Agenda item

The Committee will conduct overview and scrutiny on the theme of Housing with particular emphasis on service delivery and performance in relation to:-


(a)    Private Sector Housing Financial Assistance Policy


The Committee will look specifically at Disabled Facilities Grants: the processes, the timescales, any obstacles to delivery and options for solutions (and whether those options have been pursued) and the relative advantages of pooling.


The report and the appendix to that report submitted to Cabinet at its meeting held on 26 June 2020 are attached to this agenda.


(b)    Vacated/Empty Council Housing (‘Voids’)


The Committee intends to look at the numbers of empty properties there have been over the past year, the proportion that those represent of the entire Council housing estate, expectations on standards of vacated properties, the extent to which the vacated properties were subject to major/minor repair works, the target times for inspecting vacated properties once they are empty and for repairs to be conducted, the periods of time properties were empty, the lost rental income during the period it was empty and the cost of housing homeless persons in the same period.  It is envisaged that the enquiry will also cover the situation one year on from the Council taking back the ROALCO Ltd contract (following the company being placed in administration), the transfer of staff to the Council and responding to the immediate issue this posed and planning for sustaining the work now and in the future.


If the above enquiry is not feasible at the meeting it may be that arrangements for it are agreed at the meeting.


(c)    Council Housing Tenant Satisfaction and Involvement


The Committee will look at the measurement processes in relation to tenant satisfaction levels and tenant participation arrangements.


(d)    New Build of 10 Council Houses in Jaywick Sands


The Committee will look at the project and delivery of those 10 houses and whether there are lessons for further development there and for the emerging Acquisitions and Development Strategy of the Council.


The Performance Report for 2019/20 as presented to Cabinet at its meeting held on 29 May 2020 included this project at Page 10 of the above report. Page 21 of that report also references Council House Building and the emerging Acquisitions and Development Strategy.


The aforementioned Pages 10 and 21 are attached to this agenda.


A report(s) of the Assistant Director (Housing and Environment) in respect of the above items will be produced and circulated to the members of the Committee in due course.




The Committee conducted overview and scrutiny on the theme of Housing. A report of the Assistant Director (Housing and Environment) in respect of the items to be considered had been produced and circulated to the members of the Committee prior to the commencement of the meeting. Members paid particular emphasis to service delivery and performance in relation to:-


(a)   Private Sector Housing Financial Assistance Policy


The Committee was provided with the report on the Private Sector Housing Financial Assistance Policy as approved by the Cabinet on 26 June 2020 (Minute 24 of that meeting refers).


The Committee’s consideration of the policy focussed on Disabled Facilities Grants (DFGs): the processes, the timescales, any obstacles to delivery and options for solutions (and whether those options hadbeen pursued) and the relative advantages of pooling.


It was explained to the Members that the DFGs were mandatory grants for those in owner occupied, private rented or housing association properties to provide disabled adaptations and werethe only grant left from the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996. Funding for the DFG camefrom the Better Care Fund.


Grant applicants were encouraged to make their own decisions about how the process would work best for them and the Council did not control who they employed to undertake the works.


DFGs involved a number of stages, the first of which was an assessment by an occupational therapist from Essex County Council (ECC) which might follow on from a GP or a self-referral. The occupational therapist would make a referral to this Council recommending certain necessary and appropriate adaptations. It was the Council’s role to then inspect and decide whether those adaptations were reasonable and practical before offering funding towards them.


The Committee was told that once the Council had agreed that works were reasonable and practical a grant application had to be made by the person benefitting from the works or their family. All applications were means tested and that determined whether they should contribute anything towards the cost of the work.


Applicants could choose to make the application and find builders themselves or they could employ an agency, commonly known as a home improvement agency, to help them. The agency’s fees could be included in the grant.


Once an application had been made along with submission of builder estimates the Council had a statutory six month period in which to approve it. Once a grant had been approved the applicant was formally notified and could go ahead and start the work.

