To provide Members with an update and information regarding the Housing Compliance Audit and the Riverside Independent Inquiry 2020.
Before discussion on the item commenced, it was proposed that Standing Orders be suspended as per Article 4.10 and 4.11 of the Council’s Constitution due to the nature of the items and to help with the flow of the debate. The proposer also had three amendments to make and was happy for these to be dealt with together, rather than individually. The Monitoring Officer clarified the position in relation to the proposal and the amendments.
The proposal to suspend Article 4.10 and 4.11 of the Constitution was seconded.
On being put to the vote it was LOST.
The Cabinet Member for Housing and Planning stated that there had been two system breakdown incidents at Riverside over the previous weekend which had been addressed and the systems were now working.
The report provided Members with an update and information regarding the Housing Compliance Audit and the Riverside Independent Inquiry 2020.
Briefings on the Compliance Audit and the Riverside Inquiry had been given at the November meeting of the Rural and Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee and the Governance and Audit Committee. An all Member briefing had been provided on the Compliance Audit, the amended HRA 3 year rolling new build programme and the Riverside Inquiry in November 2020. Since the report had been circulated improvements had started and a high-level overview of tasks had taken place, which had already changed the original red/amber status to amber. Easier monitoring of the improvement plan had been put in place and would be a regular item on the Rural and Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee, it would also be reported to the Governance and Audit Committee. Meetings had taken place with all Housing Officers, with the Chief Executive’s support to ensure improvement to the functions of the Housing Service.
The Cabinet Member for Housing and Planning reminded Members that the Council had reported itself to the Housing Regulator, therefore any timelines as such would be stipulated, by the Housing Regulator, and not by the Council. A meeting with the Housing Regulator was expected to take place in January 2021 where recommendations would be discussed, which would look at the compliance challenges faced by the Council. Members would be updated as soon as information was known. The six recommendations contained within the report were proposed by the Cabinet Member, which was seconded.
Members expressed grave concerns over the non-compliance by the Council of basic housing responsibilities and checks and its failure to carry out proper, gas, electric, legionella, asbestos and fire safety checks. Members felt that they had let down the tenants, some of which were frail and vulnerable.
Although the plans and measures announced to date were welcomed, it was felt that they did not go far enough and that the timeframe was too long, an amendment to the recommendations was proposed.
(14:08 Cllr Selby left the meeting)
The amendment was that in response to the housing compliance report the Council resolves to provide whatever resources prove necessary to achieve full compliance with all legal requirements in 12 months. The amendment was seconded.
(14:20 Cllr Kaberry-Brown left the meeting and did not return)
The Cabinet Member for Housing and Planning reiterated that the timescale for when and how the Council came out of the current measures was governed by the Housing Regulator. He acknowledged that Members wanted things done expediently but they were unfortunately beyond the Council’s control.
The Member who had proposed the amendment did not believe that if the Council could achieve the necessary outcomes within 12 months that the Regulator would say no. The safety of tenants was a top priority and they had been let down.
The Chief Executive stated that the Council did have a choice as to whether or not they referred themselves to the Housing Regulator. It was agreed with the Leader and the Cabinet to refer the Council to the Housing Regulator and also to be transparent in the findings of the Riverside Inquiry report and also the outstanding Health and Safety report. Staff had already been redeployed to a Housing Task Team to make sure the Council delivered its requirements, especially around compliance, as soon as possible. The Council did not have control or influence over timescales once intervention had taken place by the Regulator. Intervention continued in relation to monitoring and to ensure new policies and practices were embedded within the Authority. The Council had redeployed resources utilising frameworks to get pieces of work done as soon as possible and new policies were being developed and embedded and it was these that the Council would be monitored against. It was reiterated that the timescales were in the hands of the Housing Regulator.
Members supported the work that had been done already but still felt that a target of 12 months should be achievable, an amendment was proposed to include the wording provided the Regulators allowed the Council to achieve this.
The Interim Assistant Director of Housing provided a point of information. He stated that once the Regulator was involved with compliance issues it was very unusual to see a local authority emerge out of the compliance notice period, prior to the initial 12 months, unless the compliance matter was relatively “light” or “focused”, which was not the case for South Kesteven. Once the meeting was held with the Regulator in January 2021 the scope and nature of the compliance notice would be understood. It was noted that local authorities and organisations, who had reported themselves to the Housing Regulator, had not found it possible to complete the regulatory process within 12 months.
Whilst some Members continued to express their concern about what had happened to the tenants and that three years felt too long, it was appreciated that the Council should be led by the Regulator’s guidance.
The Interim Assistant Director of Housing reiterated that once the notice was received from the Regulator and the position was known, then dialogue on the scope of the specific issues of non-compliance could be processed and the notice could be moved through in a logical and sensible way. The regulation period would be undertaken in the shortest time possible through partnership working with the Regulator and tenants. The Regulator had to be certain that the notice was complied with and sustained.
A question was asked about what the notice covered. It was confirmed that it covered all the Council’s housing stock.
It was confirmed that the proposed amendment before Members had been properly made, although it was reiterated by the Cabinet Member for Housing and Planning that the timescales were within the control of the Housing Regulator and not the Council.
On being put to the vote the amendment was LOST.
A further amendment was then proposed following the report on the Inquiry undertaken at Riverside.
That this Council resolves to urgently consider setting up a Housing Compliance and Complaints Committee, to focus directly on achieving and maintaining legal compliance. The Committee would allow elected Members to monitor complaints relating to housing and scrutinising the Council’s role as a landlord. Consideration should also be given to how best to involve elected Members in inspecting properties prior to the start of new tenancies, it was requested that a report would be brought to the next meeting of full Council in January 2021.
The amendment was seconded.
Support was given to the amendment. The public’s perception was important and it was felt that people did not believe that they or Members had a voice. Clarification was asked in relation to the recommendations before the Members and the public’s involvement in the plans.
The Cabinet Member for Housing and Planning proposed that a Working Group was convened. He referred to the meetings currently held in relation to Planning with the Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Planning Committee and the Head of Management Policy. It was proposed that meetings of a similar structure should also be held for Housing. Weekly meetings were currently being held with the Chief Executive, the Leader, the Interim Assistant Director of Housing and the Cabinet Member for Housing and Planning in relation to compliance criteria. Members were assured that work was being undertaken as quickly as possible.
Further debate followed and it was felt that the reasons given indicated a need to have a Committee to deal specifically with Housing. There needed to be a separate Housing Scrutiny Committee and a Housing Compliant and Complaints Committee should also be established, in addition to the six recommendations.
The amendment before the Council was voted on and LOST.
A further amendment was then proposed by the Cabinet Member for Housing and Planning to allocate £780,000 to bring forward the Stock Condition Survey. This amendment was seconded.
Members questioned why this was not contained within the original report and the Interim Director of Finance stated that the money had originally been in the budget proposals for 2021/22. However, an opportunity had occurred through the procurement framework to expedite the work earlier than previously predicted and placed the contract within 2020/21. If Members did not agree the amendment today the procurement work would not be agreed until the budget was discussed for 2021/22 in March 2021, therefore the stock condition survey could not be brought forward.
On being put to the vote it was AGREED:
To allocate £780,000 to enable the stock condition report to be brought forward to 2020/21.
A further amendment was then proposed in relation to the work that Mr Philip Gadd had undertaken in making the Council aware of the problems at Riverside. It was proposed to add a further amendment to the recommendations contained within the report to honour Mr Gadd.
The amendment proposed was:
That the Council recognises that it owes a debt of gratitude to Mr Philip Gadd for his determined and tireless work on behalf of residents at Riverside, Grantham. The Council further agrees to make a suitable apology to Mr Gadd for its failure to respond in an appropriate and timely fashion to the concerns that he repeatedly raised over four years. The proposal was seconded.
The Interim Assistant Director of Housing clarified that there had been disruption at Riverside, in Grantham recently, but he confirmed that all the issues relating to the heating and hot water had been fully resolved.
One of the Ward Councillors for the Riverside area spoke about how he had been involved over the four year period with the problems at Riverside and had spoken to tenants including Mr Gadd and his brother and that this had been noted in the independent Riverside report by Julie Picken. He placed on record his thanks to the Interim Assistant Director of Housing, the Cabinet Member for Housing and Planning and the team for all their hard work. He also gave special thanks to the Chief Executive. A further Ward Councillor, for the Riverside area stated that she spoke to people regularly at Riverside and that the work had been undertaken to sort the problems out.
The Cabinet Member for Housing and Planning acknowledged the work that Mr Gadd and his brother had done over the years for the residents at Riverside and that he had been in dialogue with Mr Gadd since he had taken over the Portfolio for Housing in February 2020. The heating problems had been sorted and there was compensation in place for tenants, for any extra expenses for electricity over the previous week. He stated that shame and blame would not move things forward and that he would not support the proposed amendment.
Further debate followed with Members referring to the work that Mr Gadd had done on behalf of the residents of Riverside, in Grantham and that he should be given credit. Thanks, were given to Mr Gadd from the Leader of the Independent Group who felt that the Council owed Mr Gadd gratitude for what he had done in bringing the problems at Riverside to the Council’s attention. He thanked the Cabinet Member for Housing and Planning for the work that had been undertaken over the last three weeks, but he felt that the Council had let the residents at Riverside down.
On being put to the vote the proposed amendment was LOST.
Under 4.13.5 of the Council’s Constitution the following Members asked for their vote for the amendment to be recorded.
Councillor Ashley Baxter
Councillor Harrish Bisnauthsing
Councillor Louise Clack
Councillor Phil Dilks
Councillor Anna Kelly
Councillor Penny Milnes
Councillor Virginia Moran
Councillor Ian Selby
Councillor Amanda Wheeler
Councillor Paul Wood
The Leader of the Council stated that at previous Council meetings where Mr Gadd had been present he had thanked Mr Gadd for raising the issues at Riverside. The Leader then spoke about Members concerns in relation to Riverside and the Housing Compliance audit and the action that the Council was taking. It was hard to understand why such symptomatic failings were allowed to happen over such a long time. The Council’s focus was on addressing the failings and putting them right. Direct action in response to the findings had been taken and the Council was working closely with the social Housing Regulator. In-depth updates would be provided to Members regularly and steps were being taken to support tenants through the process.
The Leader, the Cabinet Member for Housing and Planning and the Chief Executive had commissioned an audit of the Housing Service in July 2020. Following the findings of the audit the Interim Assistant Housing Director had been appointed, who had extensive experience of housing and the Social Housing Regulator. Work was already taking place in developing response and improvement plans and weekly strategic meetings were being held.
Officers of the Council had been seconded to work in the Housing Response Team, from different areas of the Council. A wider review of Housing had taken place, which had highlighted issues with the stock condition survey, the outstanding Voids Policy and the Stay Put Policy which was currently being drafted. The Voids Policy was due to go before the next Rural and Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee, which was the Scrutiny Committee whose remit covered housing matters.
In summing up, the Leader stated that the priority of the Council would always be the residents and tenants of the District and he apologised for how they had been let down. Clear and open communication with tenants would be the Council’s approach going forward and over 6,000 letters had been sent to the Council tenants. A dedicated helpline had been put in place to answer tenant’s questions and to support them through the process. The Council continued to proactively engage with tenant’s to ensure that they were fully informed of the actions that the Council were taking.
If the Council was found to be non-compliant by the Housing Regulator then a period of intervention would follow, and the Council would be monitored to make sure that processes and policies were embedded within the housing service and maintained.
The Leader gave his assurances to Members that the Council was determined to resolve the issues and deliver a housing service that the tenants deserved.
(15:25 Cllr Adams left the meeting and did not return)
Further comments were made about the Riverside issues and the problems with the Housing Department, the timeframes involved when the Cabinet Member for Housing and Planning was made aware of the issues and the time gap before it was reported to the Rural and Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee.
The Cabinet Member for Housing and Planning stated that he was aware of the report in August 2020, however the report author could not attend the Rural and Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee in September 2020, which was why it went to the November 2020 meeting of the Committee.
The Cabinet Member for Housing and Planning thanked the Leader for his comments and reiterated that the Scrutiny of housing issues came under the Rural and Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee’s remit. Issues would also be reported to the Governance and Audit Committee. He thanked Members for their support in relation to the stock condition report. He then spoke about his proposal for a Housing Working Group and made reference to a working group that he was part of at Lincolnshire County Council. He asked that Members with a genuine interest in housing form the Working Group, from all parts of the District. The Cabinet Member for Housing and Planning also spoke about funding that had been granted from Homes England and that the roll out of housing within the District needed to be balanced and in the right areas. He recommended the proposals listed within the report and asked that Members noted the proposal for a Housing Working Group be convened, preferably before the next Council meeting in January 2021.
The Monitoring Officer clarified what Members were voting on and it was the six recommendations within the circulated report plus the amendment agreed by Council, so there was a total of seven recommendations.
On being put to the vote it was AGREED:
1. To review the Housing Compliance Audit and Improvement Plan to meet the recommendations indicated within the Housing Audit Plan and agree that the Rural and Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee receive quarterly updates on the progress being made within the work programme.
2. To approve the revised 3 year rolling HRA New Build Housing Investment programme and support the principle that the housing service should focus on compliance priorities, utilising where necessary funds released through rationalising the HRA New Build Housing Investment programme proposals.
3. That Officers provide necessary updates to Members regarding key performance and delivery of programmes to ensure capital investment and compliance objectives are achieved.
4. To note that the Council had reported itself to the Social Housing Regulator and was jointly working with the Regulator towards compliance as a matter of priority.
5. That the Council notes the recommendations contained in the attached Independent Consultants Report, and requests that officers be required to update the Rural and Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee on progress to achieve full implementation of the recommendations on a quarterly basis.
6. The Council notes that the HSE report dealing with potential breaches relating to the management of asbestos during the carrying out of the Riverside hot water and heating repairs will be submitted to the Rural and Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee once received.
7. The Council approves the allocation of £780,000 to enable the stock condition report to be brought forward to 2020/21.