Venue: Meeting Room G.01, Ground Floor, City Hall, 115 Charles Street, Leicester, LE1 1FZ
APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE
The Chair welcomed those present and led introductions.
Apologies for absence were received from Councillor Modhwadia.
DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST
Members are asked to declare any pecuniary or other interests they may have in the business to be discussed.
Members were asked to declare any pecuniary or other interests they may have in the business on the agenda.
There were no such declarations.
The minutes of the meeting of the Housing Scrutiny Commission held on 7th November 2022 have been circulated, and Members are asked to confirm them as a correct record.
That the minutes of the meeting held on 7th November 2022 be confirmed as an accurate record.
The Monitoring Officer to report on the receipt of any petitions received in accordance with Council procedures.
The Monitoring Officer reported that no petitions had been received.
QUESTIONS, REPRESENTATIONS OR STATEMENTS OF CASE
The Monitoring Officer to report on the receipt of any questions, representations or statements of case received in accordance with Council procedures.
The Monitoring Officer reported that there were no questions, representations or statements of case received.
ANY OTHER URGENT BUSINESS
The Chair has agreed to include a District Heating Update report to this meeting which will be taken as urgent business on basis that there needs to be further scrutiny consideration before any decision is taken around any increase in district heating charges.
The Chair announced a change to the running order of the agenda as he had agreed to take an item of urgent business to include a district heating update report as the first substantive item of business on the agenda, on the basis that there needed to be further scrutiny consideration before any decision was taken around any increase in district heating charges.
The Chair noted that the HRA proposals had been deferred to a special meeting to be held on Monday 30th January 2023.
It was noted that an invitation had been extended to non-committee members to attend and participate in the discussion about the district heating proposals.
Report to follow as soon as possible.
Due to the Christmas and New Year bank holidays impacting on statutory timelines for publication the finalised report will be circulated as a second despatch as soon as it is available.
The Director of Housing submitted a report providing an update in relation to proposals to increase district heating charges and the reasons for that.
Assistant City Mayor Councillor Cutkelvin introduced the report and summarised the current arrangements for district heating which dated back to 2011, this included a look back at the system and arrangements in place over time as well as background information about previous consideration given to installing metering, outcomes of metering testing in 2014 and the previous decision not to proceed with installation of metering as it was cost prohibitive at that time, and the cost analysis was not as compelling as now.
It was reported that unprecedented conditions had triggered massive increases in gas and fuel costs and there was ongoing uncertainty around such costs coming down in future. Residents on district heating had been protected from increases initially as the council purchased its gas in bulk and costs had been below market levels, however with subsequent wholesale gas price increases it was necessary to consider whether to absorb or pass on the increased cost.
Members were reminded of the report presented at the last meeting noting that included a proposal that was “right” at that time. It was also noted that the government had given everyone at least £400, and in some cases more, towards mitigating increased fuel and cost of living impacts. Those on the district heating scheme had also received that additional support but without facing increased gas costs and it was felt that residents with the district heating arrangement had no financial incentive to reduce their heating and there was a tendency for those with district heating to use much more than an average user.
Members noted there remained legitimate concerns about the district heating system, this had led to further extensive work by officers to identify a way forward and evaluate the impact of increased gas/fuel prices; that work also explored key issues around contracts, revisited metering as an option, and considered potential alternative solutions such as electrification.
The Strategic Director of City Development & Neighbourhoods gave a presentation of the work that had been carried out since the last meeting which included the following points:
· if steps were not taken to address the issue of the increasing price of gas not being matched by increases in charges to district heating customers, then the Council would have to sustain £4.5 million costs from the general fund and £10.2 million costs borne by the HRA (proportionally split between homeowners and Council tenancies).
· An overview of how district heating charges looked in November/December 2022 with a new modelled set of charges that included incremental changes on a proposed 70% increase and a 300% increase together with comparison annual charge forecast 23/24 and estimated capital costs for other forms of heating.
· There had been some reduction in the cost modelling forecast, and a number of assumptions had been removed because the latest bulk gas purchase had come in at a little lower price.
· Metering had ... view the full minutes text for item 57.
The Director of Housing submits a report setting out the new vision and priorities for the tenancy management service including details of the support provided to sustain tenancies and prevent homelessness.
