Venue: Meeting Room G.01, Ground Floor, City Hall, 115 Charles Street, Leicester, LE1 1FZ
APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE
Apologies for absence were receive by Cllr O’Neill and Cllr Zaman.
DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST
Members will be asked to declare any interests they may have in the business to be discussed.
The Chair asked members of the commission to declare any interests for which there were none.
The minutes of the meeting of the Housing Scrutiny Commission held on 31 July 2023 and 19 September 2023 have been circulated, and Members are asked to confirm them as a correct record.
It was noted that Cllr Waddington had identified an error with the figures associated to charges to tenants and leaseholders within the metering update and whilst it was agreed the charges would be reviewed such figures should have been accurate within the report.
· Subject to the above, it was agreed that the minutes for the meetings on 31 July 2023 and 19 September 2023 were a correct record.
The Monitoring Officer to report on the receipt of any petitions received in accordance with Council procedures.
The Monitoring Officer noted that none 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 noted that none had been received.
The Director of Housing submits a report updating the Commission on the work the Housing Division is doing to respond to the climate emergency.
Members will be requested to note the contents of the report.
The Head of Service
presented the report to update the commission on work being
undertaken within the service to respond to the climate emergency.
It was noted that:
· Energy efficiency is considered in all areas of the capital programme whereby there are various programmes within the housing division.
· The new build housing programme considers energy efficiency on a site-by-site basis but all seven sites, including Stocking Farm and the Forest Lodge Education Centre, will be developed and deliver energy performance above current building regulations.
· Housing stock is identified across ten construction types including brick, MHC and steel amongst others. Energy Performance Certificates (EPC) are assessed for properties when housing stock is let or significant work undertaken.
· The approach to existing stock is always fabric first in accordance with government policy and focusses on solid wall properties as they are thermally inefficient. 874 solid wall properties remain to be insulated but these are the most challenging, for example terraced housing.
· Brick cavity wall construction types have an average EPC of C and therefore have not been identified as a priority.
· MHC properties have been identified as priority 2, and two pilot schemes have been undertaken at bungalows in New Parks and Eyres Monsell.
· Steel frames houses are priority 3 and mainly found in New Parks. Investigations have been undertaken with a planned specification for an improvement scheme.
· Timber properties have an average rating of C, with the best performing in Rowlatts Hill, and therefore have not been identified as a priority.
· All insulation is match funded with government grants whereby the division were successful in a bid as part of social housing decarbonisation 1. A further bid has recently been submitted for 2.1. The service will continue to work with energy companies too as part of energy company obligations.
· Work is also underway by the division to explore alternatives for energy consumption post-gas.
In response to questions and
comments from Members, it was noted that:
· The district heating network was proposed to supply new developments and buildings. The overall total cost of DH is comparable to the open market. The standing charge is higher because the network supplies less properties than national utility companies. If more properties are supplied by the network then economies of scale should result in standing charges decreasing.
· New social homes are being built to current insulation standards and is anticipated that heat demand will therefore be less. Discussions with the sustainability team also recommended the use of district heating to supply some of the new social housing developments as decarbonisation pathway plans should make it a viable supply.
· Government policy has only recently allowed local authorities to build new social homes and therefore whilst sites such as Southfield Newry have been vacant for some time, since identifying the site for new social homes there have not been significant delays with bringing this forward.
· All identified sites for new social housing have their own construction programmes and some delays have been encountered with contractors going into ... view the full minutes text for item 32.
The Director of Housing submits a report updating the Commission about the work the Empty Homes Team are doing to bring long term private sector homes back into use.
Members will be asked to note the contents of the report.
The Director for Housing introduced the item to highlight the importance of ensuring less empty private sector empty homes throughout the city to enable more available stock for individuals seeking accommodation and preventing homelessness.
The Head of Service presented the report, and it was noted that:
· The team take an incremental approach to work with owners to bring empty properties back into use with over 88% success rate using early intervention informal techniques. 197 properties were brought back into use in the city during 22/23 using this approach.
· If there is no commitment from owners, then legal remedies such as compulsory purchase orders or negotiated offers can be pursued although usually such conversation can initiate the owner to bring the property back into use. CPOs are only used as a last resort.
