Agenda and draft minutes

Housing Scrutiny Sub-Committee - Tuesday 16 November 2021 7.00 pm

Venue: Room THB-06, Town Hall, Lambeth Town Hall, Brixton Hill, London SW2 1RW

Contact: David Rose, Democratic Services  020 7926 1037, Email: drose@lambeth.gov.uk

Note: Information on how to access the meeting is set out in the agenda. However, if you just want to watch the live broadcast you can copy and paste the following link into your browser: https://bit.ly/3oblqLz. The video will remain available to view for 180 days. 

Items
No. Item

1.

Declarations of Pecuniary Interest

    • View the background to item 1.

    Under Standing Order 4.4, where any councillor has a Disclosable Pecuniary Interest (as defined in the Members’ Code of Conduct (para. 4)) in any matter to be considered at a meeting of the Council, a committee, sub-committee or joint committee, they must withdraw from the meeting room during the whole of the consideration of that matter and must not participate in any vote on that matter unless a dispensation has been obtained from the Monitoring Officer.

    Minutes:

    There were none.

     

2.

Minutes of the Previous Meeting pdf icon PDF 200 KB

    • View the background to item 2.

    To approve and sign the minutes of the meeting held on 6 July 2021 as a correct record of the proceedings.

    Minutes:

    The minutes of the meeting of 6 July 2021 were approved as a correct record of proceedings, following the below change:

    ·         Agenda pack, page 2, to change from “The majority of customers were not homeless and outsourcing services was designed to increase capacity and provide a seamless service…” to “The majority of customers were not homeless and working with partners was designed to increase capacity and provide a seamless service…”

     

    The Clerk confirmed they would chase the response from the Overview and Scrutiny Committee on the written submission from Gerlinde Gniewosz.

     

3.

Empty Homes in the Private Sector pdf icon PDF 371 KB

    • View the background to item 3.

    (All wards)

     

    Report authorised by: Bayo Dosunmu: Strategic Director for Resident Services

     

    Contact for enquiries: Sandra Roebuck, Director of Infrastructure and Capital Delivery, Resident Services, 020 7926 2594, sroebuck@lambeth.gov.uk

    Additional documents:

    Minutes:

    The Cabinet Member for Housing and Homelessness, Councillor Maria Kay; Sandra Roebuck, Director of Infrastructure and Capital Delivery; Gaynor Brown, Private Sector Enforcement & Regulation Manager; and Danielle Barham, Senior Revenues & Contracts Officer, introduced the report and noted:

    ·           The climate emergency and COP26 goals, local ambitions and the Government’s Housing white paper would require significant expenditure to meet; however, central Government was not providing necessary funds and extra costs could not be absorbed by the Housing Revenue Account (HRA).

     

    The Sub-Committee heard from Sue Edmonds, Capital Letters, who stated:

    ·           Capital Letters had been established in 2019 with London Councils and had 21 London boroughs as members, covering £38m flexible support grants.  Its aim was to increase the number of private rented sector properties, reducing costs, and providing sustainable tenancies; through brokering relationships between landlords, local authorities, and tenants.

    ·           Local authorities worked in parallel with Capital Letters to procure homes pan-London to agreed property standards to provide secured tenancies for residents.

    ·           Sustainable landlords and tenancies were targeted to ensure tenants could pay rents and lower costs for local authorities.

     

    The Sub-Committee next heard from Adam Cliff, Empty Homes Network, as follows:

    ·           The Empty Homes Network was established in 2001 and Lambeth was an engaged and cooperative member.  Its primary goal was to return empty homes back into use and with 250 practitioners, it could campaign nationally, offer robust and comprehensive support service, provide service reviews, and shared best practice with the support of its considerable library.

    ·           Best practice was identified as having and following the same procedures to deal with empty homes methodically and strategically, whether longer- or shorter- term voids, noting that longer-term voids would eventually face enforcement proceedings.

