Agenda and minutes

Agenda and minutes

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Speaking at a Council or Committee meeting

Venue: Remote (Zoom)

Contact: Tom Hudson, Scrutiny Officer  email

Note: This meeting was held via Zoom and livesteamed to the Council's youtube channel 

No. Item



Substitutes are not allowed.




Declarations of interest




Housing Panel Work Plan

The Panel is asked to NOTE that the forthcoming meeting of the Housing and Homelessness Panel is in February, meaning the Forward Plan is liable to change. Aside from the requested report on the progress of activities in relation to the Social Housing White Paper it is not possible to put forward a reliable work plan.


The Panel AGREED that owing to a delay in the expected report on the response to the Tenant Satisfaction Survey results there should be an additional meeting on 16 December 2021 at 5pm. The Panel would also consider a Housing Performance update for the last quarter.


Notes of previous meeting pdf icon PDF 384 KB

The Panel is asked to AGREE the notes of the meeting held on 06 October 2021 as an accurate record, having raised any necessary amendments.




The notes of the meeting held on 06 October 2021 were AGREED as an accurate record.




Landlord Services Performance Dashboard

The requested dashboard of landlord services remains delayed as a consequence of the QL implementation and is not available for this meeting.


Chair of the Panel, Councillor Linda Smith, updated Panel members regarding the housing performance dashboard. The ongoing challenges from the QL implementation were still preventing the publication of this information. This was NOTED bv the Panel.


Discretionary Housing Payment Policy pdf icon PDF 362 KB

Cabinet will, at its meeting on 10 November 2021, consider a report on Discretionary Housing Payment policy. The Panel is asked to consider the report and AGREE any recommendations it wishes to make to Cabinet arising from it.

Councillor Shaista Aziz, Cabinet Member for Inclusive Communities, and James Pickering, Welfare Reform Manager will be available to present the report.

**NB This report is to follow and will be issued as a supplement.**

Additional documents:


Councillor Shaista Aziz, Cabinet Member for Inclusive Communities presented the report to the Panel. Key issues that the report dealt with where historical demand for DHP, and the anticipated increase in demand for DHP payments at a time of financial challenge for the Council. In the previous year the Council had exceeded the grant support from government by 22%, or £101k. Spending beyond the government’s grant is also expected in the immediate future, particularly as central government had reduced the level of its grant support. A series of mitigations had been put in place to minimise the impact on the Council’s general budget. The pandemic had hit DHP recipients particularly hard, with many having few alternative options other than this funding. Families subject to the benefit cap were particularly reliant on this support (66% of Council DHP spending went to this group), particularly lone parents with more than two children whose ability to work sufficient hours to qualify for alternative benefits was seriously impeded by their childcare situation. Changes to Universal Credit announced in the government’s Budget would help those able to work, but would be of very little benefit to those not working or working few hours.

 A vital part of the Council’s approach to the DHP process was the allocation of case workers to DHP recipients to work with them to find solutions to their specific challenges. This approach had repeatedly shown good outcomes for individuals; for example, even with the pandemic 31 recipients had made their way into work in the previous financial year. James Pickering, Welfare Reform Manager, underlined the importance of this in light of the fluctuating income from government. Finding long-term solutions was the only viable path to take.

The Panel explored the possible mitigations put in place by the Council to mitigate the consequences of spending on DHP beyond the government grant and found itself to be in strong support of all the existing and proposed suggestions.

One issue raised was that it unclear to members whether the portion of DHP spend coming from the HRA (ie spending on DHP for Council tenants above the government grant) was specifically budgeted for, given that spending might be anticipated to be not inconsequential, £50k or so. It was the view of the Panel that providing a dedicated line in the budget is important in providing transparency, particularly to Council tenants, whose rental payments underpin the HRA.

Other issues raised by the Panel included the ‘trap’ effect of the DHP and the length of time some recipients stay on it, eligibility criteria and other forms of support.

It was AGREED to make the following recommendation to Cabinet:

1) That the Council includes a line within the HRA section of its proposed 2022/23 budget for DHP expenditure beyond the government grant.




Empty Homes pdf icon PDF 457 KB

At its last meeting the Panel requested an introduction to the work of the Empty Homes Officer. Melanie Mutch, Empty Homes Officer, will present a report on her area of work. The Panel is asked to AGREE any recommendations it wishes to make to Cabinet arising from the report.



Ian Wright, Head of Regulatory Services and Community Safety, presented a Panel-requested report on Empty Homes.

For Council Tax purposes, an empty home was defined as one which was unoccupied and substantially unfurnished for a period of over six months.  Empty homes in Oxford were problematic, given the pressures on housing and land in the city. Currently, 262 properties had been empty for between six months and two years, and 114 for over two years, nine of which had been empty for over 10 years. Properties awaiting probate did not contribute to these figures, which stood at 184, and similarly the 54 properties being renovated. Nationally, there had been a significant rise in the number of empty homes; Oxford’s figures were currently on an upward trajectory also. Although the rise was disappointing in light of the stresses on housing stock, a 2018 report commissioned suggested that Oxford tended to perform strongly against the national average, ranking 29th out of 326 councils nationally.

The Council had an Empty Homes Officer, responsible for collating information about empty homes in the City, and working with internal and external bodies to try and bring them back into use, as well as managing any nuisance arising from the empty homes. Owners were incentivised to bring homes back into use through a loan scheme, though uptake on this was fairly low. Increased Council Tax on empty properties was also an incentive.

Legislation around long term empty homes was not well-crafted, meaning legal responses to tackling empty homes such as Empty Homes Management Orders were not often relied upon nationally or locally. Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPO) were neither cheap nor easy; owing to this the Council no longer had a budget to pursue CPOs.

Discussion was held by the Panel over the degree to which the Council’s premium on Council Tax incentivised the bringing of empty homes back into use, and whether higher premiums might be more effective. In response, it was explained that for homes empty for a shorter duration the increased council tax did prove to be an incentive. However, for those paying the top tier of premium, empty for ten years or more, it was not an effective deterrent. It was not possible, however, to raise this premium further as the Council was already charging the legal maximum. The similarity and cross-over between second and empty homes was discussed, with the current treatment favouring second homes on the basis that they could not be charged any premium. It was not known by officers present whether a premium could be charged for second homes, and a request was made by the Panel that this be clarified for the next meeting.

Councillor Alex Hollingsworth, Cabinet Member for Planning and Housing Supply, joined the meeting at this point.

Other issues explored by the Panel included options for houses purchased through CPOs, and whether there were ways to reduce reliance on a dedicated budget. However, the point remained that owners of CPO’d properties would get market value  ...  view the full minutes text for item 22.


Dates of next meetings

Meetings of the Housing and Homelessness Panel are scheduled for:


02 February 2022

04 April 2022




The Panel NOTED the dates of future meetings, including the extra meeting scheduled for 16 December at 5pm.