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Agenda item

Scrutiny Review: Witness Evidence ( Hackney Council)

Minutes:

The Chair invited Mr Rick Snow, a leaseholder to give evidence to the Committee on his experience with the Council’s responsive service

·         Mr Snow had reported in February 2018 a water leak coming through his hall way ceiling which was coming from a flat occupied by a council tenant.

·         Mr Snow informed the meeting of his daily interactions with numerous council officers over a long period and his frustration in getting the Council to acknowledge that the damage was from the flat above.

·         An independent surveyor was employed to identify the cause of the leak and despite evidence provided to Council, Mr Snow was referred to different personnel and sections and at a point was informed that works could not be done as a result of possible asbestos and miscommunication with the tenant in the above flat. This was very time consuming for Mr Snow and he is concerned that despite the delays his service charges had increased.

·         The meeting was informed that repair was completed after a 10 month delay in December 2018.

·         In response to Mr Snow’s complaints, the Group Leader Repairs expressed his apologies and acknowledged that this was a case where there was failure from the onset and throughout.  With regard to the staff involved, the Group Leader indicated that this was being looked at with the view that there may be a training requirement for staff involved to ensure that this does not occur again.

·         With regards to leaks, the Officer agreed that in this instance this was mistakenly diagnosed however in some properties most delays are caused by access issues. Meeting was advised that Council will be more active in gaining access to resolve leaks and that in the future when leaseholder’s report a repair, officers would be looking to improve the interaction with the call centre advisers.

·         Members were disappointed with the level of service received by Mr Snow and requested a breakdown of the Council’s cost and the cost involved in restoring the property and the cost that the leasehold incurred especially having undertaken a survey to identify the leak.

The Chair thanked Mr Snow for his evidence to the Committee and invited Steve Platt, Head of Building Maintenance and Estate Environment, Hackney Council to give his presentation and the following main points were raised and discussed -

·         Members were informed that the decision to bring Hackney Homes back in house happened in April 2016 and the department was renamed Housing Services

·         Housing Service directly manages 31,000 properties of which 9,000 are leaseholders and that in 2017/18, Housing Services carried out 85,000 responsive repairs which included cyclical works.

·         Hackney Council operates an in-house Repairs Call Centre along with an on line offer. The intention is to expand the on line offer to communal repairs.

·         The Responsive repairs are delivered by Building Maintenance along with a number of cyclical work streams. The Building Maintenance group is split between the Repairs Team (Client) and the Direct Labour Organisation (DLO). The repairs 'client' side is undergoing a restructure and the new structure will include the surveying and disrepair teams, customer service including complex casework and the call centre aligned with the DLO planners.

·         In response to a question regarding the status of DLO staff, the meeting was advised that DLO staff are primarily Hackney’s internal workforce; 220 employees of which 173 operatives are involved in carpentry, electrical, plumbing, multi trade, plastering, roofing and glazing.

·         During the 2017/18 Municipal year, the DLO undertook £17m of repairs and surplus income generated was invested back into the Housing Revenue Account. The Council has an established apprentice scheme and promotes new initiatives such as the Improvers Scheme specifically for people within the 20-30 age group who have qualifications such as City and Guild and keen on being tradespeople

·         Members were informed that although the Repairs Team is currently supplemented by temporary staff, 40 are full time employees. Within its restructuring plans Hackney aims to reduce the use of agency staff and increase the number of fulltime employees with specialist skills. In response to a question regarding the Council’s ongoing restructuring, the Head of Building Maintenance advised of a number of changes in the areas of commercial and contract management, area surveying and customer service team.

·         With regard to future developments, the meeting was informed of plans to offer gas safety checks to leaseholders and possibility of offering a similar repair services that the team presently carries out for council tenants at competitive rates.

·         Members were advised that new accommodation was being sought as its present site was regarded as not fit for purpose. Meeting was also informed that senior management from neighbouring authorities regularly meet to share ideas and experiences.

·         On the decision to create four surveying areas and if there was any noticeable impact, the meeting was advised by Head of Building Maintenance and Estate Environment that the restructuring of the surveying team had not been implemented as recruitment of surveyors was ongoing, however he offered to share the outcome with the Committee in the following year.

·         On the issue of access into properties, the meeting was advised that due to the lease arrangement between the Council and residents, and for health and safety concerns, it has not been an issue to access properties to carry out essential works or repairs. In addition, Hackney Council has an out of hours service to carry out essential and urgent work if required.

·         Meeting was informed that complex water leaks in properties are handled by a team called Leaks Hub which may be reported in a number of ways but then coordinated separately so they are not held up in the system.

·         In response to a question about the Improvers Scheme, the Manager agreed to share details of the scheme with his counterpart in Islington and the Committee.

RESOLVED:

1.    That Officers provide a breakdown of the repair cost to Council in restoring the leaseholder flat

2.    That the presentation be noted.