     

    In response to Members’ questions, the Cabinet Member and officers stated the following:

    ·           A monthly review of empty homes was undertaken to ascertain which required lettered notification and to identify properties and owners to bring homes back into use.

    ·           Lambeth had focused on its private sector empty homes over the last two years and identified its success as down to the dedicated officer who worked with the council tax team.

    ·           There were a range of interventions to bring empty properties back into use, including working with landlords, but Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs) could only be enacted by the Secretary of State and led to an inquiry before action could be taken. The series of enforcement actions prior to CPOs could take 18 months to complete, but a series of letters and notices in a three-year long process was needed beforehand, which was costly and it was not guaranteed to recoup costs.

    ·           Lambeth prioritised properties likely to become available before the two-year period to bring homes back into use earlier, but this required significant resource.

    ·           Lambeth engaged heavily with the Fire Brigade, as they excelled at identifying and securing empty properties, identifying ownership, and engaging with neighbours.

    ·           The Empty Homes Property Officer had to undertake a series of measures including informal communications and linking in with other agencies, prior to serving notices.

    ·           The  ...  view the full minutes text for item 3.

4.

Empty Homes in the Public Sector pdf icon PDF 248 KB

    • View the background to item 4.

    (All wards)

     

    Report authorised by: Bayo Dosunmu: Strategic Director for Resident Services

     

    Contact for enquiries: Valdrin Rexha, Head of Income Maximisation, vrexha@lambeth.gov.uk

    Additional documents:

    Minutes:

    The Cabinet Member for Housing and Homelessness, Councillor Maria Kay; Neil Euesden, Director for Housing Services; Tim Fairhurst, Assistant Director for Neighbourhood Housing; and Valdrin Rexha, Head of Income Maximisation, introduced the report and stated:

    ·           Lambeth was prioritising in-contract voids but would still clear pre-contract voids, however this was difficult to do as there was no contractual clout or penalties that could be imposed.

    ·           There were major issues obtaining resources due to the current building industry.

    ·           Contractors were committed to deliver all pre-contract voids by the end of November.

    ·           In-contract voids had heavy financial penalties for delays to mitigate rent loss and ensure delivery within performance targets (10 days for short-cycles and 20 days for long-cycle).

    ·           Financial penalties were not put into historic contractor contracts but were in the current contracts.

     

    The Sub-Committee next heard from Councillor Pete Elliott on behalf of Andy Plant, resident:

    ·           Estate regeneration had significantly impacted the HRA and needed reconsideration.

    ·           There had been significant contract failings with Mears.

    ·           It was queried whether officers had learnt lessons from voids being left on regeneration estates.

    ·           The agenda pack, page 28, stated that void properties were often in appalling conditions and queried whether this was from residents or long-term repair issues.

     

    In response to Members’ questions, the Cabinet Member and officers stated the following:

    ·           The Price Per Void (PPV) financial model meant that contractors were paid a set price for delivering voids below a £6,000 threshold, with voids above this threshold paid at a cost price.

    ·           Voids were inspected on Day 1, with an order raised on Day 3; and was a good indicator of total expected costs for a set year.

    ·           The high turnover of surveyors was a reflection of current building industry opportunities.

    ·           The delivery of pre-contract voids was expected by December 2021.

    ·           Resident Services had a four-week job freeze in September to enable an internal Council review and to match-up Oracle systems with Lambeth’s Finance and HR systems.

    ·           The north-south price difference was due to procurement rules and letting contracts separately.

    ·           The original void contracts did not have enough penalties in place, but since 2019’s Transformation Project, a strong team had been formed and penalties had been built into all contracts.

    ·           All properties were inspected before engaging contractors.

    ·           Void prices correlated to their condition, generally due to how the previous occupier left them or if needed repairs were not reported. One of the key costs for voids was the clearing of personal possessions; with pre-termination visits to ascertain recharging costs.

