Agenda item

Agenda item

Social Housing White Paper

Part 2 of the Panel’s ongoing consideration of the theme of tenant engagement and empowerment focuses on the proposed changes in central government’s white paper on Social Housing. A presentation will be given by Bill Graves, Landlord Services Manager. Also invited to this meeting to contribute are Councillor Diko Blackings, Cabinet Member for Affordable Housing, Housing Security and Housing the Homeless, Councillor Mike Rowley, Cabinet Member for Citizen Focused Services, Stephen Clarke, Head of Housing, Simon Warde, Tenant Involvement Manager, Wendy Hind, Tenant Involvement Officer and the tenant ambassadors. Stephen Gabriel, newly appointed Executive Director of Communities and People will be attending to watch.

It is expected that the findings will be written up at the end of the year, including any recommendations. The Panel is asked therefore to NOTE the report and AGREE any recommendations it wishes to make. Should it wish to make an urgent recommendation to Cabinet, ie prior to the report being written at the end of the year, it is also at liberty to do so. A list of the issues raised previously by the Panel for possible consideration as recommendations is included within the notes of the previous meeting for the relevant item.



Bill Graves, Landlord Services Manager, introduced the Panel-requested update report on the implications of the central government’s Social Housing White Paper.

The Grenfell tragedy had brought to the fore the importance of tenant safety in social housing. To that end, central government had put forward a white paper outlining seven rights of tenants in social housing. Although only a white paper, the clear advice of government was that social landlords should not wait before implementing the proposals. The rights identified were as detailed below:

1)    To be safe in your home

The implementation of the changes required would have a number of consequences for the Council. Tenant engagement would need to be increased significantly, the provision of proscribed safety information would be necessary, a named person made personally accountable for health and safety would need to be selected. The additional requirements would have staffing implications, needing to be funded from the Housing Revenue Account. The process for making appointments to many of the necessary roles was already underway.

2)    To know how your landlord is performing

The Council would be required to inform every tenant, at least once a year, on its performance.

Proscribed information would focus on compliance with multiple safety measures, the Decent Homes Standard, success in resolving complaints promptly and fairly, management and handling of anti-social behaviour and levels of tenant satisfaction over a number of key areas such as engagement, health and safety, overall condition, repairs handling, management of communal spaces, and the wider neighbourhood. Also included within performance reporting all social landlords would be required to make available information on spending, and be subject to challenge by residents if spending was thought not to be in the right place.

The effects on the Council to comply with the requirements would include providing greater detail over spending, including more work with the tenant ambassadors to explain spending. The Council also wished to provide real-time data on its performance, meaning that costs would be incurred to support this. It was likely that the greater transparency over spending would lead to greater scrutiny over spending within and without the Housing Revenue Account.

3)    To have complaints dealt with promptly and fairly

Changes to the Housing Ombudsman’s code and other broader changes would have a number of impacts for the Council. These would include needing to adopt a two stage complaints process for housing complaints, with the Housing Ombudsman’s definition of a complaint. Policies would need to be updated and made available online, including the vexatious complaints policy and reasonable adjustments policy. Two officers to investigate and manage housing complaints would need to be recruited and additional publicity amongst tenants on their right to complain and information on how to do this would be required.

4)    To be treated with respect

Many of the changes in this aspect were external to the Council, with a more proactive regulator having greater freedom to make inspections and enforce significant fines and an expectation on providers in breach to self-refer to the regulator. A key foundation of the approach was that providers co-regulate with their tenants, stressing the ongoing importance of the Tenant Ambassadors.

5)    To have your voice heard by your landlord

Under the proposals, social landlords would need to actively seek out best practice, including through training of staff and empowerment of tenants, of ways to improve engagement by tenants with their landlords. A key change for the Council would be the need to implement more individualised engagements, and more regular check-ups. It was possible for some residents to be living happily in their homes with no major life events or issues to prompt a visit. As such, it could be that the Council had not engaged with them for a long period. Regular face to face visits to check on the standard of the property and any unreported issues or concerns, and to gather information on protected characteristics and contact preferences would be a strong step in providing that deeper level of engagement. This would require greater resourcing than currently present. 

6)    To have a good quality home and neighbourhood to live in

A large focus of this area would be on the management of anti-social behaviour and making improvements to wider neighbourhoods. Another element would be on more health and wellbeing initiatives. For the Council, the main foci would be on engaging tenants in conversations about decarbonisation of homes, improving the quality of green space and estates generally.

7)    To be supported to take your first step into ownership

Here, the Council would need to engage with a number of central government initiatives, such as a new shared ownership model, continued support for the Right to Buy, and providing support for leaseholders as well as tenants.

To date, Housing staff had undertaken a gap analysis of the work required and developed a high-level action plan with named officers for specific objectives. A lead officer for the delivery of this action plan was yet to be appointed, and the budget would need to be confirmed.

In response to the presentation the Panel raised questions around the Council’s ability to influence other local social housing providers, and the importance of Selective Licensing to protect tenants in the private sector.

The Panel explored issues around the continuing duty to support Right to Buy. In particular, the question was raised whether there were ways to incentivise tenants to take on the Council’s shared ownership properties instead of exercising the Right to Buy. The suggestion was thought to be potentially possible but required further investigation. Furthermore, it might not be necessary. The overall number of tenants exercising their Right to Buy was dropping anyway owing to the cost of housing in Oxford reaching such levels that even with the discount they were unaffordable for purchase. Shared ownership properties were proving exceedingly popular already and often provided a more financially sensible route into home ownership than Right to Buy. It was noted by officers that this should be marketed more extensively to current tenants.

Assurance was sought that Personal Evacuation Plans (PEEP) were in the process of being developed for all relevant tenants. All bar three households had a PEEP, with the three not doing so refusing to provide information. At present, PEEPS were reviewed every 18 months, but a resource request was being made in the Budget to bring that to once every 12.

The ability of the new QL system to deliver the information required for real-time updates was questioned. This was one of the strengths of the QL system, which when fully implemented would be able to provide exactly the sort of real time data needed across a variety of measures. Not all the performance reporting data would come via this system, but that which did would in no way be held back by it once fully implemented.

A suggestion was put forward by the Panel that potentially one area to focus on when increasing the frequency of visits by Tenancy Management Officers would be sheltered accommodation, with older people being more prone to loneliness and isolation. Some push back to the suggestion was put forward on the basis of the high proportion of council homes with an elderly person, approximately 40% having someone over 60, making a focus on sheltered schemes a partial solution to a bigger challenge. Targeting interventions using age as a guide to tackle loneliness would be something officers would seek to do.

The implications of greater transparency and scrutiny over HRA spending were discussed. Specifically, would existing monies from the HRA for items such as youth work need to be scaled back? Or conversely, would money to improve neighbourhoods mean more money could be spent from within the HRA? On balance there was a risk in this area, but if contributions were expected from the General Fund a number of projects of benefit to tenants and with tenant support might not be delivered.

More information was sought regarding the new requirement for allocations to take into consideration the impact on the local community. It was explained that mixed communities could be encouraged if there were negative impacts arising from having high numbers of one particular type of tenant, for instance high incidences of exploitation of vulnerable people having their homes taken over by criminals for criminal activity.




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