The purpose of the report is to present the draft Solihull Community Housing Delivery Plan 2019/20 for consideration of the Scrutiny Board and for Members to make any recommendations to the Cabinet Member for Environment and Housing.
5. SOLIHULL COMMUNITY HOUSING (SCH) DELIVERY PLAN 2019-2020
The draft Solihull Community Housing Delivery Plan was presented to the Scrutiny Board, with the Board invited to make recommendations to the Cabinet Member for Environment and Housing.
The Strategic Policy Lead (Housing) advised that the SCH Delivery Plan 2019-20 met the Management Agreement requirements in place between SCH and the Council. The Delivery Plan’s format and presentation reflected SCH’s new branding, which was welcomed by Scrutiny Board Members.
The SCH Board Chairman addressed the Scrutiny Board, informing Members that he had been in post for six months. The SCH Board Chairman’s impressions of the organisation were that it possessed skilled and knowledgeable employees, was delivering a number of positive work streams and that SCH provided tenants with good, affordable housing. The Chairman referenced SCH’s stretch targets and performance indicators for 2019/20 and advised the Scrutiny Board that the organisational objective was to raise performance further. Member’s attention was drawn to the changing legislative landscape for housing post Grenfell Inquiry and housing regulations in force post ALMO’s, which would be required to be kept under review.
Members were informed the SCH property portfolio contained 10,000 properties, but was contracting, which was recognised as a risk in the context of managing future housing demand and housing pressures within the borough.
The SCH Chief Executive delivered a PowerPoint presentation, highlighting key features detailed in the Delivery Plan 2019/20. Members were advised that the SCH Delivery Plan was a requirement of the Management Agreement in place between SCH and the Council. Key issues highlighted through the presentation to the Scrutiny Board included:
The SCH Chief Executive highlighted:
- The redesign of the Homelessness Service to comply with the requirements of the Homelessness Act, for which thanks were extended to the Council for supplying SCH with additional resource and support to undertake the service redesign.
- Provision of a new, self-funded Well Being Service.
- Delivery of new developments, such as Saxon Court in December 2018.
- Provision of the SCH Asset Management Strategy.
- SCH’s continuing lead partnership role in locality working.
- Continued support of tenants through welfare reforms; and,
- Development and delivery of new SCH branding.
Regarding the policy context for social housing, Members were advised that the Government had commissioned inquiries following the Grenfell Tower fire of June 2017, which proved to be a watershed for the management of social housing concerning health and safety, building and fire regulations and management of housing stock in general. SCH continued to ensure compliance with the findings and recommendations arising from the Dame Judith Hackett review.
Members were advised that the consultation response to the Social Housing Green Paper A ‘new deal’ for Social Housing (August 2018) addressed:
• Provision of safe and decent homes.
• Access to good complaints procedures for tenants.
• Empowering tenants to express concern.
• Addressing social housing stigma; and,
• Expanding housing supply / ownership.
It was noted that the SCH Delivery Plan 2019/20 had taken account of and addressed all of the above.
Lifting of Housing Revenue Account Borrowing Cap
It was noted that this was a significant announcement that allowed Council’s to borrow prudentially against their housing stock.
Strategic and Operational Priorities for 2018/19
The SCH Delivery Plan 2019/20 detailed six strategic priorities, all of which were informed by the Social Housing Green Paper:
1. Delivering a step change in customer satisfaction and engagement with SCH services.
2. Utilising opportunities for stock growth (via Solihull Strategic Housing Framework) and invest intelligently in current housing stock.
3. Embedding ‘safer homes’ as a core theme (particularly in respect of working to engage residents around the theme of safety, including tenant representation on fire risk assessment tours).
4. Implementation of Locality Working (i.e. joint working to deliver better outcomes).
5. Provision of a staff development framework.
6. Increasing Digital Engagement. It was reported SCH would retain a customer contact centre, but would also expand digital communication channels. For example, through an on-line customer portal through the SCH website.