    ·           Property inspections were carried out on request or when repairs were reported, however regular checking for vulnerable residents was under review.

    ·           Lessons learnt from the historic contracts had been incorporated into the new contracts and property management.  Late voids incurred a £200 a day contractor penalty, to encourage on-time work at required quality levels.

    ·           Once voids were relet as temporary accommodation it was not possible to subsequently relet to assured tenancies (and only as short lets) on regeneration estates.

     

    RESOLVED:

    1.         To provide written  ...  view the full minutes text for item 4.

5.

Street Properties and Section 20 pdf icon PDF 309 KB

    • View the background to item 5.

    (All wards)

     

    Report authorised by: Bayo Dosunmu: Strategic Director for Resident

    Services

     

    Contact for enquiries:Garry Dickson (Head of Programme Management), 020 7926 8144, gdickson@lambeth.gov.uk; Andrew Marshall (AD: Housing Capital and Asset Management), 020 7926 7103, amarshall2@lambeth.gov.uk; and, Chris Flynn (AD: Home Ownership and Rents), 020 7926 3709, cflynn2@lambeth.gov.uk

    Minutes:

    During the discussion of this item the guillotine fell at 9.00 pm.

     

    RESOLVED: That the meeting continue for a further period of up to 30 minutes.

     

    The Cabinet Member for Housing and Homelessness, Councillor Maria Kay; Neil Euesden, Director for Housing Services; Andrew Marshall, Assistant Director for Housing Capital and Asset Management; and Chris Flynn, Assistant Director for Home Ownership and Rents, introduced the report.

     

    The Sub-Committee heard from Dan Calladine, Vice-Chair of the LHA and leaseholder, who stated:

    ·           He had been a leaseholder since 1997 and enjoyed living in Lambeth.

    ·           Tenants were paying excessive costs of over £700 a month, based on estimates, 18 months after works had finished. 

    ·           It was not possible to appeal until final bills were received and these were likely to be inaccurate.

    ·           Residents’ requests for final bills were being ignored and these were long overdue.

    ·           Lambeth had erroneously contacted Mr Calladine and his bank stating that he had missed payments, noting that the automated process and property pilots were not working.

    ·           There needed to be a formal engagement process between residents and Lambeth.

    ·           The Council needed to be more transparent, more responsive, and to do better.

     

    The Sub-Committee next heard from Bruce McGregor, resident, who stated:

    ·           The LHA had surveyed members in 2019 and compiled a substantial dossier of service charges and leaseholder complaints but had not heard back from the Council.

    ·           In one case, a 2019 Ombudsman ruling to undertake repairs from 2016 had not led to action, although Lambeth had informed of compliance.  The leaseholder was subsequently chased for payment and arrears which had led to stress and illness, requiring therapy.

    ·           Major work invoices and the scope of works had to be reasonable, but they were not.

    ·           The terms of all leases had to be fair and reasonable, which they were not, and the Council was unnecessarily issuing threatening invoices and undertaking recovery action.

    ·           The LHA was willing to sit down with the Council to end the harassment and bullying of residents.

     

    The Sub-Committee next heard from Dan Craig, resident, as follows:

    ·           He requested that the report be rejected and returned to officers to detail a comprehensive report detailing how improvements were to be made.

    ·           There had been no works on Knatchbull Road properties since 2005 with many homes in disrepair and decay, with residents now facing the winter months.

    ·           Section 20 notices had been served, but no works had occurred; and there was meant to be a full procurement pilot for Knatchbull Road properties, but this had been cancelled.

    ·           The cost of basic repairs was astronomical and residents could not afford these.

    ·           Fundamental errors in bills had been discovered from the current system, with one family leaving their home and accepting a £30,000 loss on their flat.

     

    The Sub-Committee next heard from Tracey Gregory, leaseholder and Chair of the local Tenant and Resident Association (TRA), who noted:

    ·           Residents and properties had been subjected to major works by two different sets of contractors.

