Agenda and draft minutes
Venue: Council Chamber, Civic Centre, Windmill Street, Gravesend DA12 1AU. View directions
Contact: Committee Section
Apologies for Absence
An apology for absence was received from Cllr Emma Elliott (Cllr Alan Metcalf substituted).
The minutes of the meeting of the Committee held on Monday, 13 November 2023were signed by the Chair.
Declarations of Interest
No declarations of interest were made.
The Committee received a presentation on the decarbonisation project at Springvale Court.
The presentation has been published and can be accessed through the below link:
Members were also shown a video of a different development that had undergone the works that would be carried out at Springvale Court as well as the positive testimonies from residents living at the site.
The Director (Housing) further explained that similar schemes to Springvale Court would be brought forward in the future, and he advised Members that when a new scheme was announced in their wards, they may be contacted by worried residents. However, the Director (Housing) assured Members that a significant amount of work had gone into the planning of each scheme and his team would help assuage any concerns that residents may have.
In response to a Members question regarding future projects and the wider circulation of the video, the Head of Housing Assets advised that the video was only recently created, and the plan was to upload it to the Councils website and use it to engage with residents of other schemes that would benefit from the works. With regards to future plans, the team were looking at Independent Living Schemes in the Borough as the works would mitigate the current high costs for communal heating and lighting and there were no leaseholders living in the buildings making it easier for the works to be completed. The team were reviewing key schemes and work would be carried out in a variety of areas in the next financial year.
The Chair thanked the Head of Housing Assets for an informative presentation.
The Committee was informed of the proposed revisions to the Housing Assets Repairs & Maintenance Policy and support for the revisions was sought.
The Head of Housing Assets explained that the landscape for landlords had changed drastically since the implementation of the original Repairs & Maintenance Policy in 2017, and whilst the policy had had a desk top review conducted annually, it was necessary to undertake a fundamental review due to changes outlined below:
The Head of Housing Assets directed Members to appendix two which summarised the amendments made to the Repairs & Maintenance Policy with an explanation as to why each revision had been made.
Concern was raised by a Member over the removal of the Assisted Re-Decoration Scheme and asked that the ‘Equality Impact Assessment’ box in the report be amended to advise that elderly and disabled people would be affected negatively by the removal of the scheme.
The Head of Housing Assets explained that the Assisted Re-Decoration Scheme was stopped during Covid and work, since the pandemic, had been focused primarily on the statutory work that had to be completed. The scheme wasn’t just for elderly and disabled residents and the Council ensured that all of the Independent Living schemes in the Borough were well maintained, and each unit was already fully decorated prior to residents moving in. However, with any policy, there was a certain degree of discretion that could be exercised and assistance with re-decoration could be offered to individual cases if it was in the Councils and residents’ best interests.
The Director (Housing) further clarified that the Assisted Re-Decoration Scheme had not been available or in demand for a long time; instead there had been a focus on the delivery of service for all residents. Money had been spent on improving the standard of void properties in the Borough in order to move families into those properties. The Director (Housing) advised that in the past, officers attended properties that had requested assisted redecoration and had found the properties to be in good condition and the residents just wanting company. With those cases, the residents were signposted to the relevant support organisations and discretion was applied where required.
The Head of Housing Assets added that the teams’ discretionary powers were not limited to re-decorating and there were a number of other works offered on a case-by-case basis. Following further discussion, the Chair agreed that a clause would be added to the policy advising that the Council had flexibility with a number of works that could be undertaken, and discretionary powers could be used on a case-by-case basis.
Members supported the revisions to the policy.
The Committee were provided with a presentation on the professional standards in Housing.
The presentation has been published and can be accessed through the below link:
The Chair praised the presentation and advised that it was an important step in improving the Housing Service; the necessary officers of various Housing teams would be encouraged to complete the qualification.
The Chair reminded the Committee that there was a significant amount of Government legislation coming into effect in the future and it was prudent of the Council to get ahead of its release.
Following the presentation, a number of concerns were raised by the Committee:
· Was the overall cost of administering the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) professional qualification to an unknown amount of Housing Officers best value for money when it was not known how much value the qualification would bring to the organisation
· Officers spending time working on the qualification would affect the operational ability of the Housing Teams and impact the residents.
· Were the CIH’s code of conduct and principles aligned with the Council own existing policies
· Were Legal Services staying abreast of the new legislation changes coming into effect
· Were the changes proposed being proposed too early before the legislation had made it clear what was required and how would the Council ensure staff stayed within the organisation once they had completed the training
In response to Member concerns, the following points were made:
· The Head of Neighbourhood Services explained that it was not currently known what level of qualification the Regulator of Social Housing was going to set as a minimum requirement nor how senior the officer had to be to require the qualification in their role, although it was likely to be senior officers such as Heads of Service and Directors.
· The Director (Housing) explained that as the Council was an employer and landlord it was important to give staff access to the tools that allowed them to do their job to an excellent standard. The CIH were the nationally recognised professional body for Housing Officers, and it was important that that level of professionalism was implemented into Gravesham’s Housing Service and officers could be held accountable against those professional standards. The cost of the qualifications was minimal when compared to the professional standards that the qualification would incorporate into the service. To alleviate Members concerns, the Director (Housing) advised that he would bring a report back to committee to outline the benefits of the professional standards to both the Council and its tenants
· The Director (Housing) clarified that there was a difference between the qualifications and membership of the CIH. Membership of the CIH meant that officers would have access to a CIH portal which gave them resources and guidance in areas such as arrears, tenancy management and other Housing matters, which would benefit the residents. Whereas the qualification was a paid for course which ... view the full minutes text for item 21.
The Committee was provided with a report that updated them on the progress that had been delivered in relation to the Damp and Mould Action Plan implemented following the Housing Ombudsman report addressing the issue of damp and mould called “Spotlight on: Damp and mould”.
The Head of Housing Assets took Member through the report and gave a detailed outline of each section:
Several suggestions were made by the Committee:
The Head of Housing Assets agreed that in the majority of cases mould and damp was caused by condensation within the property and could be prevented by the tenant; guidance leaflets were already available and given to tenants as well as hydrometer with a traffic light system. There were also videos on the Council website which educated the public on causes of mould and public engagement ideas similar to the one created for the Springvale Court, that informed people what they should expect during the mould and damp removal process. The Head of Housing Assets had previously liaised with the Head of Housing Options about tenant education in which initial ... view the full minutes text for item 22.