Agenda and draft minutes

Scrutiny Homes Sub-Committee - Monday, 5th December, 2022 6.30 pm

Venue: Council Chamber, Town Hall, Katharine Street, Croydon CR0 1NX. View directions

Items
No. Item

1.

Apologies for absence

To receive any apologies for absence from any members of the Committee.

 

Minutes:

There were no apologies for absence.

2.

Disclosures of Interest

Members are invited to declare any disclosable pecuniary interests (DPIs) and other registrable and non-registrable interests they may have in relation to any item(s) of business on today’s agenda.

Minutes:

There were no disclosures of interest.

3.

Urgent Business (if any)

To receive notice of any business not on the agenda which in the opinion of the Chair, by reason of special circumstances, be considered as a matter of urgency.

Minutes:

The Chair asked about the significant mischarging of General Fund costs to the Housing Revenue Account (HRA) that had been highlighted in the Section 114 notice issued by the Council on 22nd November 2022. The Corporate Director of Housing explained that there had been an overcharge to the HRA account for several years; the level of recharge to the HRA had been discovered to be higher than the normal when compared to similar boroughs and it had been found that this had been for services that should fall under the General Fund. A piece of work had been initiated to scrutinise what these recharges looked like and to date a figure of £9.5 million a year since 2019/20 had been calculated. To rectify this, around £40 million would be put back into the HRA account, which would increase reserves although this would have a detrimental effect on the General Fund.

 

The Chair asked if mischarging had potentially started earlier, and it was confirmed that this could be the case and would be investigated with the Section 151 officer. The Chair asked if this opened the Council to legal challenges and the Corporate Director for Housing explained that as the Council was pro-actively rectifying this it was unlikely. On whether there had been communication with tenants on this issue, the Corporate Director explained that the issue of recharging to the HRA had been raised by the Tenants and Leaseholders Panel, and that they had been advised that the situation was being looked at. The Cabinet Member for Homes explained that this was still an evolving situation, and the numbers were still under review as years before 2019/20 were investigated. The Chair raised concerns that this had only been picked up as part of the ‘Opening the Books’ exercise.

4.

Pre-Decision Scrutiny: Updating the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Strategy pdf icon PDF 62 KB

The Scrutiny and Overview Committee is asked: -

1.               To note the report due considered by the Mayor at the Cabinet meeting on 7 December 2022.

2.               To consider whether there are any recommendations or observation arising from the Sub-Committee’s consideration of the report to the submit for the consideration of the Mayor at the Cabinet meeting.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Sub-Committee considered a report set out on pages 5 to 18 of the agenda, which provided a Cabinet paper on the Council’s approach to revising the existing Homelessness & Rough Sleeping Action Plan for 2023/2024, following guidance from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DHLUC), and for undertaking a comprehensive review of homelessness in the Borough in developing a three-year strategy from 2024/2025. The Cabinet Member for Homes introduced the item.

 

The Corporate Director for Housing explained that this was the same Strategy that had been consulted on in 2019 with an updated Action Plan; this course of action had been decided in collaboration with DHLUC while the Council worked on a new comprehensive Strategy. The Head of Temporary Accommodation explained that the Action Plan had been aligned to transformation work happening in the Housing department and would ensure that there was a solid base for the new Strategy that would be developed for adoption in 2024.

 

Members asked whether joint bidding for a grant with Public Health addressing health issues, such as substance misuse which could be prevalent amongst those experiencing homelessness, had been successful. The Corporate Director of Housing responded that unfortunately this information was currently embargoed. Members asked about the budget for the Housing Needs Service and the Head of Temporary Accommodation explained that there was a standing General Fund budget, with a total could be provided upon request, but that the budget for temporary accommodation sat at around £20 million (including grant funding).

 

On occupancy checks, the Head of Temporary Accommodation explained that these were not currently being undertaken due to capacity in the service; additional transformation funding had been bid for to ensure these begun as part of the Action Plan. Occupancy checks would help to establish who was living in which accommodation, ensure properties were not being sublet and provide an opportunity to conduct welfare checks. It was envisaged that occupancy checks would be annual, unless complaints or notification of changes in circumstances were received. The Chair asked what would happen should the tenants be found not to be occupying allocated properties; the Corporate Director of Housing explained that each case would need to be reviewed on its own merits. The Cabinet Member for Homes explained the high cost of Temporary and Emergency accommodation, and stated that having the right people in the right accommodation would lead to greater efficiencies in the service. Members asked about the possibility of outsourcing occupancy checks to address the lack of capacity in the service, and the Corporate Director of Housing responded that all options would be considered.

 

The Chair asked about the likelihood that the Homelessness Support Grant allocation for Croydon could reduce by up to 30% and whether this was a result of poor data and reporting or whether this was a national reduction. The Corporate Director for Housing explained that this was an issue all councils were facing and that DHLUC were aware that this was a worsening and acute issue in Croydon.  ...  view the full minutes text for item 4.

5.