7. Operational Priorities
The SCH Delivery Plan 2019/20 established operational priorities for each service area:
Housing and Communities
- Housing Options and Homelessness
- Income Collection
- Estate Management
- Wellbeing Service
Asset Management and Development
- Stock Investment
- Repairs Service
Customer and Business Support
Members were informed that a monitoring framework overseeing the SCH Delivery Plan was in place. A Monitoring Board convened quarterly and was Chaired by the Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Environment and Housing.
Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) were in place for 2019/20, which addressed:
-Income collection and welfare reform
-Tenancy and estate management
-Voids and lettings
New ranges of Customer Satisfaction Stretch Target KPI’s were scheduled to be introduced in 2019/20, which would be monitored quarterly. SCH were in the process of producing baseline figures for this purpose, with the agreed targets scheduled for reporting to the CPH Environment and Housing Decision Session in March 2019. Members were also informed that SCH were seeking to deliver step change across the following areas:
- Repairs service
- New homes
- Improved satisfaction with the Anti-Social Behaviour (ASB) service
Solihull MBC Corporate Leadership Team
Comments received from the SMBC Corporate Leadership Team regarding the SCH Delivery Plan 2019/20 noted and addressed:
- The importance of emphasising commitment to community focussed service delivery.
- Welcomed that the Delivery Plan reflected ambition to be an exemplar in the delivery of housing Capital investment, delivering environmental impact measures, supporting the green prospectus and embracing smart technology.
- Highlighted work to prevent homelessness.
- Highlighted commitment to supporting provision of employment opportunities.
- Highlighted the role housing had to play in delivering wider public health improvements.
SCH Board - Final Comments
The Scrutiny Board was advised that comments arising from the Scrutiny Board meeting would be addressed and incorporated in the final version of the SCH Delivery Plan for 2019/20, which was scheduled for sign off by the Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Environment and Housing on 27th March 2019.
Following receipt of the presentations, Members questioned the Officers and guests present further, which included:
The Scrutiny Board was advised the targeted audience for the SCH Delivery Plan was primarily the Council and other relevant stakeholders, as the Delivery Plan detailed commitments, objectives and actions to be delivered by SCH over the coming year. It was also envisaged that SCH would develop new and effective community links through the Delivery Plan.
Members raised the use of acronyms and requested that for ease of understanding and transparency purposes the final version of the Delivery Plan included a glossary of terms or avoided use of acronyms altogether wherever possible.
It was reported that in conjunction with the Council, SCH was preparing for the U.K’s departure from the E.U. through the Council’s Brexit Strategy Group. For example, information had been prepared for tenants of European origin with regard to their immigration status following U.K. withdrawal from the E.U.
With reference to the delivery of key themes in the SCH Delivery Plan, Members noted that reference was made under paragraph 6.1 (b) in the report to:
‘Managed Growth – SCH proposes a modest programme of new build and acquisitions in 2019/20 which will add to the stock of homes for rent and have signalled their desire to continue to undertake new development in future years.’
Members noted the report narrative referenced opportunities for delivering new housing supply in the borough, with Solihull’s requirement for provision of new build properties established at 800 annually. The Delivery Plan did make reference to the provision of seven new build bungalows, with Members seeking clarification as to whether additional new build properties were planned beyond provision of the seven bungalows. It remained the case that construction of any new build properties had to be delivered through partnering arrangements between SCH and the Council. The significance of the Solihull Strategic Housing Framework in the provision of new residential social housing was also highlighted, as was SCH’s role in the Solihull Strategic Housing Framework. Members were advised that SCH had a significant Housing Register to deliver.
Members raised the issue of financing of social housing and the challenges it presented, noting there were alternative finance models available to support social housing provision. Members were advised that drawing down of funding opportunities would need to be explored in partnership between SCH and the Council. A range of housing solution options such as Co-Operative housing models, self build and community led housing were also reported as being explored further by SCH.
