The report was introduced by the Cabinet Member for Planning and Housing Services to provide Members with a progress report in relation to matters relevant to this Committee.
The Council’s Constitution set out the responsibilities of the Cabinet Member, including:
· Homelessness, Housing Options and Supporting People
· Traveller Sites
These responsibilities fell under the remit of the Strong and Supportive Communities Scrutiny Committee, other responsibilities contained within the Cabinet Member’s portfolio fell outside of the remit of the Committee.
Key points highlighted were as follows:
· Empty Homes
· Empty Dwelling Management Orders (EMDO’s)
· Empty Homes Partnership
· Consulting with other Councils
· Housing Related Support
· Care and Repair
· Homelessness in Peterborough
· Rent Deposit Scheme and Discretionary Housing Payments
· The Tenancy Relations Service
· The Peterborough Homes Allocations Policy
· Partnership Working
· Rough Sleeping in Peterborough
· Mortgage Rescue Scheme
· Single Persons Homelessness
· Housing Enforcement
Members were asked to scrutinise the progress made on the aspects of the Cabinet Member’s portfolio relevant to the Committee by providing challenge where necessary and to suggest ideas and initiatives to support the continued delivery of priorities within that portfolio.
Observations and questions were raised around the following areas:
· Members referred to page 10 of the report 5.1.2 ‘ The current number of properties being charged the empty homes premium was currently 114’ , when in 5.1.1 of the report it stated that there was currently 430 long term empty homes. Members asked the Cabinet Member for Planning and Housing Services to explain this discrepancy between those numbers. Members were advised that sometimes the ownership of an empty home was difficult to ascertain. It was also dependent upon timescales, as the Council would look in to an empty property for six months or more, then Council Tax would take a different view on the people who were required to pay the premium.
· Members asked what the criteria was for empty homes. The Head of Housing and Health Improvement responded that the Empty Homes Officer would take action once a home had been empty for 6 months. The Council did not know about empty homes until they were reported. They would generally go unnoticed and be in a bad state before they were reported.
· Members were concerned that the Council’s enforcement criteria was different to the Fire Service’s safety criteria. Members were advised that Peterborough City Council would inspect properties under the Housing Rating System and electrical safety was included in this system. The Council did carry out visits with a fire officer.
· Members referred to page 12, 5.4.4 where it explained that the Department for Communities and Local Government funding for the three officers in the homelessness prevention team was due to come to an end in March 2015 and queried what impact this would have and if there would be any likely costs as a result of that loss. Members were advised that this would have an impact. Structures were currently being worked on with partners SERCO to ensure that there was enough specialist preventative officer time to carry out their work, without having to do administrative work around the cases. This would allow them to keep the same level of expertise.
· Members referred to page 12 of the report, 5.4.5 and queried what Peterborough was doing so well to have an amount of applications for ‘Statutory Homelessness’, which was lower than the national average. Members were advised that the reason behind this was linked back to work carried out around homelessness prevention, which caught individuals and helped them before they became homeless.
· Members queried whether Axiom Housing had taken over the work of Peterborough Streets. Members were advised that Axiom Housing were already working with Peterborough Streets prior to closure and they had carried on with this work with success.
· Members referred to page 16 of the report 5.4.32 and queried what tools were now used to prevent homelessness since the Mortgage Rescue Scheme had ceased and had there been an increase in homelessness as a result of this. Members were advised that there had not been an increase in homelessness since the Mortgage Rescue Scheme had ceased because the cases that were being worked on were carried over and work had continued on them. An increase in homelessness would be seen if the mortgage interest rates were to rise. The tools available in place of the Mortgage Rescue Scheme were, early prevention and identification, debt advice to prevent mortgage crisis and alternative housing options. There was currently no product to replace the Mortgage Rescue Scheme.
· Members requested an update on the Big Issue since the closure of Peterborough Streets. Members were advised that the Big Issue was now distributed through the Peterborough Council for Voluntary Service (PCVS) and this was a permanent arrangement.
· Members were concerned that accommodation was only offered to homeless people if the temperature was below 0 degrees for three consecutive nights. Members were advised that three nights was a governmental figure and if the forecast had predicted three nights or more at below 0 degrees then the service was activated for homeless people.
The Committee noted the report and agreed for the Head of Housing and Health Improvement to provide information on Discretionary Housing Payments (How much was in the pot and what it is used for?).