On completion of the work the Council would conduct a final inspection and if everything was satisfactory it would release the grant money, often paying the contractor directly. At no point did the Council have any contractual relationship with any builders or an agency.


Members were informed that in 2019/20, 352 referrals had been received from ECC with 270 of those resulting in formal recommendations for adaptations being sent to thisCouncil. 175 grants had been completed in 2019/20 totalling £1,558,797. A commitment of £751,000 had been carried over into 2020/21 in unspent grants both approved and pre-approval.  


Unlike many authorities this Councilhad not had a waiting list since 2009 (apart from during the current Covid-19 outbreak but here the Council aimed to have caught up by mid-August).    


It was reported that over the past 5 years this Council had made many changes to itsprocesses and had been trying to continually improve the service itoffered the residents of Tendring. Through the introduction of a grant co-ordinator post and hard work by Officersto streamline the process and go electronic, the time from receiving a valid application to formal approval had been reduced from 33 days to 7 (the statutory period was6 months) and this Council’s average payment timescales were the lowest in Essex.


The Committee was informed that the average timescale for approval to certified completion (fully paid and closed case), although not fully in the Council’s control, had also reduced to 56 days from 122 days with the assistance of contractors and the local agencies (the guidance target was 80 days). The Council strove always to improve the works it could fund, to ‘think outside the box’ to achieve results, ensure longevity and deal with an increasing number of bariatric and dementia cases whilst also working with outside agencies.



Members were made aware that the Council’s DFG team was held in high regard within the DFG community. Foundations (the MCHLG appointed body overseeing Home Improvement Agencies and since 2015 providing advice to all authorities on the DFG whether they used a HIA or not) often passed this Council’s details to other authorities who were looking for guidance. During the Covid-19 outbreak this Council had been contacted by several London Authorities to request advice about changes this Council had made for the continued provision of grants.


The Committee was advised that Ferret Information Systems were the leading specialist firm with regards to legislation and means testing – providing training and software. They had regularly confirmed that this Council processed cases correctly and provided the grants in the proper way. Again, this Council was often offered up as contact points for those authorities requiring advice.


Home Improvement Agencies

It was reported to the Committee that, since ECC had discontinued their countywide funded Home Improvement Agency contract, several agents had decided to work in the District. This Council had a memorandum of understanding with DG Accessible Designs Ltd (who provided a full grant service for those who need help) and another with Townsend Bowen (who provided a more tailored option for those who may only need plans drawn or surveyor help). The Council had actively tried to find further agents or architect services to offer clients over the last few years, finding Townsend Bowen, and had discussed the option of an in-house agency with the Building Control department of the Council.


Members were informed that several Essex Authorities had internal agencies either because of the ECC decision to remove the contract or because they had had one in place for many years. An agent (internal or otherwise) could charge fees for the services they provided (funded from the grant) while this Council could not take fees for the provision of the mandatory function of administering the grant.


Issues with the DFG

The report informed Members that a recent government funded review in 2018 had found that the main issues were:-


·         The grant maximum of £30,000

·         That had been the grant maximum since 2008 and at that time it had been possible to provide a bedroom and specialist shower extension including all fees within that amount. This Council regularly provided grant maximum funding for those large projects, especially for children, but as the cost of building works had increased whilst the grant maximum had not, this Council was undertaking fewer large schemes as families could not afford the top-up required above the maximum grant figure. This Council had offered grants to families to move to suitable properties since 2010 as per government guidance but for some families this was still not a viable option. The Council’s new policy aimed to offer a top-up for extensions of that kind which now cost approximately £45,000 until such time as the grant maximum was increased. The DFG community expected the government to announce the increase in the grant maximum when it looked into implementing the changes recommended in the review but that had been delayed first by Brexit and now further by Covid-19.