Pre-Decision Scrutiny: Distribution of the Household Support Fund Grant pdf icon PDF 62 KB

The Scrutiny and Overview Committee is asked: -

1.     To note the report due considered by the Mayor at the Cabinet meeting on 7 December 2022.

2.     To consider whether there are any recommendations or observation arising from the Sub-Committee’s consideration of the report to the submit for the consideration of the Mayor at the Cabinet meeting.

 

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Sub-Committee considered a report set out in the supplementary agenda, which provided a Cabinet paper on the Council’s approach to the distribution of the Household Support Fund of £3,013,689.49, as allocated by the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP), covering the period 1st October 2022 to 31st March 2023. The Director of Housing introduced the item.

 

Members asked how the Fund would be publicised and the Corporate Director of Housing explained that this would be done through the website, directly targeted communications, the voluntary sector, schools and partner organisations. The Vice-Chair suggested that Councillors were consulted on the best ways to reach residents. The Chair requested that previous funding round distributions were mapped and the Head of Temporary Accommodation explained that work to analyse and map this data was still ongoing.

 

The Sub-Committee asked whether this could be delivered in full given that the grant was already in the third month of the eligibility timeframe, why this had not been delivered earlier, and whether the allocation period would be extended beyond April 2023. The Corporate Director of Housing explained that this Grant had been a recent announcement from government, with guidance on distribution only made available in November 2022. Members heard that it was likely that all of the money would be spent in the period and it was unlikely that the DWP would extend the deadline. The Head of Temporary Accommodation explained that learning from previous rounds would be incorporated including targeting residents through schools, directly targeted communications and inter-departmental collaboration.

 

Members asked about risk from the Fund, if there was additional resource that could be drawn on should it be spent early, and what would be done should the DWP fail to reimburse the Council.The Corporate Director of Housing explained there was no risk to the General Fund and that a single point of contact had been established across the directorates; this was the third funding round of this Grant and the Council had good experience of ensuring that there were strong audit trails and recovery from the DWP. The Sub-Committee asked whether direct applications were allocated on a first-come-first-serve basis and about the risks of fraud. The Corporate Director of Housing explained the importance of audit trails in ensuring a full return of funds from the DWP and that all claims needed to be fully evidenced. The Head of Temporary Accommodation stated that applications for the fund would be on a first-come-first-serve basis but that all applications would be fairly assessed against criteria.

 

The Chair asked about how the allocation criteria had been decided. The Corporate Director of Housing stated that this would be better explained in the press release and information sent to Members on the fund; households would be directly targeted on a proactive basis, including those paying for energy through service charges. The Head of Temporary Accommodation explained that the guidance on the fund from the DWP was clear and this would be provided in future communications.

 

Members asked how long it took  ...  view the full minutes text for item 5.

6.

Pre-Decision Scrutiny: Report by the Monitoring Officer under section 5A of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 - Finding of Fault with Maladministration and Injustice pdf icon PDF 65 KB

The Scrutiny and Overview Committee is asked to note the report due considered by the Mayor at the Cabinet meeting on 7 December 2022.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Sub-Committee considered a report set out on pages 19 to 38 of the agenda, which provided a Cabinet paper on the public interest report dated 23 June 2022 and the recommendations made by the Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) in relation to Croydon Council. The Director of Housing introduced the item.

 

Members commented that the council had been fortunate that this case had been received by the Ombudsman and had not been the subject of a Judicial Review. The Chair asked if the risk of legal challenge from similar cases had been assessed and was informed that more cases were already in progress. The Corporate Director of Housing explained that accommodation suitability was being reviewed to ensure that legal risk to the council was minimised. The Head of Temporary Accommodation informed the Sub-Committee that placements into shared accommodation were also being reviewed to ensure there were not legal risks from these stays exceeding six weeks.

 

Members commented on casework where they were aware of residents submitting proper paperwork to notify the council of changes in circumstances where these had not been responded to.

 

Information Request

 

The Sub-Committee requested that an update be provided on the current legal exposure of the Council to similar cases.

 

7.

Work Programme 2022/23 pdf icon PDF 78 KB

The Homes Sub-Committee is asked to: -

1.              Note the most recent version of its Work Programme, as presented in the report.

2.              Consider whether there are any other items that should be provisionally added to the work programme as a result of the discussions held during the meeting.

Minutes:

The Chair requested that there was an update on Temporary and Emergency Accommodation Budgets at the next meeting.

 

The Chair requested information on damp and mould in properties in the borough in response to the planned February 2023 Cabinet paper on the Council’s approach to damp and mould and the case publicised in the national press. The Corporate Director of Housing explained that they would be happy to provide their response to the Housing Secretary’s request for local authorities to submit details of how they plan to tackle damp and mould for social landlords. The Sub-Committee heard that the council were already alert to these issues following the situation at Regina Road and that the response had summarised Croydon’s current position. Members heard that the Director of Sustainable Communities, Regenerations & Economic Recovery had also provided a response covering private landlords.

 

The Chair asked the Cabinet Member for Homes if a damp and mould strategy was being developed and heard that this would be the case. The Corporate Director explained that a working group would be set up to develop this using an assessment on the current position based on the Housing Ombudsman framework.

 

The Chair explained that they would be requesting a briefing to update the Sub-Committee on the Responsive Repairs Contract.