Agenda and minutes
Venue: Council Chamber, Guildhall
Contact: Craig Stevens Scrutiny Facilitator
Apologies for absence
Apologies for absence were submitted on behalf of Councillors Marc Jones, David Maddocks, John Phillips, Graham Rogers, Paul Rogers and Barrie Warburton.
To sign as a correct record the Minutes of the Meeting held on 8 May 2019 (copy to follow)
AGREED – That the Minutes of the Meeting held on 8 May 2019 be signed as a correct record.
Timing of Meetings
To consider the start times of Meetings of this Committee, giving consideration to the resources available for webcasting.
The Chair sought the views of the Committee in respect of the timing of meetings of the Homes and Environment Scrutiny Committee for the 2019/20 municipal year.
AGREED – That future Meetings of the Homes and Environment Scrutiny Committee commence at 2.30pm.
To consider the report of the Lead Member for Place - Housing
The Lead Member for Place – Housing submitted a report (COHE/19/19s) to provide Members with an update on the developments with the Government’s Welfare Reform Programme and to outline the work that has been undertaken by the Council since the last report dated 8 November 2018 (HHE/44/18) to mitigate the impact of Welfare Reform on Council housing tenants.
Presenting the report the Lead Member reminded the Committee that from 1 April 2019 the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) had been commissioned to deliver Help to Claim which was a different offering to the support which was previously available from the Council. The Council continued to work hard to support housing tenants in receipt of Universal Credit.
The Service Manager: Revenue and Benefits referred to the following matters:
· The increasing Wrexham caseload and the breakdown of cases for the period February – November 2018.
· Budgeting difficulties for tenants associated with advance payments
· On-going staff training to ensure that relevant staff were continuously updated in respect of Universal Credit legislation and implementation.
· The rent arrears recovery procedure which was reviewed in line with changes to Welfare Reform
· The current level of arrears as outlined in paragraph 4.22 of the report.
· Further impact for tenants in receipt of Universal Credit as benefit payment was made over 52 weekly payments and this year was a 53 week year. This could result in an increase in arrears for some tenants.
· Mixed age couple changes – following a change in circumstances cases would be assessed under working age rules.
During discussion of the report Members referred to the following matters in particular:
· Acknowledgement of the additional work and considerable pressure that departmental staff were facing as a result of the benefits change.
· Some concern expressed that no representative from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had been able to attend today’s meeting.
· The on-going concern of the Committee in respect of the 53 week financial year which would leave recipients in hardship. The response from the DWP in respect of this matter which referred to budgeting advice and direct rent payments to landlord to manage the change was highlighted to Members.
· Assurances provided by the Lead Member that rent arears would be managed and appropriate support provided to tenants.
· Noted that a restructure of housing service functions had provided an additional financial assistance officer post to provide frontline staff with more time to provide support to tenants.
· Clarification sought whether the move to providing additional support had impacted upon other housing services such as tenancy and estate management. The Housing Tenancy Lead advised that the housing service restructure would focus on estate management and rent arrears.
· The Housing Tenancy Lead informed Members of the staff training provided to staff and provided a brief explanation of the housing systems that were in place. Members were invited to visit the Estate Offices to learn more about the usage of mobile platforms and how these had streamlined working practices.
· The potential negative impact upon the HRA Business Plan should ... view the full minutes text for item 4.
To consider the report of the Lead Member for Place – Housing
The Lead Member for Place – Housing submitted a report (COHE/26/19s) to allow Members to consider the Council’s progress towards achieving the Welsh Housing Quality Standard (WHQS) by December 2020 by reviewing the progress for the full 2018/19 programme.
Presenting the report the Lead Member highlighted the extremely positive progress that had been made with four of the six targets being achieved or over achieved at the end of the financial year. He acknowledged that the programme remained a challenge for some tenants with the high volume of works being carried out throughout the County Borough, however the majority of tenants were pleased with the improvement works on completion.
The Property Investment Lead provided additional information in respect of works undertaken and responded to Members’ questions thereafter. In debate the following points were raised:
· The positive report was welcomed and the excellent progress commended.
· Noted that Welsh Government closely monitored progress.
· Assurance provided that when void properties were renovated only work that was necessary to reach the Welsh Housing Quality Standard was undertaken.
· Assurance provided that all tenant refusals were monitored.
· Noted that works would continue in the maintenance phase beyond the Welsh Housing Quality Standard deadline of December 2020.
· The importance of rental income in securing the viability of the Business Plan going forward.
· Officers reported that new asset management software would be procured which would address previous software issues.
(i) That the Lead Member and Officers be thanked for their report.
(ii) That the progress made in completing the WHQS by 2020 be noted.
(iii) That the importance of maintaining the Housing Business Plan for the 25 years following 2020 be acknowledged.
(iv) That an update on this matter be considered in 12 months, subject to any major changes in performance.