Housing & Strategic Planning Cabinet Member – Minutes – 17 December 2010

64 (9) ACQUISITION OF PROPERTIES OWNED BY NORTH LINCOLNSHIRE HOMES WITHIN THE ADVANCE CROSBY AREA – The Service Director Neighbourhood and Environment submitted a report seeking approval to waive the disposal clawback on 3 properties owned by North Lincolnshire Homes within the Advance Crosby area.

The aim of Advance Crosby was the creation of an area that was thriving and a community that was caring and confident, both of which were shared ambitions of the council and its partners, but to do this the project had to acquire properties and undertake selective demolition. So far 39 properties along West Street had been acquired and demolished in a phased approach and the same action was now being taken in relation to Gurnell Street. This would create a critical mass of cleared sites to allow negotiations to commence with interested developers.

There were 3 properties located on Gurnell Street, which were owned by North Lincolnshire Homes (NLH). NLH had confirmed that major work was completed on them to bring them up to the decent homes standard some 12 months. To assist Advance Crosby two of the properties were now empty and, whilst a third was still occupied, alternative accommodation was currently being sought for the tenant.

NLH was a registered charity and therefore by virtue of Section 36 of the Charities Act 1993 there was a requirement for NLH to obtain and consider a written report from a qualified surveyor, and be satisfied that the proposal was the best that could be reasonably obtained for the charity. These requirements restricted its ability to negotiate, particularly since it had no desire to sell these properties until approached about Advance Crosby.

NLH was seeking agreement that the disposal be classed as an exempt disposal for the purposes of the Transfer Document. If compulsory purchase proceedings had to be commenced in the absence of agreement, the exempt disposal agreement would automatically apply. Schedule 15 of the stock transfer agreement between North Lincolnshire Council (NLC) and North Lincolnshire Homes (NLH) contained the disposal clawback agreement

Resolved – (a) That the disposal of 3 properties, owned by North Lincolnshire Homes, as Exempt Disposals in accordance with the provisions of Schedule 15 of the stock transfer agreement be approved, and (b) that the matter be referred to the Cabinet Member for Corporate Services for approval.

65 (10) APPROVAL TO CHARGE LANDLORDS FOR ENFORCEMENT NOTICES SERVED UNDER THE HOUSING ACT 2004 – The Service Director Neighbourhood and Environment submitted a report requesting consideration of terms outlined within the Housing Act 2004, which allowed a local authority to make a charge for the service of formal notices to cover reasonably incurred costs.

The report identified that last year 35 formal notices under the Housing Act 2004 were served by the Housing Division, with 15 being served to date in the current year. The report explained that a formal notice could take 6 to 10 hours of officer time to prepare and serve and that the income generated could be used to train landlords who were, or would like to become, accredited.

Section 49 of the Housing Act 2004 (hereafter called the Act) allowed a “local housing authority to make such reasonable charge as they considered appropriate as a means of recovering certain administrative and other expenses incurred by them” when serving a formal notice under the Act. The Act contained a provision allowing anyone that received a formal notice to appeal against it to the Residential Property Tribunal. That right of appeal included any charge made, where it was felt that it was unreasonable

Within the Humber sub-region, the other 3 Authorities all charged. Hull City Council and East Riding Council both charged using an hourly rate. North East Lincolnshire had a fixed charge depending on single or multi-occupancy.

The intention to charge for notices had been discussed with the Chair and Vice Chair of the Landlords’ Forum and they were both very supportive of the idea provided that those landlords who did co-operate were not penalised by being served with a notice unreasonably.

Resolved – (a) That the use of charging to cover reasonable expenses where a formal notice under the Housing Act 2004 is served be approved, and (b) that the charge being applied be based on the actual time spent charged on an hourly rate.

66 (11) UPDATE ON SERVICE QUESTIONAIRES FOR THE LOANS SERVICE – The Service Director Neighbourhood and Environment submitted a report which provided an information update on feedback from recent service questionnaires on the loans service relating to the financial years 2009/2010 and 2010/2011. The overall response received was satisfaction with both loans that were currently offered.