·         The means test

·         The government prescribed means test used allowances and premiums to assess what the disabled person (not applicable to children) and their partner could afford to contribute to the cost of the DFG funded works. This was based on what the government felt someone could afford to take out in a high street loan and did not take into account the actual outgoings of a person. If applicants were on an income related benefit they were pass-ported through the grant. When Council Tax Benefit had been removed and replaced by local schemes it had been a loss to the grant system and many people who would have been pass-ported were now means tested. Those who were working were unfairly treated in the prescribed test and often had high contributions. A full review of the means test had been requested and one option was to make it the same as the test for care provision. By removing the means test for simple stair lift installations in this Council’s new financial assistance policy and treating them as equipment, it was felt that far more people would be able to stay in their homes who would otherwise struggle to fund works themselves. An option the Council had been discussing would be the introduction of a case worker position who could assist applicants with income maximisation and benefit applications such as attendance allowance, as those went in the favour of those being means tested and would, therefore, help more people get through the means test process until such time as it was reviewed again.


·         Joining up the process

·         The review had stated that working more strategically with the CCG and other authorities would improve the uptake of the grant. This Council was an active member of the Essex Well Homes Group which consisted of ECC, the other Essex Authorities including the Unitary Authorities & Foundations. The CCG had so far not been active members but were aware of the work in question through the Local Health and Well Being Boards.  Over the last few years the group had not only supported one another but had allowed this Council to formally agree the use of the Better Care Funding for discretionary works and allowed this Council to formulate the new policy.



The Members were made aware of what the Officers felt were the local issues with the DFG –


·         ECC –This Council was reliant on ECC as they had the legal responsibility to decide what was “necessary and appropriate” for the person before this Council then took over the process. This Council worked closely with the local occupational therapist teams but ECC had, over the years, restructured regularly and this had led to the loss of those with knowledge of the DFG process. ECC had made changes to their processes without considering the Local Authorities’ requirements which had negatively affected the number of referrals. However, there had been a recent improvement in the working relationship between ECC and this Council which had significantly improved matters. 


·         Contractors – If the applicant initially did not use a local agent they often struggled to acquire the necessary quotes and usually had to employ an agent in the end. This delayed the grant process. There had also been a reduction in the number of contractors that the local agents could use which exacerbated the problem. The Council had changed its processes to speed up the process as much as possible and had encouraged the local agents to attempt to recruit more contractors.


·         Tendring District Council’s staff level – The Council currently had six full time members of staff within the team although those staff had other duties in addition to working on DFGs. The Grant Co-Ordinator post and a temporary increase from part time to full time for the administrative support post had greatly improved the work flow within the team. The Team had reviewed its work practices and processes for the first time in many years and had succeeded in making it simpler and more efficient. The Team planned on undertaking a review with finance and audit to look at further simplification of processes as well as further IT changes such as using computer tablets for inspections. The addition of a case worker would increase the number of grant applicants progressed past preliminary means test stage and also reduced the number of people leaving the process at final means test stage before approval. Foundations conducted a research project in December 2019 into staffing levels and the DFG which had demonstrated that this Council was already achieving a higher return than the average. The Council’s spend was the highest in Essex despite having a lower average cost of works than the England average and less staff per pound spent than Colchester and Basildon Councils. The planned pilot part time ECC occupational therapist to sit within Housing should bring additional benefits to the department as a whole, not just to the DFGs, and hopefully would prove the need for further occupational therapists to sit in the Housing Service of the Council.


The Committee was informed that overall therefore most of the issues with the DFG itself were not within this Council’s control but despite that the new policy should make things easier for residents.


Despite Covid-19 during the first week of lockdown, and despite having a totally new way of working and some challenges, the Council had managed to pay £90,000 of grants in a single week to ensure contractors were paid and had continued to ensure that works were approved and paid for throughout the lockdown. 


(b)   Vacated/Empty Council Housing (‘Voids’)


The Committee looked at the numbers of empty properties there had been over the past year, the proportion that those represented of the entire Council housing estate, expectations on standards of vacated properties, the extent to which the vacated properties were subject to major/minor repair works, the target times for inspecting vacated properties once they  were empty and for repairs to be conducted, the periods of time properties were empty, the lost rental income during the period it was empty and the cost of housing homeless persons in the same period. Members also examined the situation one year on from the Council taking back the ROALCO Ltd contract (following the company being placed in administration), the transfer of staff to the Council and responding to the immediate issue this posed and the plan for sustaining the work now and in the future.