Members of the Commission will be asked to note the vision and priorities for the service and to provide any comments as feedback.
18.40 The Chair agreed to a short adjournment.
18.50 Meeting resumed.
The Director of Housing submitted a report setting out the new vision and priorities for the Tenancy Management service including details of the support provided to sustain tenancies and prevent homelessness.
The Head of Service, Tenancy Management introduced the report and gave an overview of recent developments, this included insight into the number of welfare visits undertaken, and highlighted the support provided to tenants to help sustain their tenancies and prevent homelessness.
Members noted that the profile of estates had changed significantly and the number of tenants with complex needs and chaotic lifestyles had risen. The “Everyone In” initiative had helped house people who had mental health issues or alcohol/drug dependency requiring additional support in their accommodation to manage those issues.
Along with the vision to be “a customer focused landlord service that enables tenants to live well and have successful tenancies” six key priorities had been developed (set out at paragraph 1.5 of report). These were based upon feedback from tenants as well as information gathered from other services and best practice identified elsewhere.
Members were informed about the support provided by the Supporting Tenants and Residents (STAR) service, this included details of new eligibility criteria introduced in May 2021 and how STAR had developed its service around Trauma Informed Practice which was a strength based approach that valued the capacity, skills, knowledge, connections and potential of individuals and communities.
Attention was drawn to the partnership working being carried out as well as data within the report which included information about referrals and information detailing the vulnerabilities of tenants being supported.
The Chair thanked officers for the report and commented upon recent national publicity about homes that were not fit to live in due to condensation and mould, and the death of a child had highlighted the issue.
Officers responded that there were still problems in council housing such as condensation or other defects and as soon as an issue was reported arrangements were made for an inspection to be carried out to identify the source of the issue and offer advice to tenants. Cases were prioritised based on condition and vulnerability of the household and sometimes alternative housing was offered whilst works were carried out.
The Director of Housing confirmed that a specialist group had been brought together to tackle mould/damp issues and all homes reporting that issue in the last 2 years had been reassessed. There had also been increased activity and investment such as in humidity devices to identify problems, referrals to technical teams, and assessment of tenants who say damp/mould was their reason for wanting to be re-housed.
The Chair commented that priority 3 online services reflected a lot of issues for people, and it was queried where the balance of the issue lay. Officers confirmed that they were trying to introduce online services and there was a need to champion those services assisting people with less IT ability to use them the first ... view the full minutes text for item 58.
The Director of Housing submits a report providing an update on the work of the Empty Homes Team to bring long term empty private sector homes back into use.
Members of the Commission will be asked to note the contents of the report and provide any comments as feedback.
The Director of Housing submitted a report providing details of the work of the Empty Homes Team to bring long term private sector homes back into use.
Assistant City Mayor Councillor Cutkelvin introduced the report noting this area of work was vital and a service the council should be proud of and look to sustain into the future.
The Head of Service, Housing explained the overall purpose of this team was to bring empty properties back into use and went on to provide an overview of the team structure, smarter working initiatives, and the process stages of bringing a property back into use.
Members noted there was a focus on bringing back into use family sized accommodation and this would be diversified later in the year to include property such as flats above shops and similar.
7.30pm Councillor Aqbany left the meeting.
Attentions was drawn to the data within the report, including the number of properties bought back into use and caseloads within the team and the trajectory of work. There was a brief discussion around common misunderstandings about compulsory purchase orders.
Members noted that officers also worked with colleagues in the Crime and Anti-Social Behaviour team as well as officers in regulatory services to use intelligence around rogue landlords and to identify patterns and themes of properties linked to Crime and ASB.
Assistant City Mayor Cutkelvin commented that whilst working on the strategy it was identified that organisations needed to be better linked when it came to tackling rogue landlords and a lot of work had been carried out through the strategy board and through external partners to take a more comprehensive look at criminality within the housing sector with a view to working towards a joined up approach.
The Chair thanked officers for the report and members contributions to the discussion.
That the contents of the report be noted.
Members of the Commission will be asked to consider the work programme and make suggestions for additional items as it considers necessary.
Members of the commission received and noted the Work Programme.
There being no further business the meeting closed at 7.45pm.