Agenda and draft minutes

Cabinet Member for Housing and Tackling Homelessness - Friday, 26th January, 2024 9.30 am

Venue: Council Chamber - The Guildhall, Portsmouth. View directions

Contact: Allison Harper, Local Democracy Officer - Tel: 023 9268 8014  Email: democratic@portsmouthcc.gov.uk

Media

Items
No. Item

27.

Apologies for Absence

Minutes:

Apologies were received from Councillor Charlotte Gerada.  Councillor Graham Heaney attended as the representative for Councillor Gerada.

28.

Declarations of Members' Interests

Minutes:

Councillor Cal Corkery declared a non-prejudicial interest as a Portsmouth City Council tenant.

 

29.

Council Housing Budget (including rents) 2024/2025

Purpose of Report

 

1.    The law requires that all income and expenditure relating to Council Housing is accounted for separately in the Housing Revenue Account (HRA).  All other council income and expenditure is accounted for together in a separate account called the General Fund.  This report deals solely with the HRA.

 

2.    The City Council has delegated the function of setting rents, charges and revenue budgets for Council Housing to the Cabinet Member for Housing and Tackling Homelessness.  Following consultation with residents and leaseholders, this report seeks to address all HRA budget issues.

 

3.    The purpose of this report is to seek the Cabinet Member's decisions on the City Council Housing budgets, rents and other charges and to give authority for managers to incur expenditure in 2024/2025.

 

4.    The report also seeks to:

 

·         Note the Forecast Revenue Outturn for 2023/2024 and give authority to the Director of Housing, Neighbourhood and Building Services & the Director of Finance and Resources to amend the budgets to reflect the latest available information prior to finalising budgets for 2024/2025.

 

·         Note the Forecast Revenue Budgets for 2025/26 to 2027/28 arising from the proposals set out in this report.

 

·         Set rents with an average increase of 7.7%, which is in line with the maximum increase allowed by Central Government's Social Rent Setting Policy.

 

RECOMMENDATIONS

 

It is recommended that the Cabinet Member for Housing and Tackling Homelessness approves the following:

 

1.    The Forecast Revenue Outturn for 2023/24 arising from monitoring discussion with Managers, as set out at Appendix 3, be noted.

 

2.    All rents and charges to be effective from Monday 1st April 2024 or such other date as determined by the Director of Housing, Neighbourhood and Building Services, in consultation with the Director of Finance and Resources.

 

3.    Dwelling Rents for 2024/25 to be set with an average increase of 7.7% which is in line with the maximum allowable under Central Government's Social Rent Setting Policy, as summarised in Appendix 4.

 

4.    General Service Charges for 2024/25 to be set at this meeting, as set out in this report and in accordance with Appendix 5.

 

5.    Sheltered Housing Service Charges for 2024/25 to be set at this meeting, as set out in this report, and in accordance with Appendix 6.

 

6.    Laundry Charges for 2024/25 to be set at this meeting, as set out in this report, and in accordance with Appendix 7.

 

7.    Heating Charges for 2024/25 to be set in accordance with Appendix 8.

 

8.    Garages and Parking Site Rents for 2024/25, as shown in Appendix 9, be approved and authority to let garages at reduced rents where demand is low be delegated to the Director of Housing, Neighbourhood and Building Services, in consultation with the Director Finance and Resources.

 

9.    The Revenue Budget for 2024/25, as set out in Appendix 3, be approved and authority given to the Director of Housing, Neighbourhood and Building Services, in consultation with the Director of Finance and Resources, to amend the budgets to reflect the latest available  ...  view the full agenda text for item 29.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Alan Denford, Housing Finance Manager, presented the report, the purpose of which was to seek the Cabinet Member's decision on the Portsmouth City Council Housing Budgets, rents, and other charges and to give authority for managers to incur expenditure in 2024/2025. 

 

The report was also for the Cabinet Member to note the Forecast Revenue Outturn for 2023/24; to give authority to the Director of Housing, Neighbourhood and Building Services and the Director of Finance and Resources to amend the budgets to reflect the latest available information prior to finalising budgets for 2024/25 and for the Cabinet Member to note the Forecast Revenue Budgets for 2025/26 to 2027/28 arising from the proposals set out in the report. 

 

Resident Consortium Questions

In response to questions from the Resident Consortium, officers clarified:

 

·         Leaseholder service charges were calculated in a different way to tenants' service charges.  Tenants' service charges are fixed and there is no reconciliation process at the end of the financial year.  Leaseholder service charges are variable with a reconciliation process at the end of the year.  The estimates were based on the last three years and what is likely to happen in the coming year.  The charges will vary but will only ever be what has actually been spent in the building in terms of services and utility costs.

