Housing and Strategic Planning Cabinet Member – Minutes – 26 April 2010

52 (16) BENEFITS SECTION QUARTERLY UPDATE – The Service Director Finance submitted a report to inform the cabinet member of the current performance of the benefits service and action being taken on the Key Lines of Enquiry action plan.

The current economic situation was continuing to have an impact in the local area. Recent figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) for North Lincolnshire showed that the number of claimants for job seekers allowance (JSA) increased by 24.3% in the period January 2009 to January 2010, with a 4.8% increase from December 2009 to January 2010.

Since April 2008 the overall benefits caseload had continually increased and the difference was now an increase of over 2100 claimants or 14.82%. It continued to increase at a faster rate for working age people than for pensioners. In the three months from December to February 2010 there had been an increase of 221 claimants.

Some of the increase was attributed to the change in legislation regarding child benefit income for which a detailed take up campaign was undertaken. Since the campaign began in late October 2009, 33 additional families were now in receipt of Housing and/or Council Tax Benefit.

Despite the increase in workload, performance in benefits had over the year remained consistently in accordance with last year’s out turn and provisional year-end figures for 2009/10 indicate that this had now improved. In 2008/09 the average time for processing new claims was 24.41 and for 2009-10 this was 23.21 days. Similarly the time taken to process changes was improved from 10.61 days in 2008/9 to a provisional 9.79 days in 2009/10.

Resolved  (a) That the report be noted, and (b) the continuing efforts being made in the benefits service to meet the increasing demands on the service be endorsed.

53 (17) PRIVATE SECTOR HOME IMPROVEMENT POLICY – The Service Director Neighbourhood and Environment submitted a report seeking approval for revisions to the Home Improvement Policy.

The Government gave Councils the power to offer assistance to any person in any form in order to improve housing conditions under the Housing Regulatory Reform Order 2002. The Council adopted a Home Improvement Policy in July 2003 to offer a variety of forms of assistance to help improve and maintain homes in North Lincolnshire.

The Policy was reviewed each year to take into account changes in legislation, council policy and the funding available.

Any contribution directly from the council’s own resources was determined as part of the corporate budget setting process and had take into account the need to fund many other necessary activities.

There was an increasing demand from disabled people for assistance to adapt their homes so that they could live at home as independently as possible. Disabled facilities grants for specified purposes were mandatory although the government had set a maximum amount of assistance of £30,000.

In order to provide the widest range of options the council had joined the regional loans service and was developing a scheme with the North Lincolnshire Credit Union to offer small loans.

Some sources of funding had been used up. This included funds from the Humber Housing Partnership for facelift grants, empty property and decent rented property loan schemes. These forms of assistance could no longer be offered. Revisions to the government’s public spending programme had affected the resources available via the regional housing board. This meant that the number of home appreciation loans that could be offered was reduced.

The revised policy was appended to the report.

Resolved – That the revised Home Improvement Policy be approved.

54 (18) SERVICE STANDARDS FOR HOUSING – The Service Director Neighbourhood and Environment submitted a report to update on service standards for the Housing Division.

Following an advice and assistance session with the Audit Commission, service standards were produced by the Housing Division covering all the three teams. These service standards were approved by the Cabinet Member in 2009 (minute 42 refers) and were currently published on the council’s website.

Since then, further work had been undertaken on the grant and loan procedures resulting in amendments to the process and the IT system. The report last year identified the need to produce more detailed service standards and to present them to the Cabinet Member once complete.

The Key Lines of Enquiry related to housing identified the need for robust, clear and challenging customer-focused service standards which were tailored to meet local needs and which were effectively monitored and the results publicised.

Further consultation was ongoing to develop service standards with social services and the Occupational Therapy service around disabled facilities to provide clients with realistic time scales for all elements of the process.

Resolved – (a) That approval be given for the incorporation of the new service standards for disabled facilities and energy efficiency grants and affordable loans into the existing service standards for housing, and (b) that the Cabinet Members for Adults and Children’s services consider the report and then advise on their service standards for assessment of clients’ needs relative to disabled facilities grants.

55 (19) PRIVATE SECTOR HOUSING STRATEGY ACTION PLAN 2010 – 2015 – The Service Director Neighbourhood and Environment and the Head of Strategic Regeneration, Housing and Development submitted a report seeking approval for the Private Sector Housing Strategy Action Plan 2010 – 2015.

The Private Sector Housing Strategy 2010 – 2015 was approved by the Cabinet Member in December 2009 (minute 49 refers). The Strategy outlined the overall strategic priorities for tackling issues in private sector housing in North Lincolnshire. It was agreed that a detailed action plan would be developed to show what actions would be taken over the coming years to improve conditions in private sector housing.

The Private Sector Housing Strategy identified three strategic priorities:

  • Safe and Healthy Homes
  • Affordability
  • Adapting Homes to meet housing needs

Under these three priority areas a number of desired outcomes had been identified. A detailed summary of the actions, targets and resources and the full action plan were included in the appendices to the report.

Resolved – (a) That the Private Sector Housing Strategy Action Plan 2010 – 2015 be approved, and (b) that the Cabinet Member receive progress reports on the action plan.

Note: Reports are in Portable Document Format (PDF) and therefore require a suitable reader to view them. A reader can be downloaded free from the Adobe website (full instructions for downloading the reader are provided on the site).