Agenda item

Agenda item

HOUSING SERVICES

To consider the findings of the Wales Audit Office (WAO) Service User Perspective Review (copy attached) of August 2018.

Minutes:

The Lead Member for Housing, Regeneration and the Environment introduced the joint report by the Lead Officer Community Housing and the Lead Officer Corporate Property and Housing Stock (previously circulated). The report presented the Council’s response to the findings of the Wales Audit Office (WAO) Service User Perspective Review of August 2018, in relation to the Welsh Quality Housing Standard and the Authority’s work with tenants.

 

During his introduction the Lead Member thanked the Committee for the opportunity to respond to the two proposals for improvement proposed by the WAO following its review. The lead Member drew members’ attention to the results of the Survey of Tenants and Residents (STAR) 2019 (Appendix 3 to the report) which had returned a 90% satisfaction rate in response to the question on their views on the overall quality of their home, which was extremely pleasing. 

 

The Lead Officer Community Housing reminded the Committee that Denbighshire County Council had achieved the Welsh Housing Quality Standard (WHQS), nevertheless maintenance and improvement works to the Council’s housing stock continued, albeit on a smaller scale than that to achieve the WHQS.  Referring to the WAO Service User Review the Lead Officer Community Housing advised that the WAO had undertaken doorstep interviews with 122 tenants out of the Authority’s total number of 3,385 housing tenants.  That survey had concluded that the Council should consider:

·         providing help to those experiencing damp and homes that were not adequately heated, fuel efficient, or well insulated and

·         reviewing the long-term impact of the ending of the resident warden service from its sheltered housing schemes

 

With respect to damp and the fuel efficiency of homes the Lead Officer advised that it was important to understand that 23% of tenants surveyed by the WAO had mentioned that they suffered “damp and condensation” issues, however the WAO had not undertaken any follow-up investigations to the tenants’ problems or their sources. 

 

A similar survey had been undertaken in other North Wales local authority areas, the sample size in Ynys Môn was similar to that in Denbighshire and 37% of tenants there stated they had experienced similar problems. The Head of Service advised that condensation problems could be caused by inadequate heating of a home through inefficient or intermittent use of the heating system, and/or inadequate ventilation measures not being taken by the occupier. 

 

In order to provide advice and support to tenants the Council had produced an information leaflet (Appendix 2 to the report) on how to help avoid condensation in the home.  It had also, in partnership with Citizen Advice Denbighshire (CAD), arranged a dedicated advisor to support council tenants in relation to fuel poverty, damp and condensation issues. 

 

If damp was an issue, structural work could be undertaken to address the problem.  As Denbighshire had achieved the WHQS all properties renovated under that programme would have sufficient heating and be free of damp related problems.  The head of Service advised that it was extremely pleasing to report that the STAR survey had rated Denbighshire’s Housing Service as the top local authority in Wales for the ‘overall quality of the home’ and for the way the Service dealt with repairs and maintenance.

 

Responding to members’ questions in relation to the improvement proposal relating to damp and heating the Lead Member and officers:

·         confirmed that the WHQS maintenance work had been financed in the main through Welsh Government (WG) funding and via rental income received by the Council from its tenants.  However, going forward Denbighshire was aiming for the quality of its refurbishment work to be of a higher standard than the WHQS;

·         highlighted that the STAR survey had identified a need to ensure that in addition to having nice houses to live in it was also important for tenants to feel that their neighbourhood was also a pleasant place to live.  Having achieved the WHQS the focus of some of the work undertaken since in relation to the housing stock was on environmental and exterior work i.e. hedges, fencing etc.  Although it was sometimes difficult to achieve uniform fencing and boundaries on estates, particularly where a large number of properties had been sold and were now in private ownership as not all private owners wanted to change their fencing;

·         assured that when upgrading heating systems in properties the Council always installed the latest systems.  Airing cupboards would not be removed where they already existed, instead the old hot water cylinder would be replaced by a background heater for the purpose of airing clothes etc. However, some of the smaller Council properties did not have any room for an airing cupboard.  The worst performing properties energy-wise would be identified for replacement heating systems first as their tenants would benefit the most from an upgrade ;

