Councillor Buck has been invited to attend the Commission for a general discussion on the Housing Portfolio and their duties. A copy of the Cabinet Member’s responsibilities, as set out in the Council’s Constitution is attached
The Commission noted the update given by Councillor Buck and questioned her on a variety of issues relating to the portfolio. The following topics were discussed:
· The past year had been challenging across the housing service, particularly with regards to costs of homelessness and temporary accommodation. It was noted that in terms of the financial pressures should the costs not be sustainable in future years, there would be a need to look at efficiencies, new income or as a last resort reduction in services. The Council had been requested to take part in a high housing demand case study and it was felt this would be beneficial in highlighting the current housing situation within the borough.
· The achievements were also recognised such as housing developments, the new housing management system, Crawley Homes retrofit initiatives, acquisitions for land/dwellings and the Temporary Accommodation budget, which would provide the flexibility to acquire properties on the market for either general needs or temporary accommodation purposes.
· Recognition that the number of responsive repairs had increased, particularly due to damp and mould queries. The strategy and processes for dealing with damp and mould cases were discussed in detail, including redefined triage, communications and repair.
· The first point of contact for complaints was with the landlord, whether this is a housing association or the council. The council has its own housing stock and it was pleasing that the level of formal complaints was low compared to the stock size, less than 2%. The Social Housing White Paper would strengthen measures across all social landlords, establish new regulation and a strengthening Housing Ombudsman. It was also noted the Audit Committee received updates on housing fraud and potential for properties being recovered.
· Acknowledgement that land supply opportunities were reducing and other options were being investigated. The ‘duty to co-operate’ arrangements continued to be included in the Council’s Corporate Plan to work with neighbouring authorities in the spirit of partnership to deliver housing to meet Crawley's needs.
· Further information was provided on the decision to grant British citizenship to people of Chagossian descent and potential impact on housing costs. Whilst applications had been received, currently there was minimal information on the resultant pressures and impact for the town’s housing.
· Clarification was sought as to the regulation of social landlords and housing associations. It was felt it would be beneficial to scrutinise the current situation with regards to housing associations within the town, together with service standards, satisfaction and complaints received, ideally with witness sessions from various housing associations. It was noted the OSC had previously received a report (SHAP/69) containing information on the housing associations operating in Crawley and third-party data was difficult to mandate. It was therefore proposed by Councillor Belben (seconded by Councillor Pritchard) that the OSC receive a follow up report on the current situation and operations of the housing associations within the town. Upon being put to the Commission, the proposal was declared as carried.
· The Housing teams were praised for their continued hard work throughout a challenging time.
That the Overview and Scrutiny Commission thanked Councillor Buck for attending and for the informative discussion that had ensued. It was agreed that a follow up report on SHAP/69 be received by the Commission.