    ·           Poor experiences included inadequate contract management, inferior quality  ...  view the full minutes text for item 5.

6.

Housing Disrepair Project pdf icon PDF 356 KB

    • View the background to item 6.

    (All wards)

     

    Report authorised by: Bayo Dosunmu: Strategic Director for Resident

    Services

     

    Contact for enquiries:Andrew Jacques, AD – Repairs and Maintenance, 020 7926 3749, AJacques@lambeth.gov.uk

     

     

    Minutes:

    The Cabinet Member for Housing and Homelessness, Councillor Maria Kay; Neil Euesden, Director for Housing Services; Andrew Jacques, Assistant Director for Repairs and Maintenance; and Andrew Marshall, Assistant Director for Housing Capital and Asset Management, introduced the report.

     

    The Sub-Committee heard from Nisha Wilkinson, leaseholder, as follows:

    ·           The issue of disrepair was not just due to Covid-19 and law firms, but was a long-standing issue where requests were ignored and substandard works carried out.  These had been repeatedly raised with the Council and councillors but remained unresolved.

    ·           In one instance, it had taken months to inspect a leaking water tank on a roof, with repairs taking a year to resolve, even with consistent contacting of the Housing Office.

    ·           Residents should not be informed how to deal with damp when there was no basic roof in place, and when they did not receive responses when issues were raised.

    ·           Residents relied on the Council to fix issues, having no oversight nor control themselves, and it often required formal complaints to progress works.

    ·           A plan of action was needed that stressed the importance of surveying which would help prevent repairs and arbitration.

    ·           A focus was needed on buildings and not residents, and to further improve contract management.

    ·           It was queried how the Council and councillors could be more responsive.

     

    In response to Member’s questions, the Cabinet Member and officers stated the following:

    ·           Covid-19 and law firms had driven an increase of disrepair cases.

    ·           The Housing Disrepair Project was an integral part of the wider Transformation Project.

    ·           The in-house Repairs Team supported disrepair remedial work alongside 10 new contracts, with 102 disrepair cases concluded in the last four months.

    ·           The dynamic purchasing system allowed the procurement of additional and localised resource.

    ·           The 16-point action plan was based on prevention and intervention, as an alternative to arbitration.

    ·           Arbitration arrangements would ensure lower fees and that residents kept more compensation.

    ·           The Strategic Asset Partners’ first task would be to undertake a stock condition survey and there would be further surveys in future.

     

    In discussion, Sub-Committees members noted:

    ·           Repairs needed to be done to a high quality at the first time of undertaking.

    ·           Complaints on damp and mould were both historical and an ongoing issue, even with new contractors, but this was not detailed in the report and was not tolerable.

    ·           The report seemed to suggest that residents were being blamed for damp.

    ·           The complaints process was not working properly and subsequently repairs were not being carried out in good order.

     

    RESOLVED:

    1.         To provide written briefing by 02 May 2022 on the recruitment of surveyors and on their role and remit in understanding and actioning repair issues in a timely manner, noting that key technical posts should not be frozen.

    2.         To provide written briefing by 02 May 2022 on how the combination and cascade of interventions would work in practice, and how this addressed the root causes identified by witness statements given to the Sub-Committee.

    3.         To provide written briefing by 02 May 2022  ...  view the full minutes text for item 6.

7.

Work Programme pdf icon PDF 364 KB

    • View the background to item 7.

    (All wards)

     

    Report authorised by: Interim Director of Legal and Governance: Tasnim Shawkat

     

    Contact for enquiries: David Rose, Democratic Services Officer, 020 7926 1037, drose@lambeth.gov.uk

    Additional documents:

    Minutes:

    The Chair noted the Sub-Committee’s Work Programme detailing provisional items and themes for the rest of the municipal year.

     

    RESOLVED:

    1.         To consider and approve the work programme as currently drafted (Appendix 1) and identify and prioritise matters for future scrutiny of Housing.