The Housing division had been offering loans since 2008 and was currently able to offer 2 types of loans to home owners through the work of the Loans Officer. Houseproud was available to those that are over 60 years or disabled to repair or improve their home. Interest was paid on a monthly basis or could be rolled up. The Home Appreciation Loan (HAL) was administered in partnership with the Regional Homes and Loans Service. It was available for homeowners to repair their property to decent homes standard. There were no monthly payments and the loan was repaid when the home was either sold or transferred into a different name

The overall response from all was satisfaction with the service offered.

Resolved – (a) That the information provided within the report be noted, and (b) that some additional work be undertaken to look specifically at the information sent by the council and the loan providers to ensure that it is fully understood and that any areas of confusion or misunderstanding can be eliminated.

67 (12) NORTH LINCOLNSHIRE HOMELESSNESS FORUM – The Service Director Neighbourhood and Environment submitted a report which provided an update on the setting up of a Homelessness Forum in North Lincolnshire.

North Lincolnshire had a good track record in effective joint working across agencies on the prevention of homelessness and providing advice and assistance to people with housing problems. The council had set up a number of multi-agency groups which included the Debt and Housing Advice Network, the Hard to House group and the Housing and Support Working Group. Until recently, there had been no networking opportunity for all the agencies, working to meet the needs of people who were homeless or threatened with homelessness. The council had invited people to an event in April to discuss setting up a Homelessness Forum. Over 50 people attended from a wide range of agencies including:

  • Social landlords
  • Voluntary / third sector organisations
  • Support providers
  • Solicitors
  • Private landlords
  • People from several parts of the council

The event was very well-received. The morning included a presentation on the past, present and future of tackling homelessness in North Lincolnshire, a series of themed discussion groups, and discussions about the desirability and format of a Homelessness Forum. The almost unanimous verdict was that the establishment of a Forum was a good idea for many reasons, but particularly improving services and outcomes for clients.

Resolved – That the content of the report be noted.

68 (13) PREVENTION OF HOMELESSNESS GRANT 2011/12 – 2015/16 – The Service Director Neighbourhood and Environment submitted a report which provided an update on the likely future levels of the Prevention of Homelessness Grant.

For a number of years, the council had received grant from central government to assist in its work to prevent homelessness. Initially the annual grant was £30,000 but this rose to £61,050 in the current year. The funding had never been ring-fenced for this purpose, but it had always been spent on the prevention of homelessness.

As part of its Spending Review the government announced that, despite cuts elsewhere, the Prevention of Homelessness Grant had been protected at its 2010/11 level with an investment of £400 million over four years

From April 2011, the Prevention of Homelessness Grant would be paid as Area Based Grant. It would therefore not be ring-fenced but the government had clearly recognised the importance of the prevention of homelessness and in particular the need to provide specific funding to enable this work to continue.

Resolved – That the content of the report be noted.

69 (14) QUARTERLY UPDATE ON HOMELESSNESS AND HOUSING ADVICE – The Service Director Neighbourhood and Environment submitted a report which provided an update on trends in the work carried out by the council’s Housing Advice Team and its partner agencies in dealing with people with housing problems.

The number of contacts the Housing Advice Team had with people with housing problems had increased each year from 3,681 in 2006 to a projected total of 6,700 in 2010. The council’s aim was to prevent homelessness whenever possible and this had been achieved in increasing numbers with the use of a wide variety of means, in conjunction with partners.