It was reported to Members that the turnaround time for a void property depended on the condition it was left in by the previous tenant and the extent of previous works such as asbestos removal. Many were left in a poor condition and required extensive void works before they could be let again.


Many voids required replacement kitchens and bathrooms, caused by a combination of them having been abused by the tenant or that they had come to the end of their life span, unfortunately most of them were from abuse.


The voids process was as follows:


  • Keys returned to Allocations service
  • Keys passed on to Building and Engineering services
  • Refurbishment and Demolition (RAD) survey carried out within 1 – 3 days with works specified and ordered the same day or day after
  • Works carried out to bring property back to void standard which included:
    • all asbestos removed where practical.
    • complete redecoration following the necessary works
    • boiler upgrade where necessary
    • electrical upgrades where necessary
    • Window / door replacement as necessary
  • Works completed – target 21 days from start but licensed asbestos removal could add at least 14 days due to HSE notification.


Statistics from 2019 /20

186 properties had become void during the year and 164 properties had been let again. Additionally 32 sheltered flats had become void and 11 had been let again during the year.


It was noted that some voids would carry over from the previous year and some would carry over into the following year so calculating figures was not straightforward. An authority with a housing stock the size of Tendring District Council could have around 100 properties vacant at any one time.



Void rent loss

Rental income loss as a result of void properties had been as follows:



Void rent loss








Not submitted







ROALCO Contract Issues

The Committee was reminded that following the unforeseen collapse of ROALCO, the Term Maintenance Contractor for the Housing Stock, in July 2019, the Council had carried out a significant proportion of the repair work to the housing stock using both existing and a large number of casual staff.  The Council had also used a number of contractors to support this function.


During this period two elements of work had been undertaken, one, as mentioned above, had been the actual carrying out of the repair work whilst trying to understand what staffing, equipment and materials were required to carry out this function.


The second had been to instigate a full tender process to replace ROALCO as a complimentary Term Maintenance contractor.  That would allow the Authority to operate a ‘mixed economy’ approach and providea ‘backstop position’ should the in-house team fail to operate efficiently as well as to provide cover if the volume of work exceeded the norm.


It was considered that the last 12 months had provided a valuable insight into what was required to run an in-house maintenance team for the Housing Stock.  Therefore, Officers wanted to test the viability of a permanent in-house team by setting up a proof of concept model, for a fixed period of one year, in order to replicate the duties that a permanent workforce would carry out.  Casual staff would still carry out the remaining duties until the Term Maintenance contract was in place.  At that time, the casual workers would be released. 


Members were made aware that the benefit of the proof of concept approach was that it would allow data to be collected that would provide accurate figures on the cost effectiveness of the in-house team and provide a comparison between the in-house and contractor’s operating costs.


In order to help gather accurate information Officerswere trialling a new software package, Oneserve, on a month-by-month basis.  Oneserve was a software package that allowed for the accurate collection of data on a job-by-job basis taking into account the hours, materials, travelling time, and other associated costs.  That would enable a very detailed understanding of the costs associated with running this element of the service and would give an accurate picture of the length of time taken to undertake each job.  If the trial was successful then it was proposed to roll it out across the rest of the service including Facilities Management and Engineering Services. 


It was envisaged that the future maintenance of the housing stock would be provided using a combination of in-house and external workforces.  This would provide a more stable, reliable way of re-introducing the in-house maintenance team back into the Authority.  The proposed split in the work would be as follows:-


In-house team to carry out the following work;

  • Window repairs
  • Drainage Work
  • Void work in Sheltered Blocks
  • Sheltered unit day to day repairs
  • Day to day repairs on the general stock


External Contractor to carry out the following work;

