Venue: Room 102, Hackney Town Hall, Mare Street, London E8 1EA. View directions
Contact: Matt ClackItems No. Item
APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE
1.1 Apologies for absence were received from Cllr Borris and Cllr Parker.
1.2 Cllr Odze took the opportunity to thank Cllr Glanville and Cllr Icoz, who had left the Scrutiny Commission, and to Cllr McKenzie for his role as Vice Chair over the past year. He welcomed Cllr Taylor and Cllr Williams, who had recently joined the Commission.
URGENT ITEMS / ORDER OF BUSINESS
2.1 There were no Urgent Items, and the Order of Business was as laid out in the agenda.
DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST
3.1 There were no Declarations of Interest.
4.1 The Interim Head of Housing Needs made the following clarifications:
· The reference to Urgent banding on p.6 should actually read “emergency banding”
· The reference to the local housing account should actually read “local housing allowance”
· The reference to Thurrock Council should note that they were found guilty of maladministration, and the wording in the minutes should clarify the distinction between their actions and that of Hackney Council, who were unrelated to the case
4.2 Subject to these amendments, the minutes were agreed as an accurate record.
That, subject to amendment, the minutes of the last meeting of the Living in Hackney Scrutiny Commission meeting be approved.
5.1 The Interim Head of Housing Needs introduced the draft strategy, noting that this was an early version and that the division were seeking the Commission’s comments as part of the wider consultation. The strategy captures much of the work already being completed, and outlines some of the recent achievements. He explained that part of the desire to produce an Overcrowding Strategy was to bring the Council and its partners together to achieve the shared vision, which is:
“To significantly reduce all forms of overcrowding through effective, targeted and financially viable solutions, achieved in partnership with a range of stakeholders”
5.2 The Interim Head of Housing Needs noted that overcrowding is a problem nationally, especially in metropolitan areas. The 2001 Census found LBH to have the third highest incidence of overcrowding in London, and the 2008 Housing Needs Survey suggested that 9.6% (8,899) of the borough’s households were overcrowded- against 7.2% in 2003. Variance existed in the figures however, with only 6% of households on the Housing Register (5,579) being assessed as overcrowded in March 2009. Some of this variance may be linked to perceptions issues- only 44% of overcrowded families responding to the Housing Needs Survey thought it was a problem.
5.3 The Interim Head of Housing Needs explained that the Department for Communities & Local Government (CLG) have in recent years increased the focus on overcrowding, which they felt had become a ‘hidden issue’ behind more high-profile concerns such as homelessness and use of temporary accommodation. To find creative solutions CLG funded 38 pathfinders (of which LBH was one), with dedicated resource being allocated to establish baseline figures of overcrowded households in the locality. Additional funding was recently awarded to LBH in recognition of their achievements to date in alleviating overcrowding. This funding would be split equally between supporting existing interventions and funding preparation for new schemes highlighted in the draft strategy.
5.4 The Mayor of London has also recognised the city’s overcrowding problem, noting in the draft London Housing Strategy published in May 2009 that “one of the most transformational commitments I am making in this version of my statutory housing strategy is to halve severe overcrowding in the capital’s social housing by 2016”.
5.5 The Interim Head of Housing Needs explained that the LBH Housing Strategy was currently being produced, and that overcrowding would make up an important part of this.
5.6 He also referred to the importance of aligning the aims of the Overcrowding Strategy to the priorities and outcomes of the Sustainable Communities Strategy, such as outcome 7 which is to “promote and maintain mixed, sustainable communities in all our neighbourhoods by securing a tenure and dwelling mix, including affordable homes and homes adaptable for people’s changing needs”.
5.7 As part of the drive to alleviate overcrowding, CLG have produced a toolkit which local authorities can work through to ensure a nationally-recognised approach to the problems faced. The toolkit lists six key areas, which are as follows:
· Is overcrowding a Key Directorate project
6.1 The Chairman began by outlining the exercise, noting that it was agreed that the Commission wanted to gain an understanding of the approach taken by Housing Advice officers, rather than the quality of information relating directly to Overcrowding. The main focus of the mystery shopping exercise was on the Council’s services- whilst the project did also take account of information provided by Neighbourhood Offices and Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) this was only used to offer a reflection to the Council’s performance.
6.2 He then outlined some of the headlines from the mystery shopping feedback. When visiting Housing Options & Advice, staff were assessed to be friendly, interested, attentive and efficient. Staff also tried to help where possible, and were effective at signposting to support services. Feedback was equally positive for people who called the Council, both directly to Housing Options & Advice or to the Hackney Service Centre. There were some issues about passing callers between services, but the vast majority appeared polite and receptive.
6.3 The Chairman explained that email responses were also fairly positive- 3 from 4 received replies, and all responses were assessed as ‘Very Good’ or ‘Good’. There was clearly an issue relating to Neighbourhood Offices (none of the 5 emails sent were responded to), though each Office only received one email. The main issues were faced in responding to letters. Only 1 of the 5 letters sent to the Council was responded to, and that reply was graded as ‘Poor’. No headed paper was used, which portrayed a lack of professionalism.
6.4 The Commission noted that the head of the Hackney Service Centre had received a copy of this report and had commented on the findings. He noted that the service is planning to meet with the Citizens Advice Bureau and discuss their approach to advising residents, following their positive feedback from the exercise.