· Work has increased for the team with the number of empty properties for over 18months increasing by 15% during the 22/23 year – equating to 424 at the end of March 23. The team work to bring as many properties back into use as possible but the team is made up of 2.6 officers and therefore resources are focussed in areas of need and demand.
· The team receive positive feedback when liaising with owners and it is apparent that the pandemic and cost of living crisis have had an impact on ability of owners to travel due to isolating and undertaking works to bring back into use due to financial pressures.
· The team also work with the council tax department to use data on workflows and classification of properties. Council tax can also be used to encourage owners to bring properties back into use by increasing rates if the property is empty.
· Properties have different classification which can impact the powers of the local authority, for example 28% of empty homes in Leicester are classed as second homes and therefore the Local Authority have no powers to bring back into use.
In response to questions and comments from Members, it was noted that:
· Council tax increases depending on the length of time a property remains empty as referenced in the agenda pack. Checks are undertaken by the council tax team and the empty property team to identify whether a property is empty, this can be through patrolling areas or when reported and inspected.
· More devolution powers are needed for the local authority to be able to take more action to bring empty properties back into use and is a topic the Deputy City Mayor for Housing and Neighbourhoods has proactively raised and will continue to do so.
· Benchmarking has been undertaken and the number of empty homes in the city is comparable to others.
· Empty homes throughout the city can be identified into wards and this information can be shared.
· The empty homes team is a non-statutory function funded by the general budget and therefore given ongoing financial pressures, whilst additional resource may be unlikely, many other authorities are not operating such a service.
· Council tax data is ... view the full minutes text for item 33.
The Director of Housing submits a report updating the Commission about the progress made with LCC’s Private Rented Sector Strategy objectives.
Members of the Commission will be asked to provide any comments or feedback and note the content of the report.
The Director of Housing
introduced the item highlighting that there are around 145 thousand
homes in the city and fifty thousand of these are within the
private rented sector. It is vital to ensure the quality of these
PRS homes for residents and to attract others to choose Leicester
as a place to live, the Deputy City Mayor for Housing and
Neighbourhoods requested the development of a private rented sector
The Head of Service in
housing and Team Manager in Neighbourhood Services presented the
report, and it was noted that:
· The Strategy was introduced at the end of 2021 and lots of progress is highlighted within the report from the last two years. The approach is to ensure there is a balance of support for landlords as well enforcement to improve standards for tenants.
· The sector has been impacted by external pressures since the introduction of the strategy such as the cost-of-living crisis which is impacting tenants and landlord with affordability of rising mortgages and rents – many landlords have left the market.
· The strategy is a live document and therefore the service develop new workstreams to respond to emerging issues. A key addition to the strategy is the inclusion of anti-poverty work. This includes cross-divisional working and partners to ensure a co-ordinated response with the aim to ensure residents can maximise resources to remain within their homes.
· Communication has been enhanced with website improvements including a review to ensure information is accurate and the customer journey is better. Liaison work also continues with landlords and the service will be hosting a further forum soon to provide advice and continue to build relationships.
· The service aims to work to prevent residents becoming homeless and sustaining tenancies. Despite additional pressures this has improved and prevention success is significantly higher than the national average which the service is proud to report. Where tenancies cannot be sustained, officers work to identify and secure new homes before residents become homeless but this is becoming increasingly difficult with housing shortages and increasing rents.
· Many tenancies have been created via incentive schemes, but further improvements and financial assistance is required to bridge the gap and ensure schemes remain viable in the market as housing allowances have been frozen and rents rising. Residents can retain housing applications when in support of incentive schemes to try and ensure a pathway for a longer-term affordable solution.
· Funding has been secured to train twelve officers to undertake EPC assessment of properties and specify works to landlords if energy performance of properties is inadequate. Tablets have also been purchased and streamline the process to ensure information can be added in real time when conducting visits to private rented sector properties. An online portal is also being developed to report issues and will initially be rolled out for reporting damp and mould.
· The selective licensing scheme is a notable initiative to ensure improvement of standards in the private sector – this was approved by Council in July 2022 and implemented in ... view the full minutes text for item 34.