  • All void work in General Housing Stock
  • Foundations;
  • Groundwork;
  • Fencing and Gates;
  • Drainage;
  • Brickwork;
  • Masonry;
  • Roofing;
  • Carpentry and Joinery;
  • Plasterwork and other Finishes;
  • Wall and Floor Tile and Sheet Finishes;
  • Painting and Decorating;
  • Cleaning and Clearance;
  • Glazing;
  • Plumbing;
  • Heating, Gas Appliances and Installations;
  • Electrical;
  • Disabled Adaptations and Minor Works; and
  • Specialist Treatments
  • Energy Efficiency Appliances and Components


Officers had taken the opportunity to include a number of work streams, which had previously been placed as individual contracts, within the Term Contract, and included non-HRA sites across the Council, such as the Office accommodation sites.  The benefit of this was that the volume of similar work should realise economies of scale and would simplify other Services’ ability to place building maintenance work through that tendered route. 


There were no savings as such to be made from this proof of concept model, however the Council would expect to see increased value for money as well as improvements in the quality of the work carried out and hoped to see this reflected in the tenant satisfaction surveys. It was also felt that the ability to control costs would be greater than the previous arrangement with ROALCO and it would therefore provide greater financial flexibility within the HRA.


(c)   Council Housing Tenant Satisfaction and Involvement


The Committee looked at the measurement processes in relation to tenant satisfaction levels and tenant participation arrangements.


The Committee was informed that in 2018, this Council had carried out the eighth comprehensive survey to find out how satisfied tenants were with the services that the Council provided, as a landlord. This survey had been carried out in accordance with Housemark’s framework and was carried out in the summer of 2018 over a six-week period.


40% of those canvassed responded, which ensured the statistical reliability of the responses. Although this was less than the response rate achieved in previous years, this was a common phenomenon when research of a similar nature was undertaken on a regular basis.


A summary of some of the key responses received in 2018 was reported as set out below:




Response %

Overall satisfaction with service provided as a landlord


Satisfaction with quality of home


Satisfaction with repairs and maintenance


Satisfaction with neighbourhood


Satisfaction with rent as value for money


Satisfaction service charges as value for money


Satisfaction that kept informed as a tenant


Satisfaction with helpfulness of staff





Tenants had also been asked how likely they were to recommend the Council, as a landlord, to family and friends using scale of 0 (very unlikely) to 10 (very likely). This was known as the Net Promoter Score and was widely used in retail and other commercial environments but had recently been recommended for use in the housing sector. 84% of respondents scored the Council, as a landlord, 7 or more, which was a high proportion when compared to similar surveys.


Respondents had been also asked ‘Of the following services, which three do you consider to be the most important and the top three were:


  • Repairs and maintenance      71%
  • Quality of home                      53%
  • Keeping tenants informed      35%


It was reported that this survey had been due to be repeated in the summer of 2020, based upon Housemark’s newly revised framework, and questions from the recommended question library had been agreed with tenant representatives for inclusion. However, due to Covid – 19, this survey would now be carried out in the summer of 2021.


Monitoring tenant satisfaction: Transactional surveys

It was reported to Members that, in addition to the comprehensive satisfaction survey outlined above, which measured tenants’ perception of the services received whether or not they had had a recent interaction with the Council, Officers had also carried out a number of transactional surveysi.e. after an interaction had taken place between the Council, as a landlord, and the tenant.


The transactional surveys that the Authority currently carried out covered the following aspects of service:


·       Responsive repairs

·       Planned maintenance and improvement works

·       Disabled adaptations

·       New tenancies

·       Nuisance and anti-social behaviour complaints

·       Gas servicing

·       Right to Buy

·       Ending a tenancy


Data from those surveys for 2019/20 was reported as follows:-




Responsive repairs


Planned maintenance and improvements


Disabled adaptations*


New tenancy*


Nuisance and anti social behaviour


Ending your tenancy*


Gas servicing


Right to Buy*




Tenant involvement

The Council’s former dedicated Tenant Relations team, established to deal with all aspects of tenant consultation and involvement, was now part of the broader Customer and Support team under the Head of Customer and Commercial Services.