6.5 Questions & Discussion
Cllr Kemp raised concerns that the system of advice and options seemed tailored to support those who had the time and ability to visit the Council, over those reliant on emails or letters
The Interim Assistant Director of Access and Inclusion explained that the Housing Options & Advice team were working closely with the Hackney Services Centre (HSC), and that there was a need for greater clarity around the Single Front Office approach. She noted that the Community Services directorate (of which Housing Options & Advice was a part) had responsibilities for customer services, which offered useful linkages. She also noted that she was happy to engage with Neighbourhood Offices to agree a shared approach to dealing with residents’ enquiries.
The Interim Head of Housing Needs explained that specific issues relating to the feedback had been raised with officers, and that an ‘Action Plan letter’ had been distributed among relevant staff. He noted that the service tried to be proactive in their support to residents wherever possible, but that the scale of requests for advice sometimes hindered this.
Cllr Odze asked if the service would be willing to repeat the mystery ... view the full minutes text for item 6.
7.1 The Chairman began by outlining the Housing Needs Survey, which was conducted from July to September 2008. The survey included 2,358 personal interviews, from around 1,200 households which were drawn at random from the Council Tax Register covering all areas and tenure groups in the Borough. The sample was large enough to allow estimates to be made, for the population as a whole and for each of the four neighbourhoods.
7.2 The Chairman referred to the headlines relating to overcrowding from the survey, which included:
· The number of households who are overcrowded has increased since 2003 by nearly 3,000 households
· Almost 9,000 residents felt there home was unsuitable due to overcrowding
· The North East neighbourhood and Shoreditch NDC area have the highest proportion of overcrowded households
· At its most extreme, there are 22 families in the borough living in one-bedroom accommodation where the number of bedrooms required (according to the Bedroom standard) is 4 or more
7.3 Questions and Discussion
Cllr McKenzie asked what NDC stood for
Officers explained that this was an abbreviation for New Deals for Communities.
Cllr Odze thanked officers for drawing together the excerpts
8.1 Cllr Odze referred to the paper in the agenda, noting that in total 12 Registered Social Landlords (RSLs) from a possible 70 organisations responded. He raised a concern about some of the RSLs who had chosen not to respond, and also queried the number of organisations who confirmed that they no longer operated in the borough.
8.2 Of those 12 who did respond, 9 felt that overcrowding was an issue in their properties, and 5 confirmed that they were currently engaged in joint initiatives with the Council. Responses included a wide variety of suggested interventions to alleviate overcrowding, and a number of potential barriers to improving the situation locally.
8.3 Questions and Discussion
Cllr Odze queried how better to engage with RSLs
The Interim Assistant Director of Access and Inclusion referred to the submission made by all RSLs to CLG, and queried whether this might be of use. The Interim Head of Housing Needs explained that the largest RSLs in London (known as the ‘G15’) had agreed to meet and work towards stronger co-operation between boroughs. This includes a Relationship Manager from Family Mosaic, which is aimed to improve communications.
Cllr Odze asked how the division engaged with the Better Homes Partnership
The Interim Head of Housing Needs accepted that the division could do more to engage with the Partnership, and the Interim Assistant Director of Access and Inclusion agreed to look into ways of raising the issues of overcrowding with them.
Cllr McKenzie queried the three RSLs who felt that overcrowding was not a problem
It was noted that Mace Housing primarily provides shared accommodation to single people in Hackney, which would not be likely to cause overcrowded conditions. It was not clear how Peabody Housing Association and Brent Community Housing assessed relative levels of overcrowding.
Cllr Taylor wondered if the varied responses offered could be grouped and then prioritised by the RSLs who replied
The Scrutiny Officer agreed to group the various initiatives and make contact with the responding organisations again.
DISCUSSION ITEM: OVERCROWDING REVIEW- INITIAL FINDINGS & OUTCOMES
9.1 Cllr Odze discussed some of the emerging finding of the review, and asked Commission Members to decide how best to promote these through the final report. It was agreed that core recommendations should be limited to about 5, with other findings and suggestions listed elsewhere.
9.2 Cllr Odze then referred to some of the overarching areas that the review had looked at, which included: exploring a clarification of the bedroom standard nationwide; How the Council targets under occupiers; consideration of a formal referral protocol between the Housing division and other local housing advisors (such as Shelter), which could be offered to other organisations such as schools, Children’s Centres, GPs, Social Services etc and Estes Managers; ways of improving the CORE data returns from RSLs and the Council; Schemes directly relating to BME communities; more explicit focus on short term improvements to help those living in overcrowded conditions- notably around storage space; and finally emphasis on good design and using best practice to maximise space in high density areas.
9.3 Cllr Williams asked if the issues relating to good design could include a focus on considerations of future disability. The Commission agreed that this was important.
9.4 The Commission agreed to take this list away and consider which aspects were priorities.
9.5 In considering the extra information received at the meeting and the request for further research, the Commission agreed to defer receipt of the final report and consider options for how best to discuss the final draft.
That the Commission consider priority areas to offer as the Core Recommendations for the review
That consideration of the review’s final report be deferred to allow further research and analysis
10.1 The Commission noted the work programme’s scheduling of items for the rest of the municipal year. Cllr Odze noted that the draft Waste Strategy had been deferred from this meeting, and that if the Commission were to discuss it ahead of the strategy’s agreement at Cabinet, it would have to be at the meeting in July.
10.2 The Commission agreed that it would be worthwhile jointly agreeing the Terms of Reference for the Estate Safety review at the start of the meeting in July. Scrutiny Officers would arrange for Members to come together before continuing with each Commissions agendas.
ANY OTHER BUSINESS
11.1 There was no further business.