 

·         Service charges were calculated differently due to the Leaseholder agreement stating that service charges are on a variable basis and tenancy agreements stating they are on a fixed basis.  Most of the service charges are the same for leaseholders and tenants.

 

·         The bad debt figure for 2023/2024 was the actual contribution made into the provision based on the forecast actual level of debt at year end.  Although the level of debt had not increased significantly, the service was being prudent by putting more money into the bad debt provision in future years because of the current cost of living position.

 

·         There had not been a huge spike in arrears and that was down to the work housing officers had carried out around advice on benefits and income maximisation.  There was a money and advice team to work with tenants on more complex debt or finance issues.

 

 

Members Questions

In response to Member's questions, officers clarified:

 

·         Parking and garage charges proposed increase was at a lower rate than the rents and service charges, as they were increased by the consumer price index.

 

·         The increase for the supervision and management cost, increased from £16.7million to £20.2million, was based on what was known about what was actually happening in various service areas. In the current year the number was artificially low as there were a number of vacant posts that contributed to this.  An assumption was then added around the forthcoming pay award.  There were a high number of posts vacant currently, whereas the budget for next year was based on a full establishment.  There would be reconciliation exercise at the end of the year based on actual vacancy figures and spend.

 

·         Some posts were  ...  view the full minutes text for item 29.

30.

Fire Safety Policy

Purpose of Report

The purpose of the report is to update members of a review of the existing fire safety policy by the Fire Safety Group, including the resident consortium and to seek approval to implement proposed changes to the policy.

 

RECOMMENDATIONS

 

1.    That the fire safety policy (Appendix A - Fire Safety Policy, version 1.3) is approved and Housing, Neighborhood and Building Services implement the revised fire safety policy which includes the following changes.

 

The main change to the fire policy is the management of the means of escape and communal areas within blocks of flats. The policy changes the current 'managed use' approach to a 'zero tolerance' approach to be adopted for common walkways or stairwells except for Cat 2 and Cat 2.5 blocks that will remain 'managed use'.

 

Other changes to the fire policy include the scope of the policy extended to specifically include individual doors opening onto common parts of the building and the external structure (including doors, windows, cladding and balconies) of blocks of flats.  The lowering of the classification of higher risk blocks from ten storeys to seven storeys, confirmation of where fire safety information will be provided and premises information boxes, details of fire door inspectios, firefighting equipment fault reporting and assisted evacuation.

 

2.    The implementation and communication plan that is set out in section 5 is approved.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Steve Groves, Head of Building Maintenance presented the report, the purpose of which was to update members of a review of the existing fire safety policy by the Fire Safety Group, including the Resident Consortium and to seek approval to implement the proposed changes to the policy.

 

Resident Consortium Questions and Comments

Consortium members had no questions but commented on the thorough report and agreed with its contents.

 

Members Questions

In response to Member's questions, officers clarified:

 

·         The Fire Safety Policy had always been about managed use with the service implementing that approach when a fire risk assessment had identified a particular issue and then going to zero tolerance.  The new policy was to back that up and ensure consistency in all of the blocks.

 

·         The zero tolerance included bikes under stairs and plants on shelves in communal areas.

·         Smoke detectors in properties were mains operated and were checked annually as part of the gas servicing contract.

 

·         The policy did not apply to shared gardens and other housing land, it is just around the means of escape within blocks of flats.

 

·         All blocks have FD30 fire doors.  The service undertakes yearly fire assessments which include recommendations for repairs or upgrades to the fire doors.  If the doors are replaced there is a certification process that comes alongside it.

 

·         The future programme on replacement of fire doors would be bought to a housing cabinet member decision meeting in the future to outline the programme of works.

 

·         The fire service were clear they need 'dead spaces' to be kept sterile on the basis they may have to stage equipment through those areas, such as fire hoses.

 

·         Further investigation was being carried out in relation to pots that hook over balconies to see if they would be acceptable in relation to fire risks.

 

·         Residents had been advised that on a communal space such as a balcony that leads to a front door, they may use small tables and chairs whilst they were sat on them, as long as they were brought in or put away as soon as they were not being used.

 

·         Tenants could not be asked to sign an agreement to accept the risk if they put items out as Portsmouth City Council, as the landlord, is responsible for the communal areas, so tenants cannot be asked to accept the risk if Hampshire fire and rescue struggle in the course of dealing with an incident.

 

·         The service was working with tenants on possible bike storage areas or with making space in their sheds if they have one.

 

Members' comments

 

·         Members considered it a good policy upholding the consistency throughout.

 

·         Members considered that a zero tolerance policy does not allow for commonsense discretion or allow for consideration of circumstances.  To do so would allow for increased residential amenity for residents who want some ownership over the place they live.  Of note were certain types of plant pots that fit securely over balconies that would still allow for clear fire exits.  Similarly, fireproof  ...  view the full minutes text for item 30.