To receive a briefing from Councillor Knight, Executive Member for Housing & Benefits, and to consider any issues that arise.
To consider any Advance Questions submitted.
The Committee received a presentation from Councillor G.J. Knight, Deputy Leader and Executive Member for Housing & Benefits, on the Housing & Benefits portfolio, including the work of Housing Services, the Intervention Team, and Revenues, Benefits & Fraud services.
The information on Housing Services included an overview of the service’s work to address homeless in the borough, with regard to the expanded requirements of the Homeless Reduction Act 2017. This made reference to levels of demand and supply, a new emergency accommodation unit opened by the Council in September 2018, challenges facing the service, including the demands of universal credit, work with registered housing providers, including Raven Housing Trust, and future objectives and the developing Housing Strategy.
The information on the Intervention Team included an overview of the team’s work to support vulnerable residents across four services: Family Support, Refugee Resettlement, Universal Credit, and Money Support. This made reference to activity levels in these areas, and the objectives and outcomes of the services.
The information on Revenues, Benefits & Fraud services included an overview of the service’s work to collect Council Tax and Business Rates, support households though Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support, protect the public purse though fraud and financial investigations, and the provision of services to other councils, housing providers and private companies, thereby generating income for the Council. This made reference to activity levels and performance, and to the potential for future expansion to the service’s commercial activities.
The Committee considered and discussed the presentation. There were a number of questions and comments relating to the following topics:
· Housing Services demand levels and support requirements. It was queried if the additional demands resulting from the Homelessness Reduction Act (HRA), along with the effects of the roll out of Universal Credit, had led to an increased requirement for officers. It was confirmed that this was the case, with an increase from 15 to 19 officers, the 4 new fixed term contracts currently funded by central government funding to support the implementation of the HRA, with options for permanent funding being considered.
· Additional emergency accommodation sites. It was queried if consideration was being given to the council establishing additional emergency accommodation sites in the borough, as the site in Horley appeared be operating well. It was suggested that a site in a more central or northern location in the borough would be beneficial for those with local connection to these areas and requiring emergency accommodation. It was identified that there were no current plans for additional sites, but that options would be kept under review.
· Housing Register waiting times. It was identified that average waiting times for housing register properties varied in line with the size of the property required and specialist requirements, and were estimate to be as follows in cases with no special requirements:
o 1 Bedroom – 1 Year
o 2 Bedrooms – 2.5 Years
o 3 Bedrooms – 3.5 Years
o 4(+) Bedrooms – Over 3.5 Years
It was identified that these times reflected the limited availability of appropriate property in the borough. It was identified that rental payments for affordable and social rented housing sourced in this way should be covered by the local housing allowance. It was identified that for households in need of 4 bedroom properties, interim measures arrangements for the use of 3 bedroom properties with other rooms which could be repurposed were sometimes possible, depending on the circumstances and rules of associated registered providers. It was identified that options for making additional capacity available were being considered. It was identified that the conclusion of existing fixed term tenancies was not expected to deliver significant increases to available capacity.
· Housing Register size. It was identified that prior to the introduction of the HRA, the housing register had stood at approximately 3500 households, as opposed to the current level of approximately 800. It was identified that the HRA had led to an increased focus on local needs, leading to the reduction. It was identified that the housing register had been relatively stable at between 800 and 1000 households in recent years.
· Housing Register and community contributions. It was confirmed that following the Localism Act 2011, there continued to be a range of ways for those on the housing register to demonstrate community contributions, including voluntary activities as well as work and training. It was identified that engagement with such activities had been popular with those on the register when introduced, and that there were a number of exceptions to the expectation where appropriate, including for single parents with young children.
· Target affordable housing proportions in new developments. It was confirmed that, in addition to the stipulated levels of affordable housing for developments on green sites, options were being considered regarding target levels for developments on more urban sites.
· Housing delivery options. It was confirmed that a wide range of options were being considered for future housing delivery, including both development, refurbishment, and working with a range of partners. It was identified that the Council was working with YMCA East Surrey to support the purchase and refurbishment of a property to provide affordable ‘move-on’ accommodation for 6 single people leaving the supported YMCA hostel in Merstham.
· Family support activities, outcomes, and timescales. It was identified that the length of engagement of the family support team with those receiving their support depended on the individual needs of the case, but that it generally ranged between 8 and 24 weeks, with an estimated average of 18 to 19 weeks. It was noted that the work of the team was focussed on supporting independence rather than reliance, and that it therefore aimed to avoid requirements for continuous longer term engagement. It was identified that the identified 65% quantitative improvement was assessed against established criteria. Follow up and monitoring following the conclusion of an engagement period was identified to primarily occur via the Surrey County Council programme which made the original referral to the borough council, but that it was estimated that less than 10% of families engaged with were believed to re-referred.
· Refugee resettlement. It was confirmed that there were currently 7 families being supported within the borough, that this number was not expected to increase, and that support for these families was funded by central government.
· Additional information. It was requested that additional information on profit secured by the provision of external services by the Revenues, Benefits & Fraud team be made available to committee members. It was also identified that additional information on fraud investigation performance levels could be made available.
The Committee thanked Cllr Knight and the supporting officers for the presentation and answers to questions, and it was:
RESOLVED that the portfolio holder briefing from Cllr G.J. Knight, Deputy Leader and Executive Member for Housing & Benefits be noted.