The Director of Housing submits a report updating the Commission on Immigration, Migration and Asylum within the city.
Members will be asked to provide any comments and note the contents of the report.
The Director for Housing introduced the item to highlight as the recent census illustrated, Leicester is a growing city and is made up of many communities from around the world. The city has around 345k residents and asylum seekers make up only a very small proportion of the population.
The Head of Service presented a set of slides, and it was noted that:
· Data from the 2021 Census highlights that Leicester is one of the fastest growing cities compared with other core cities according; 41% of the population were born oversees, a 7% increase from the 2011 Census; and the city if the fourth most deprived by proportion of household.
· Residents in Leicester born in the top 10 non-UK place of birth has increased for all countries with the exception of Kenya and Zimbabwe since the 2011 Census. India as a place of birth was the largest growth making up 16% of Leicester’s population, there was a 422% increase in residents born in Italy living in Leicester and residents from Romania make up 1.3% of total population.
· Large numbers of people have been entering the UK illegally using small boats – the peak in 2022. The Illegal Immigration Act 2023 is intended to look at methods of entry and managing immigration but details are still being developed. However, based on current information it does not contain the same powers to detain and deport unaccompanied asylum seeking children as it does for adults.
· The city is involved in a number of schemes to support people coming to the UK including NASS, Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children, Afghan, Ukraine, Hong Kong British National Overseas, Syria and the Community Support Group. Each scheme has different rules, regulation and funding. They all remain live, and people can come to the UK with the exception of the Syrian scheme.
· The numbers of current asylum seekers in the City was shared with the commission and also the figure for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. We have 160 sponsors for the Homes for Ukraine scheme and just over 260 guests. The city committed to housing support for twelve families as part of the Afghan scheme with the families settling into the city. As of August 2023, eight thousand Afghan families were still living in temporary hotels throughout the UK and were asked to leave – most found alternative accommodation but around one thousand vulnerable Afghans remain in hotels across the county and will be asked to leave by the Home Office by December.
· All children that arrive under any scheme are placed in appropriate education as quickly as possible as schooling is important for settlement. Except for asylum seekers, schemes usually allow access to public funds. Each scheme will have different rules that can make it complex, but support is provided by services although they are under increasing pressure.
· Over the next three months there will be a speeding up of the asylum process to process claims and make a decision for applications of individuals from specific countries of origin. ... view the full minutes text for item 35.
ANY OTHER URGENT BUSINESS
The Chair requested an update regarding St Clements Court. It was noted by the Director for Housing and Team Manager in Neighbourhood Service that:
· Leicester Fire and Rescue Service (LFRS) issued a prohibition notice on a block of private flats on 28 September 2023 due to failure to comply with identified issues.
· Fosse Neighbourhood Centre was mobilised as an evacuation centre and 65 flats were visited by officers to ensure residents understood the notice had been issued. 15 families were supported with temporary accommodations, some were supported by families and others chose to remain at the property in breach of the notice. LFRS had a high presence at the location and provided further engagement to those remaining to understand the situation.
· LFRS and the Local Authority have responsibility for enforcement of fire safety. The fire service has overall responsibility if a fire were to occur - the structure of the flat blocks should provide sixty minutes protection to enable a fire crew to be called, arrive, and get the fire under control. The Local Authority has responsibility to ensure each individual flat has sufficient smoke detections and self-closers on doors.
The prohibition notice was removed on 12 October as
LFRS were satisfied the owner had satisfactorily addressed issues
that posed an immediate risk to life. A notice remains in place for
overall improvements of the property to be addressed by the
Councillor Waddington highlighted she had visited the property as it is located within her ward and noted concerns that whilst many tenants were able to leave, others chose to remain in the property in breach of the notice as they had pets.
Members agreed with concerns around fire hazards and maintenance of the property and the Commission requested a detailed report on history associated to management and enforcement of St Clements Court.
· The Commission noted the verbal update.
· The Commission requested a detailed report.
The Director for Housing highlighted the annual rough sleepers count usually takes place in November and Members were invited to participate.
Members of the Commission will be asked to consider the work programme and make suggestions for additional items as it considers necessary.
The Chair noted there had been a change to future meeting dates.
There being no further business, the meeting closed at 20.18.