With regard to estate management, the Members enquired whether the issue of fly-tipping was more of an issue for the private rented sector, rather than for the SCH estate. The Board was informed that fly-tipping was an issue impacting SCH and the Council alike, which required seamless partnership practises for the problem to be addressed effectively. SCH had established a dedicated Task and Finish Group to review the issue of fly tipping in detail.
Members were advised that the draft Delivery Plan did not reference the 5,000 garage sites in the borough as a dedicated garage strategy was in place, whilst figures for the refurbishment for garage sites would be included in the final version of the SCH Delivery Plan.
In respect of investment proposals for existing SCH housing stock, all properties were owned by the Council. Any future investment would therefore be undertaken in partnership with the Council via the Capital Programme; for example, upgrading of kitchens, windows and insulation. The Capital Programme also detailed the forward improvement programme, which was included in the SCH Delivery Plan.
The Scrutiny Board was advised that there were no ‘unfit’ homes in the SCH housing stock and that all homes were regularly maintained and complied with health and safety legislation. SCH continually sought to refurbish, upgrade and improve the housing stock, inclusive of communal areas and lift refurbishment programmes. Members raised the role quality housing had to play in reducing health inequalities and noted that there did not yet appear to be any quantative evidence detailing the impact new housing provision in the borough was having in reducing health inequalities.
Regarding property refurbishment standards, Members raised instances of being aware of young people moving into properties and decorating with incorrect materials. The Scrutiny Board was interested to learn whether any form of support or advice was made available to young people, care leavers or vulnerable residents to undertake basic refurbishment of their properties, such as decorating. Members also enquired whether the quality and condition of the property was known before re-letting. Members were informed that SCH always inspected properties before re-letting. The inspection process was in the process of being reviewed. Properties were not automatically redecorated before re-letting, but a judgement was made as to whether redecoration was required on a property by property basis. Members were informed that SCH would shortly make available a new guidance decorating pack for tenants.
The Scrutiny Board was informed that SCH adhered to Decent Homes Plus standards and that the Council expected SCH to continually improve the housing stock for the benefit of tenants and leaseholders. SCH and Council Officers were confident that the housing stock offered to tenants was in good condition.
The Solihull Strategic Housing Framework was noted as the means by which the Council/SCH could consider options for providing housing units through alternative delivery models. Members were also advised that the Solihull Strategic Housing Framework was scheduled to be reviewed at the Cabinet Portfolio Holders Decision Session scheduled for 27th March 2019, which would consider a review of social housing renting models in the borough.
Members noted the Delivery Plan referenced SCH working with the Department for Works and Pensions (DWP) and Citizens Advice to mitigate any affordability risks to customers arising from the introduction of Universal Credit arrangements. Members highlighted the reduction in Citizens Advice services in the south of the borough and requested that the SCH Delivery Plan made reference to the new advice and support service arrangements locally in the borough in place of the former Citizens Advice Bureau services.
Members thanked the SCH Chief Executive, SCH Board Chairman and Officers for their contributions to the meeting and commended SCH on the quality of the content and branding of the SCH Delivery Plan 2019/20.
Having scrutinised the Solihull Community Housing (SCH) Delivery Plan 2019/20, the Economic Development and Managed Growth Scrutiny Board:
i. To recommend to the Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Environment and Housing that the SCH Delivery Plan includes explicit reference to the Council’s strategy for managing its garage sites and stock located within the borough;
ii. To recommend to the Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Environment and Housing that the SCH Delivery Plan includes further detail as to how young people and care leavers may access advice and support prior to undertaking any redecoration or refurbishment of SCH properties;
iii. To recommend to the Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Environment and Housing that the SCH Delivery Plan provides reference to local Universal Credit arrangements in the borough;
iv. To recommend to the Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Environment and Housing that the SCH Delivery Plan references contract arrangements in place, which have superseded the Citizens Advice Bureau contract;
v. To fully support and endorse the Solihull Community Housing Delivery Plan 2019-2020; and,
vi. To agree that the Solihull Strategic Housing Framework be included as part of the Economic Development and Managed Growth Scrutiny Boards annual work programme for the 2019/20 municipal year.