·         accepted that if tenants refused to have their heating systems upgraded, which could result in the Council failing to achieve the target it had set itself in the Corporate Plan, there may be provision to class this as an ‘acceptable fail’ as the authority would have made every attempt to achieve the target;

·         expected that the proposed new council housing that was to be built in the near future would be so energy efficient that they would not require an independent heating system to be installed;

·         confirmed that extractor fans were installed as a matter of course when properties were refurbished;

·         advised that the majority of Council owned properties had been fitted with a new central heating boiler within the last 8 years;

·         assured that Housing Officers dealt with enforcement matters, such as over grown hedges, untidy gardens etc. as part of their day to day duties; and

·         advised that in a bid to listen better to tenants and act on their concerns the role of the Housing Officers would be changing from April 2019.  From this date onwards tenants would contact one officer in relation to all housing and tenant enquiries.  Housing Officers would be visiting community centres on a regular basis to meet tenants, and where no community centres were available they would be visiting the estates with a van to meet residents and answer enquiries.  Councillors would in due course be informed who the Housing Officer(s) were for their area  

 

Committee members congratulated the Housing Service team for the advice leaflet on avoiding condensation, they felt the leaflet would be useful to all householders in the county.  A number of members had recently visited refurbished Council owned properties in their wards and commented how impressed they had been about the quality of the renovation work undertaken at the properties.  

 

With respect of the WAO’s second proposal for improvement, to review the long-term impact of ending the resident warden service from its sheltered housing schemes, the Lead Officer Community Housing emphasised that the Council fully understood that the wardens were valued and well-liked by the tenants, however in latter years their presence had been more reassuring than anything else. 

 

With the shift in focus of social care provision to be more about re-ablement and promoting independence the presence of wardens in housing complexes had the potential to indirectly make some residents more isolated and less likely to seek social interaction.  Under the Supporting Independent Living (SIL) programme targeted social provision could be shared across the county irrespective of whether residents lived in Council accommodation, private rented accommodation or their own properties as all could have equal access to the services they required.  Under SIL residents of some of the former sheltered housing complexes arranged their own social events in the community centres adjacent to the complexes, this reduced the risk of social isolation.

 

The Service Manager:  Localities (Community Support Services) explained the transition process that had been followed for those sheltered housing tenants who had identified ‘needs’, outlined in Appendix 4 to the report.  She advised that of the 66 residents who received support via the SIL service only two had complained, one of whom required additional support and was granted it in due course. 

 

The SIL service continued to support about 15 tenants, but the majority of tenants in former sheltered housing accommodation were now tenure-neutral.  In the near future the SIL Service would be re-aligned with the Re-ablement Service. 

 

The new role for the Housing Officers from April 2019 would include allocating one half day a week working in one of the former sheltered housing complexes in their area to support, help and advise the tenants.  All tenants in former sheltered housing schemes would be visited by the Housing Officer on at least an annual basis.  In addition work was underway to examine the feasibility of introducing a ‘mobile caretaker’ service for the purpose of undertaking light maintenance work at the on-site community centres of the former sheltered accommodation complexes.  That maintenance provision, for which a service charge could be levied as part of the rent, would be a presence on site on a rotational basis to liaise with residents and assist them with minor maintenance tasks.  If that was a feasible option tenants would be consulted on the proposal prior to its introduction.

 

In response to members’ questions officers advised that:

·         one of the biggest challenges for officers from both the Housing Service and Community Support Services was to persuade people to attend social events etc. and see it as a way of improving their well-being and quality of life;

·         the Council’s working relationship with Age Connect was proving extremely successful, it hosted the Community Navigator service, a service that was funded via the Integrated Care Fund (ICF).  It was pleasing that the ICF funding for the Service had recently been confirmed for 2019/20

 

At the conclusion of an in-depth discussion the Committee:

 

Resolved:  subject to the above observations –

 

(i)           to receive the information submitted and support the Housing Service and Community Support Services’ efforts in addressing the two improvement proposals in relation to Council tenants arising from the Wales Audit Office’s (WAO) Service User Perspective Review – Welsh Housing Quality Standard (WHQS); and

(ii)          that an Information Report be provided to the Committee in the summer of 2020 following a ‘Review of the effectiveness of the new working model for Housing Officers’.

Supporting documents:

 

 
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