for discounts, though it was requested that there be greater clarity on the unit cost of providing the licensing service. An area of potential collaboration between letting agents and the Council was in regards to compliance, and whether there may be a role for lettings agents to be responsible for checking and guaranteeing compliance for the properties on their books, with the Council needing only to spot check a proportion of such properties.
Following these presentations, Councillor Alex Hollingsworth, Cabinet Member for Planning and Housing Delivery, introduced the report. It was underlined that plans for small ... view the full minutes text for item 14.
Additional HMO Licensing renewal PDF 419 KB
On 09 September the Cabinet will consider a paper concerning proposals around the renewal of the Council’s HMO Licensing scheme. The Panel is recommended to consider the report and make any recommendations to Cabinet accordingly.
Ian Wright, Head of Regulatory Services and Community Safety, will be present at the meeting to answer any questions.
Councillor Alex Hollingsworth, Cabinet Member for Planning and Housing Delivery, introduced the report on renewing the Council’s HMO licensing scheme. It was stressed that the scheme was renewal, having already been renewed once. Though some minor changes were being made, the biggest issue brought to the Panel’s attention was that owing to Covid-19 and the lockdown, the Council had been unable to run the current consultation earlier in the year. Central government had not waived its requirement for consultation and so consequently, there would be a period prior to the new scheme being adopted where the old one would have lapsed.
Ian Wright, Head of Regulatory Services and Community Safety, introduced the technical aspects of the report. The scheme had originally been established in 2011, and whilst government policy had caught up with the scheme’s policy regarding larger HMOs, it remained necessary to prove licensing was also required for smaller ones. A review of the existing scheme showed that there remained a significant number of HMOs not being managed up to standard and that a licensing scheme was required to improve standards. Non-compliance had remained stubbornly high; through spot checks, initial inspection and end of license inspections it was known that only 47% of small HMO properties were compliant. This was a slow improvement over time, but not sufficient to stop running the scheme. Numbers of non-licensed properties were also declining though still being discovered.
The Panel asked a number of questions relating to:
- Whether measures were available, particularly grants, to encourage landlords to comply with licensing requirements, rather than simply the threat of punishment. Largely, grants were no longer available bar for energy efficiency measures.
The Panel NOTED the report with support for it.
Reports for approval PDF 229 KB
For the Panel to consider the draft report to Cabinet made in response to its discussion regarding the impact of Covid-19 on private sector tenants at its previous meeting, and to approve the report having made any necessary amendments.
NB The report for this item will follow as a supplement.
The Panel considered a draft of the report written in response to the discussion held on the effect of Covid-19 on the private rented sector.
Following discussion it was AGREED to approve the report with a number of amendments:
- To add a recommendation ‘that the Council takes whatever measures it has at its disposal, including environmental health enforcement powers, to reduce the number of unsafe homes being let out before winter arrives’
- That the Scrutiny Officer research and, if opportunity arises, add a relevant recommendation relating to strengthening the Council’s response to the flouting of ‘no DSS’ policies in the private rented sector.
- To add a recommendation ‘that the Council works with local housing support and advice organisations to draft a letter on the need for government to introduce practical policy changes to increase protection for renters, to include consideration of ending section 21 evictions and the need for a rent-freeze policy, and for the Leader to send the agreed letter to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government’.
Date of next meeting
Meetings are scheduled as follows:
- 08 October 2020
- 05 November 2020
The Panel is also asked to note that an additional meeting will be scheduled in early February 2021, the precise date TBC.
All meetings begin at 6.00pm.
The Panel NOTED the amended date of the next meeting, 08 October 2020.