Mainly because of this prevention work the council had, until the current year, managed to reduce significantly each year the number of households for whom there was no alternative but to accept a legal duty to house them as homeless. Mainly by acquiring other forms of temporary accommodation, including properties leased from North Lincolnshire Homes, the council had reduced its use of bed and breakfast accommodation (B&B) for homeless households. Both the number of households in B&B and the average time spent there had fallen significantly in the last two years

The recent increase in homelessness acceptances was expected to continue. Various measures taken and proposed by the government to deal with the current financial situation, and consequences arising from those measures, were expected to result in an increase in the number of people experiencing housing problems and likely to approach the council for assistance. Those measures and consequences included:

  • Rising unemployment and reduced earnings
  • The reduction, from 1/10/2010, in Support for Mortgage Interest payments
  • Proposed changes to Local Housing Allowance calculations and caps
  • Proposed major reform of the benefit system

Resolved – That the content of the report be noted.

69 (15) NEW HOMES BONUS CONSULTATION – The Head of Strategic Regeneration, Housing and Development submitted a report which set out key details of the consultation paper on the proposed new homes bonus, and what this meant for North Lincolnshire Council.

The key points in this report were that the new homes bonus was expected to come into effect in 2011/12, and would provide a payment in respect of each new property for six years after it was provided. Empty properties brought back into use would also receive a payment. Enhancements would be paid for each affordable home provided.

The scheme was being funded primarily by taking money out of the formula grant settlement and redistributing it through the parameters of the scheme, and the government expected that in the long run it would be revenue neutral.

Funding from the abolition of the Housing and Planning Delivery Grant would also contribute to the costs of the scheme, those local authorities that delivered large amounts of new housing were therefore likely to benefit from the introduction of the scheme.

The Coalition Government recognised that current rates of house building were insufficient to meet the existing and future pressures on housing supply, and when they came to power they indicated that they would provide incentives for local authorities to deliver sustainable development, including for new homes and businesses.

North Lincolnshire Council was working to deliver significant new housing supply at key sites, in particular through the Lincolnshire Lakes project, but it would be some years before much of this development was delivered. The Council, in consultation with its local community, would also have to determine how the bonus should be spent and invested, and would have to make decisions about the priorities for this funding and how it could be most fairly invested in order to deliver benefits for the area and the people that lived in it.

Resolved – That the proposed response to the consultation paper set out in Appendix 1, appended to the report, be approved.

70 (16) BENEFITS SECTION – QUARTERLY PERFORMANCE UPDATE – The Service Director Finance submitted a report to inform of the additional workload taking place in benefits due to the recession, and action being taken within the service.

The end of October 2010 figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) for North Lincolnshire showed that the number of claimants for job seekers allowance (JSA) decreased by -0.2% (-7 claimants) from September 2010 and decreased by -12.7% (-614 claimants) when compared to the same time last year. The amount of incoming telephone calls for housing benefits for the period April 2010 to October 2010 was 19715. This compared to 25430 for the same period last year, a decrease of -5715 (-22.5%).

The pathfinder project to move benefits assessors into the Local Link office at Church Square House began on 18/10/10. Early indications were that it was very successful. New claims had been processed under the pathfinder arrangement in an average of 4.56 days. Changes in circumstances had been processed under the pathfinder arrangement in an average of 3.15 days. Feedback from customers had also been positive.

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

The following item contains exempt information as defined in paragraphs 1, 2 and 3 of Part 1 of Schedule 12A of the Local Government Act 1972 (as amended).

71 (17) COMPREHENSIVE SPENDING REVIEW (CSR) 2010 – IMPLICATIONS FOR HOUSING – The Service Director Finance submitted a report to outline the impact that the CSR may/would have on housing benefit and the possible effect this may/would have on housing in North Lincolnshire.

The Government had reaffirmed in the Comprehensive Spending Review of October 2010 the spending totals it announced in the June 2010 emergency budget. Part of the CSR was reforms to welfare benefits including housing benefit (HB) and the introduction of the universal credit which would replace income support, income-based jobseeker’s allowance, income-related employment and support allowance, housing benefit, child tax credit and working tax credit.

Changes to housing benefits would take place from April 2011 to April 2013.

Resolved – That the content of the report be noted.

Where there is no report this is because it is exempt, as it contains information which is considered to be of a confidential nature, as detailed in the Local Government (Access to Information) Act.