The Council’scurrent tenant involvement arrangements were set out in the Resident Involvement Strategy agreed with tenants and the Housing Portfolio Holder in 2016. That strategy set out:


·       Tendring District Council’s approach to tenant involvement, including the reasons why it involved tenants

·       the ways in which the Council would involve tenants and ensure that they were part of the service improvement process

·       Tendring District Council’s objectives in relation to tenant involvement

·       the actions required to meet those objectives

·       how the Council’s performance would be monitored and reviewed

·       how the Council would ensure that it met all statutory and regulatory requirements

The objectives of that strategy were to:


  • Promote and raise awareness of tenant involvement as a means of encouraging more residents to get involved
  • Ensure that  the Council communicated effectively with tenants, providing good quality, timely and jargon free information
  • Ensure that the Council was fully inclusive by providing a range of ways for tenants to get involved at a level and pace that suited them
  • Make effective use of tenant feedback and involvement to improve service delivery
  • Improve quality of life through effective tenant involvement
  • Measure the impact of tenant involvement to make sure that it delivered effective outcomes for tenants and communicate this effectively
  • Provide sufficient resources and, support and training to make resident involvement effective


The methods of tenant involvement used, as and when appropriate were reported in the graphic below:

Members were informed that Tenant representatives monitored the accompanying action plan. Preparatory work had been carried out in connection with the production of a revised Strategy but that had been delayed due to Covid 19. That would be progressed once meetings with tenant representatives could be reinstated.


(d)   New Build of 10 Council Houses in Jaywick Sands


The Committee looked at the project and the delivery of those 10 houses in Jaywick Sands and whether there were lessons for further development there and for the emerging Acquisitions and Development Strategy of the Council. The Performance Report for 2019/20 as presented to Cabinet at its meeting held on 29 May 2020 had included that project at Page 10 of that report. Page 21 of that report had also referenced Council House Building and the emerging Acquisitions and Development Strategy. The aforementioned Pages 10 and 21 had been circulated with the Agenda for the meeting.


It was reported to the Committee that whilst the 10 houses being built in Jaywick were slightly behind schedule due to COVID 19, the larger project of developing a new Council house building programme and increasing the stock of new affordable/Council homes was on target. Due to the success of the 10 builds in Jaywick and the unexpected increased value, two investors were in talks about a further 100 properties to be developed on a lease back programme to the Council.


Members were informed that once an investor came back with actual figures, it would be brought before Cabinet for a formal decision.


After deliberation on all the housing themed items referenced in (A)-(D) above it was RESOLVED:-


(a)    That Cabinet be recommended to develop a public engagement plan in respect of financial assistance for private sector housing that includes providing information to community groups, health professionals and more widely to ensure that all those who would benefit from adaptations that could be funded through the financial assistance available through the Disabled Facilities Grant arrangements are aware of those arrangements and the process to apply for those Grants. 


(b)    That the Chief Executive be advised that this Committee considers that it would be advantageous to report on the public engagement plan at the time that it is prepared and ready to be delivered so that Councillors can support the delivery of that plan across the District


(c)    That consideration be given to including details of grants available for those in private rented accommodation and in receipt of benefits (at the time of notification of benefit award/change/discontinuance) to support the installation of adaptations to the properties they rent to improve their lives (both related to disability facilities, safety and to address energy poverty).


(d)    That the position on the securing of additional occupational therapy assessment from Essex County Council be the subject of a short briefing note to the September meeting of the Committee.


(e)    That the intended reports to the Tenant Performance and Scrutiny Panel on voids for the Panel to scrutinise this area be also provided to Members of this Committee.


(f)     That the maintenance contract currently out for tender not be extended beyond the first year or re-tendered until this Committee has had the opportunity to review the delivery of that contract and the appropriate balance between in-house and contracted maintenance.


(g)    That, as the Tenant Satisfaction report indicates some figures were subject to low sample sizes, the actual numbers provided for the percentages in the report be circulated to the Members of this Committee.



The meeting was declared closed at 9.50 pm







Supporting documents: