Venue: Committee Room 1, Town Hall, Upper Street, N1 2UD. View directions
Contact: Jonathan Moore 020 7527 3308
Apologies for Absence
Apologies for absence were received from Councillors Diner, Doolan, Gantly and Spall.
The Committee passed on their best wishes to Councillor Gary Doolan, who was absent due to illness.
Declaration of Substitute Members
Councillor Poyser for Councillor Spall.
Declarations of Interests
If you have a Disclosable Pecuniary Interest* in an item of business:
§ if it is not yet on the council’s register, you must declare both the existence and details of it at the start of the meeting or when it becomes apparent;
§ you may choose to declare a Disclosable Pecuniary Interest that is already in the register in the interests of openness and transparency.
In both the above cases, you must leave the room without participating in discussion of the item.
If you have a personal interest in an item of business and you intend to speak or vote on the item you must declare both the existence and details of it at the start of the meeting or when it becomes apparent but you may participate in the discussion and vote on the item.
*(a) Employment, etc - Any employment, office, trade, profession or vocation carried on for profit or gain.
(b) Sponsorship - Any payment or other financial benefit in respect of your expenses in carrying out duties as a member, or of your election; including from a trade union.
(c) Contracts - Any current contract for goods, services or works, between you or your partner (or a body in which one of you has a beneficial interest) and the council.
(d) Land - Any beneficial interest in land which is within the council’s area.
(e) Licences- Any licence to occupy land in the council’s area for a month or longer.
(f) Corporate tenancies - Any tenancy between the council and a body in which you or your partner have a beneficial interest.
(g) Securities - Any beneficial interest in securities of a body which has a place of business or land in the council’s area, if the total nominal value of the securities exceeds £25,000 or one hundredth of the total issued share capital of that body or of any one class of its issued share capital.
This applies to all members present at the meeting.
That the minutes of the previous meeting held on 17 July 2017 be confirmed as a correct record and the Chair be authorised to sign them.
The Chair noted that Paul Hobbs, the London Fire Brigade Borough Commander, had submitted apologies for the meeting. Mr Hobbs had been asked to provide evidence as part of the Fire Safety scrutiny review, and had been invited to attend the October or November meeting.
Order of Business
No changes were proposed to the order of business.
For members of the public to ask questions relating to any subject on the meeting agenda under Procedure Rule 70.5. Alternatively, the Chair may opt to accept questions from the public during the discussion on each agenda item.
The Chair set out the procedure for public questions and the filming of meetings.
A member of the public queried the fire safety of solar panels, expressing concern about panels on her roof; and also highlighted that the windows on her council-owned property were in a poor condition, querying if they met the Decent Homes Standard. In response, it was advised that solar panels presented a low fire risk and any problems would likely be caused by more general electrical safety issues. The Committee asked officers to take up these issues outside of the meeting and report back to the Chair.
Damian Dempsey, Group Leader – Quantity Surveyors, and Stuart Fuller, Construction, Fire, and Gas Safety Manager, answered questions on the evidence circulated with the agenda.
The following main points were noted in the discussion:
· The Committee noted that housing officers had been under considerable pressure since the Grenfell Tower fire and thanked them for work.
· In response to a question, officers thought that interim findings on the causes of the Grenfell Tower fire would be available by the end of the calendar year.
· A member reported that a number of residents were still using barbeques on their balconies despite a letter from the council warning against this. It was suggested that stronger communication and action from the council was needed.
· The Committee considered the fire risks posed by faulty electrical appliances, and if the council would PAT test residents’ appliances if they were suspected of being unsafe. In response, officers advised that this was not a service offered by the council. Residents were the owners of the electrical appliances in their property and it was their responsibility to ensure that they were safe to use. Officers queried the role of the council if an appliance failed the PAT test; it was not clear if the council would have the authority to disable the appliance by removing the plug, or what action could be taken if the resident chose to continue to use the faulty appliance. If the appliance was disabled by the council, it was not clear who would be responsible for removing the appliance and sourcing a replacement. It was noted that there were on average 40 electrical appliances in each household.
· Members queried the fire risks associated with houses of multiple occupation in the private rented sector. Whilst it was known that some HMO properties were of a low standard, it was acknowledged that Environmental Health had a licensing and inspection regime which was intended to identify such issues. It was commented that the council had recently been very successful in prosecuting HMO landlords that did not comply with safety standards, and further details would be submitted to a future committee meeting.
· A member advised of a vulnerable resident with mental health issues. The resident was a known hoarder and had been asked to remove a number of items stored on her balcony. It was understood that the resident had received correspondence about the fire risks associated with hoarding, however it was suggested that the resident did not have the capacity to understand these risks and remove the items herself. It was queried it there was support available for residents with such issues. In response, the Executive Member for Housing and Development advised that the resident may be eligible for support and agreed to take this case up with officers.
· Officers advised that the council had sufficient capital resources to ensure that its properties complied with current fire safety regulations. However, if regulations were to change and additional works were required, then additional capital investment would be required. ... view the full minutes text for item 298.
a) Evidence from the Communications Team
The Committee received a presentation from Lynn Stratton, Deputy Head of Communications and Change, which provided introductory information on communication channels, resident priorities, and document accessibility. This supported the evidence circulated in the agenda pack.
The following main points were noted in the discussion:
· The Committee considered the infographic detailing how the housing service communicated with residents and external partners. It was noted that residents received a mixture of localised, targeted, and broadcast communications.
· The housing service had worked to develop its digital communications in recent years, including online systems for repairs and housing options.
· Social media presented opportunities to offer more localised communications, perhaps on an estate basis.
· At present the service did not make use of SMS communications on a regular basis, but it was thought that this could be a useful tool in future.
· The Communications section did not routinely review housing communications as a form of quality control, however major communications were developed in partnership between Housing and Communications.
· Resident feedback on housing communications had previously highlighted the need for simplicity and a more empathetic tone.
· Training on letter writing and customer service was available for staff. This was provided by the Corporate Learning and Development Team. The Communications team made guidance available to staff through the intranet.
· The Committee welcomed that communications guidance was available, but queried if the contents of this guidance was well known by staff. Officers advised that the take up of this guidance was not evaluated. The Committee suggested that key messages about local issues and events were not always communicated effectively.
· Customer service training was compulsory for staff in certain front-facing areas, but not for all housing staff.
· Language translation services were available on request. It was preferential to translate verbally rather than in writing, as this allowed any questions to be answered immediately.
· The Committee noted the Islington Council Brand Guidelines, and that they contained standards for accessibility.
· Members suggested that residents may find regularly updated FAQs helpful. Officers commented that these would also be useful to the Communications section.
· Officers advised that there was no plan to introduce chat bots at present, although commented that these would be useful for residents.
· The Committee considered the reach of online communications. Whilst some residents did not have regular access to the internet, others only wanted to communicate online.
· Members commented that they had received housing casework which highlighted a lack of coordination, respect and empathy in communications from council staff. Officers acknowledged that this could be a problem, and commented that it was particularly difficult to monitor verbal communication between staff and residents.
· The Housing Operations section was reviewing its ways of working, with the aim of being more responsive to the welfare needs of residents.
· The Committee expressed concern that some vulnerable people did not have regular access to the internet to access online services. Officers advised that the council’s Digital Champion Scheme supported residents to get online, and indicated that further information ... view the full minutes text for item 299.
Councillor Diarmaid Ward, Executive Member for Housing and Development, introduced the quarterly performance report.
The following main points were noted in the discussion:
· No new affordable homes had been completed in quarter one. This was partially due to delays in completing electricity and mains water connections. It was still expected that the target of 200 new affordable homes by 2020 would be met.
· The number of tenants in under-occupied properties downsizing was significantly below target. The Executive Member commented on the importance of using the council’s housing stock efficiently. It was suggested that some tenants were discouraged from moving as they were concerned about losing their secure tenancy under proposals previously announced through the Housing and Planning Act. The Committee commented that greater work was needed to explain that this was not the case.
· The Committee suggested that increasing the number of downsizers should be a top priority of the housing service, and that downsizing communications should be targeted at middle-aged couples whose children had left home. The Committee noted that it may not be beneficial for some older and vulnerable people to downsize, as the stress of downsizing could have a detrimental effect on their wellbeing.
· It was advised that there were services to assist tenants with moving home, including furniture removal, but there was a lack of awareness of these services and they needed to be promoted further.
· It was the council’s downsizing policy was that nobody should pay more rent for a smaller property. Dr Brian Potter, Chair of the Islington Leaseholders Association, queried this, commenting that his understanding was that the rent was only held at a lower rate for one year. The Executive Member reiterated the council’s policy and commented that he was not aware of anyone who was paying more rent as a result of downsizing. It was advised that any instances of tenants paying more rent as a result of downsizing should be reported to the Executive Member to investigate further.
· It was reported that the new repairs system had been implemented largely successfully. It was positive that the first time fix rate was only 1% below target given the significant changes, however it was expected that this would improve over time, and it was suggested that a more challenging target may be appropriate.
· The Executive Member attributed the reduction in homelessness to cross-borough prevention work. It was commented that the Homelessness Reduction Act had well-meaning aims, however additional resources were required to meet the new duties under the Act. The Executive Member considered that the £48 million allocated to local authorities to meet their duties under the Act was insufficient.
· Islington Council currently had its lowest number of households in nightly-booked temporary accommodation since September 1998.
· The leading cause of homelessness was loss of private sector tenancy. It was commented that assured shorthold tenancies were not a secure form of tenancy and the private rented sector needed reform.
· The Executive Member explained that homeless households must be vulnerable and have a local ... view the full minutes text for item 300.