Agenda item

Cabinet Member Question Time: Cabinet Member for Homes and Gateway Services

Question Time with the Cabinet Member for Homes and Gateway Services, Councillor Alison Butler.


The Cabinet Member for Homes and Gateway Services, Councillor Alison Butler gave a presentation, during which the following points

were noted:


  • The vision for the service was that everyone deserved a decent home.


  • There was ongoing work to further reduce the amount of families residing in temporary accommodation with a review of supply conducted for both the private sector and council temporary accommodation.


  • As part of the reduction of use of private sector homes, the further purchase/lease of properties had been conducted in the past year in order to increase the supply of council accommodation.


  • Extensive work had been carried out on fire safety, with the installation of sprinklers on all taller council blocks as well as sheltered blocks.


  • The department was currently working through the implications of the ‘Hackett Review’, with proposals to be drawn up after consultation.


  • There had been reorganisation across council departments which meant the departments now sat across divisions between Adults and Health as well as Place department.


Following the presentation the Sub-Committee was given the opportunity to

ask questions on the content of the report and the information provided during the presentation.


In response to a Member question about whether the purchase of street properties would help to drive down costs associated with Temporary Accommodation (TA) housing, the Cabinet Member advised that the aim of purchasing the 100 properties was to place people who had been in temporary accommodation. The priority for the department was to increase Council owned properties which would drive down TA costs, as well as provide better security and standards for people approaching the Council as homeless.


A Member commented that there was lack of data in the report on other Local Authorities (LA) that utilised Croydon TA which would be useful for the planning of school places and increased use of amenities and health services. The Cabinet Member advised that when families where placed in Croydon, the information was passed on as a duty of care, but this was not always the case for single homeless placements. The Council was working with London Councils to mitigate the use of cross borough placements and encourage more use of TA by host boroughs.


It was commented that there had been a significant dip in housing expenditure which had subsequently risen again and it was questioned what the movement in the graphs represented. The Cabinet Member said that the momentum in the graphs represented transfers of costs from one part of the service to another, whilst there may have been a reduction in one area of service, there had also been notable demands in others at different stages. In 2019/20 there had been an increased demand for TA properties which had resulted in the Council attempting to purchase more properties in order to offset costs that would have been spent in the private sector. Increased demand for larger homes had also added to costs.


The Impact of Universal Credit (UC) on costs for TA was questioned, as well as the increasing challenges for the department in mitigating adverse experiences for families. Officers said that there had been cost implications experienced from increased demand which was attributed to a raft of welfare reforms and not limited to UC. Preventative work was being done to target families impacted as they were more likely to require statutory services such as homelessness services.


The importance of targeted work was highlighted by officers, with steps being taken through London Councils to obtain access to data including lobbying for access to Department for Works and Pensions (DWP) held data in order to increase continued intervention work and targeting families locally.


In response to a question on the impact of Article 4 on the need for TA and whether there would be increased risk of homelessness as a result, the Cabinet Member confirmed that the Council was making sure that they reviewed and assessed the situation on an ongoing basis. Article 4 would not prevent HMO’s but smaller HMO’s would have to apply for permission through the planning process, with contingency within planning rules to ensure that specified standards were adhered to. The issues with HMO’s were mainly in how they were managed.


The Cabinet Member was asked to define affordable housing to which she responded that 80% of market rate was a government definition and not what Croydon would define as affordable. Through the housing strategy the Council had been working to identify what this meant in Croydon as it was clear that affordable housing should be relative to people’s incomes and not market rent.

It was envisaged that some properties from the Brick by Brick development, especially those that came through in the first instance and any that sat within the Croydon affordable homes scheme would be priced within 65% of market rate to enable those on benefits t to access them without exceeding the local housing allowance.


A further question was raised on the delivery of Brick by Brick homes, specifically how many had been delivered and if the schemes were on target. The Cabinet Member advised that the projects were on target despite challenges with the economy which had been problematic for private developers. The company was set up in 2016 and had gone through the natural process of setting up, looking for sites and commencing building and had now delivered its first cohort of homes in what was determined to be reasonable timescales.


It was asked what was being done to capture the profile of housing requirements of those in greatest need in light of a situation where the mix of builds on 1/2/3 bedroom properties which were currently in demand. Officers confirmed that a general housing needs dashboard was produced on a regular basis which highlighted current housing needs. One of the work streams identified as part of the Housing Strategy was to work with the Adult and Children’s departments on the housing element of their services in order to pull together an overall picture of circumstances. This would better enable predictions and analysis of trends in future housing need, allowing services to better prepare and respond to the changing needs of the borough.


It was asked whether the Council had considered becoming a registered provider in light of Section 106, the Cabinet member informed the Sub-Committee that the Council had and continued to consider this but mainly for supported accommodation and in order to be in a position to secure more appropriate funding for supported accommodation services.


A Member asked what the key risks associated with the Localities model were and if there had been a communications programme to raise awareness. Officers said that the delivery of the service presented the most risk. The first pilot of the scheme was in New Addington and the success of that scheme was the basis of the extension of the model to other parts of the borough. The service had to be mindful to deliver services appropriately by targeting people/families that had been identified through other services as being in greatest or priority need. Additionally input from the local community and voluntary sector was vital to the success of the scheme and both sectors were keen to work with the Council to improve outcomes for local residents.


A Member asked what was being done to improve instances of missed bin collection for Council blocks. The Cabinet Member agreed that that level of missed bin collection for tower blocks had been unsatisfactory and the Head of Tenancy was working extensively with Veolia on immediate improvement measures by reviewing and assessing current practice and processes.


A Member asked what contingency plan was in place in the event that the Council was unable to secure permission from the Secretary of State on the renewal and extension of the Selective Licensing Scheme. The Cabinet Member said that it was hoped that the application would be acceptable and resolved ahead of the expiration of the current scheme. If permission was not granted, the Council would still have responsibly for private rented and could continue with the resources in place, whilst resubmitting an application to the Secretary of State to get the scheme approved.


A Member asked what the Council’s response was to the growing list of materials identified as risks and the quality of buildings coming forward. Officers said that extensive work was being carried out and followed up on developments across the borough, with risk assessments carried out on over 50 blocks to date. When conducting risk assessments, the department had to consider the whole construction of the block, not just the list of identified materials that posed a risk but any other contributing factors and hazards.


In response to a further question about the impact of the cost for installing sprinklers in middle housing blocks on the budget would be, the Cabinet Member confirmed that the Council would want to have sprinklers in middle and lower blocks and have campaigned  and lobbied alongside other LA’s for funding from the government.


At the conclusion of this item the Chair thanked the Cabinet Member and

Officers for their attendance at the meeting and their engagement with the Sub-Committee’s questions.


In reaching its recommendations, the Sub-Committee came to the following conclusions:

  1. The Sub-Committee commended the report, particularly the level of detail provided on all the services under the Cabinet Members’ portfolio.
  2. The Sub-Committee praised the extensive level of evidence gathered on the Council’s Landlord Licensing scheme by the Housing Service in developing its submission to the Secretary of State and recognised that there were significant risks should there be a negative outcome of the review.
  3. The Sub-Committee endorsed the engagement of the Housing Service with the voluntary sector on the Localities Programme pilots. The support shown from various partners for the Localities Model was also welcomed, with it recognised that there was a strong commitment to successfully work together for the benefit of the most vulnerable residents in the borough.
  4. The Sub-Committee warmly welcomed the work by the Housing Service in lobbying the Department of Works and Pensions for access to their data in order to enable the Council to identify vulnerable residents at an early stage and agreed that there was scope for elected Members to add their voices to the lobbying.
  5. The department to have sight of the impact to temporary housing stock if there was a sudden increase of street properties purchased under Right to Buy scheme


The Sub-Committee resolved to recommend to the Cabinet Member for Homes and Gateway Services that:-

  1. In the event that the Secretary of State refused to extend the Council’s Landlord Licencing scheme or decided to reduce the scope of the existing scheme, the Sub-Committee recommends that a contingency plan is prepared for use during the re-submission period to ensure minimal disruption.
  2. That the approach used by the Housing Service in engaging with the voluntary and community sector be developed and used as the Localities Programme expands to other areas of the borough.
  3. That Cabinet Members lobby the Department of Work and Pensions to provide the Council with access to their data, to support the Council’s work with vulnerable residents.


Supporting documents: