PRIVATE SECTOR HOUSING RENEWAL STRATEGY January 2008 Contents Page Part I – Updating the strategy 1.0 Introduction 3 2.0 Key issues for this update 3 3.0 Changes to the strategy 5 Part Il – Administration, resources and review 4.0 General administration 10 5.0 Resourcing the strategy 10 6.0 Monitoring and review 11 7.0 Conclusion 12 Appendix – A – Action Plan Appendix - .B – Performance Indicators 2 Part I – Updating the strategy 1.0 Introduction 1.1 In 2002, the housing grants regime was deregulated. Local housing authorities are now required to develop their own measures to meet local needs. Our private sector housing renewal strategy was adopted in September 2003 and was updated in November 2004. The principal changes for this update (January 2007) are summarised in section 3. 1.2 The Audit Commission endorsed the original strategy during its comprehensive performance assessment (CPA) of the council in 2003: “The private sector housing renewal strategy describes an effective framework for the council to improve the quality of private sector housing … In addition to directing council support towards improving private sector housing the strategy includes measures to promote energy efficiency and improve home security. The strategy is supported by an action plan that includes specific targets for some national performance indicators as well as highlighting a number of areas of interest locally. As a result the strategy will assist the council to use its new powers under the regulatory reform order in a way that reflects local needs.” 1 1.3 Consultation with local residents on the Citizens’ Panel has informed this update, see details in Appendix 1. Members of the Housing Strategy Group and the Community Panel have been consulted on the updated draft strategy and their views taken into account. 2.0 Key issues for this update Demand for disabled facilities grants (DFGs) 2.1 There is a growing demand for mandatory DFGs 2 . The budget has more than doubled in five years – from £265k in 2003/04 to £550k in 2007/08. In 2007/08 we will receive 40% subsidy from Communities and Local Government (£221k). Reasons for the increase in demand include: requirement to fund adaptations for housing association tenants; an ageing population; the abolition of the financial means test for families of disabled children; general increases in the costs of building work; and more streamlined ways of working (which have improved customer service but have also increased demand). 1 Audit Commission (2004) Comprehensive performance assessment – Rushmoor Borough Council Inspection Report, 22 January 2004, p. 35 2 Disabled facilities grants (DFGs) are means tested, mandatory grants that we award to fund essential adaptations for disabled people, as recommended by Occupational Therapists. 3 2.2 Communities and Local Government have consulted on the future of disabled facilities grants. The consultation ended on 13 April 2007, however the results have not yet been published. Proposals of the consultation include increasing the maximum grant from £25k to £30k, increasing the scope of adaptations eligible for grant and the creation of single adaptation agencies, incorporating occupational therapy and grant administration roles. Pressure on discretionary housing renewal grants 2.3 The growing demand for disabled facilities grants puts pressure on our budget for discretionary housing renewal grants. Whilst these grants are discretionary, we are required to give some assistance to residents to improve their homes. 2.4 To make these grants sustainable, we need to encourage more “recycling” of money, for example, by giving loans instead of grants and by enforcing grant repayment conditions, so that more grants are repaid when a property is sold. Money repaid to the council can then fund future loans or grants. During 2006/07, housing renewal grants to the value of £28k have been repaid. The South East England Regional Housing Board and the Government are keen to move the private housing sector from a grant culture to a responsive, responsible loan- based culture (see also section 5.6). 2.5 It is also necessary to review the eligibility criteria for grants, to make sure that assistance is targeted at the most vulnerable people. There were insufficient resources to fund discretionary housing renewal grants during 2006/07, resulting in a waiting list of nine cases. Climate change 2.6 Targets for improving energy efficiency and tackling fuel poverty are now contained in the council’s climate change strategy. The action plan has been updated to detail our successes at working with others to improve energy efficiency in existing homes and our plans for the future. Stock condition survey 2.7 The last stock condition survey was carried out in 2001. It is unlikely that another one will be commissioned before 2008/09, because of the council’s other corporate funding priorities. This means that it is difficult to accurately assess our progress towards the government’s target of reducing the number of non-decent private sector homes occupied by vulnerable people. It also makes it more difficult to check whether resources are being effectively targeted or, for example, whether resources should be targeted at particular areas, wards or property types 4 Building Research Establishment survey 2.8 In order to aid the assessment of non-decent homes occupied by vulnerable persons the Council intends to commission a survey by the Building Research Establishment. The survey will assess fuel poverty, inadequate thermal comfort, Category 1 and 2 hazards as assessed under the Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) and non-decent homes. Housing Act 2004 2.9 Since the strategy was last updated, there have been some major changes in legislation. We now routinely use the Housing Health and Safety Rating System to assess and deal with housing conditions. We now consider whether housing is “safe”, rather than “fit”, and we classify housing hazards as being category 1 (serious) or category 2 (less serious). 2.10 We now operate mandatory and additional licensing schemes for houses in multiple occupation. This means that all properties occupied by five or more unrelated people have to be licensed, regardless of the number of storeys. The additional licensing scheme will cease in April 2009, as this scheme is a continuation of the Council’s previously adopted Registration Scheme. If the Council wishes to continue with additional licensing an application will need to be made to the Secretary of State. 2.11 Under the Housing Act 2004, we now have a wider range of enforcement powers, including the power to take emergency remedial action and to close a property immediately in cases of imminent danger. Since the new powers came into effect in April 2006, we have taken 13 formal enforcement actions, including making 3 emergency prohibition orders, making 4 prohibition orders, serving 2 improvement notices and 4 hazard awareness notices. 3.0 Changes to the strategy Southern Home Loans Partnership 3.1 We have entered into discussions with South Coast Money Line with a consortium of seven local authorities 3 to join this loan scheme from April 2008. In order to help with the initial funding of the scheme, a consortium has submitted a bid to the Regional Housing Board Fund 2008 – 2011. The scheme offers low interest, affordable loans to fund home improvements. Our capital resources would be used to subsidise any funding given by the Regional Housing Board, which would be repaid and could be “recycled”. 3 Woking Borough Council, Hart District Council, Runnymede Borough Council, Elmbridge Borough Council, Guildford Borough Council, Spelthorne Borough Council and Surrey Heath Borough Council. 5 The scheme is forecast to be self-financing by within 7 years of commencement, dependent on the number of loans given. Once the outcome of the Regional Housing Board bid is known discussion with the Southern Home Loans Partnership will continue. They will then be invited to prepare a detailed proposal for Rushmoor and the consortium, which will be considered by the Community Policy and Review Panel during 2008/09. Change in eligibility criteria for grants 3.2 We now require grant applicants to release savings above £6,000 to pay for work, before a grant is awarded. This brings the discretionary grants in line with the statutory means test used for mandatory disabled facilities grants, where income from savings of £6,000 and below is disregarded. We consider £6,000 of savings to be an adequate buffer for unexpected circumstances or changes in income. Grant condition period 3.3 The grant condition period for housing renewal grants is to remain at five years. This means that if a property is sold within five years of the work being completed, the grant has to be repaid. Interest charged on repaid grants 3.4 We will charge interest on the amount that has to be repaid, at the Bank of England base rate, calculated from the date that the work was completed to the date that the grant was repaid. We currently do not charge any interest. Type of work funded 3.5 We will continue to award repair and maintenance grants to remedy both category 1 (serious) and category 2 (less serious) housing hazards. We consider that category 2 hazards can have an adverse affect on occupiers, especially vulnerable occupiers, and this is reflected in our ability to take enforcement action for category 2 hazards. We consider that limiting grant to remedy category 1 hazards only would not be an efficient or effective way of working, and may hinder us in achieving our target of reducing the number of non-decent private sector homes occupied by vulnerable people. Adaptation grants to ‘top-up’ disabled facilities grant 3.6 We will continue to offer adaptation grants of £5k to ‘top-up’ disabled facilities grants (DFGs) of £25k, giving a total of £30k to fund substantial adaptations (typically extensions). The ‘top up’ adaptation grant will be withdrawn if the grant limit increases to 30k following the dfg consultation. The ‘top up’ grant is not available to housing association tenants. 6 Fire safety grants 3.7 Fire safety grants are currently available to landlords to fund half the cost of improving fire safety in houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) up to a maximum of 10k. We consider HMOs to be an important source of affordable accommodation for key workers and people on low incomes, especially in times of rising rents and house prices. Awarding fire safety grants has been a useful incentive for landlords to improve conditions in their properties and, with our HMO licensing schemes, has helped us to make HMOs safer. We will continue to offer fire safety grants on the same basis. Relaxation of conditions applying to empty property grants (previously known as increasing supply grants) 3.8 Increasing supply grants have been renamed empty property grants and are no longer available to fund the conversion of a property into a house in multiple occupation (HMO). As before, empty property grants are available to pay half the cost of work needed to make long-term empty properties suitable for occupation (up to a maximum of £10k). 3.9 Although increasing supply grants have been offered since 2003, only one grant has been approved (as at 1 March 2007), and it is likely that this will not be awarded, as the owner now has other plans for the property. We consider the conditions previously attached to this grant to be too restrictive – the owner had to let the property to people that we nominated, either from our housing register or via our rent deposit scheme, for five years. We have relaxed this condition for empty property grants and instead require the property to be occupied by anyone for ten years. If occupied by the owner, we require that the property must be their principal home and that they should have no other property interests. An applicant needs to have owned a property for three years before applying for a grant and will have to repay the grant with interest if the property is sold within ten years of the work being completed. Restriction of energy efficiency grant to Warm Front ‘top-ups’ 3.10 We have developed some effective partnerships with energy suppliers, insulation companies and Warm Front, which are providing cavity wall and loft insulation and central heating systems, at no cost to the council. We now routinely direct applicants seeking replacement boilers or central heating installation to the DEFRA funded Warm Front scheme. The maximum Warm Front grant available is £2,700, so we are often approached to ‘top-up’ this amount. We have limited energy efficiency grants to ‘top-up’ Warm Front grants, 7 which enable the work to go ahead and provides better value to the council. The eligibility criteria for a Warm Front grant are the same as those for an energy efficiency grant, so we can ‘fast track’ these applications. Home security grants 3.11 We will encourage registered social landlords to pay to change the locks and improve the security of homes occupied by tenants dealing with domestic violence. We currently award a home security grant for this purpose and will increase the maximum grant to £3K. We consider preventing domestic violence and associated homelessness to be a priority in accordance with the Children’s and Young People’s Plan and our work with the Crime Reduction Partnership. Increase in annual income threshold 3.12 The annual income threshold for applicants who claim Working Tax Credit has been increased from £14,600 to £15,460. This figure is derived from the Tax Credits Act 2002 and keeps eligibility for our grants in line with other means tested benefits. Other assistance 3.13 We have consulted the Citizens’ Panel on a range of other assistance that residents consider should be promoted by or provided by the council. The results showed that priority should be given to the provision of an approved builders list with advice on home repairs and provision of a handy person service being the second priority Joint working 3.14 Wherever possible, we seek to work with others to achieve our objectives and we have made good progress towards establishing effective partnerships which benefit private sector housing renewal. For example: • We have successfully tendered for a new, enlarged home improvement agency that covers four local authority areas – Basingstoke and Deane, East Hampshire, Hart and Rushmoor. We have achieved better value by working together – for example, an enhanced handyperson service is to be provided – and the new agency are co-terminus with area arrangements for the Primary Care Trust and Hampshire County Council Adult Services, which will bring further benefits. The new agency is known as the North and East Hampshire Home Improvement Agency and will be funded by Supporting People, Adult Services and the district councils. • We are aiming to join the Southern Home Loans Partnership to provide affordable loans for home improvements 8 • We are working with a consortium of 7 other local authorities 4 in a bid for Regional Housing Board Funding 2008 – 2011 to help with the cost of setting up the proposed loan scheme through South Coast Money Line. • We are developing a sub-regional affordable warmth strategy with other local authorities in Hampshire and with others, such as EAGA (the company that delivers the Warm Front grant on behalf of DEFRA) and Your Energy Advice Centre – Hampshire and Isle of Wight • We are contributing to the Rushmoor Strategic Partnership’s work on preventing accidents in the home and have been involved in promoting ‘slipper swap’ events with Hampshire County Council and Age Concern 4 Woking Borough Council, Hart District Council, Runnymede Borough Council, Elmbridge Borough Council, Guildford Borough Council, Spelthorne Borough Council and Surrey Heath Borough Council. 9 Part II – Administration, resources and review 4.0 General administration 4.1 We will set out in writing, to each person being provided with assistance, confirmation of the terms and conditions under which the assistance is being provided. We will not vary or revoke the conditions without their consent. 4.2 We will put in place procedures to satisfy ourselves that recipients are fully aware of any financial commitment they are entering into and that a person’s ability to contribute towards or repay any assistance is taken into account before requiring them to do so. 4.3 The consent of the property owner will always be obtained before works are undertaken. 4.4 We will adhere to published Housing Services Customer Service Standards when dealing with clients and administering applications for assistance. 4.5 Applicants for assistance will have the right to complain about a decision in relation to whether assistance is granted, or how much assistance is granted, in accordance with the Council’s Complaints Procedure. 4.6 Work must not start until formal approval of the amount and type of assistance to be given has been obtained from the Council. This does not apply to work to improve fire precautions in houses in multiple occupation (HMOs). 4.7 We will keep a register of assistance that has been given under this strategy. 4.8 Applications for grant assistance are subject to stringent anti-fraud checks. Our procedures and records are regularly audited by internal and external auditors, such as the Audit Commission. All completed work is checked by a Private Sector Housing Officer and, where appropriate, an Occupational Therapist, before payment is made direct to the contractor 5.0 Resourcing the Strategy 5.1 The Private Sector Housing Team, which forms part of Housing Services, will take the lead in delivering the assistance detailed in this strategy. 5.2 The revenue costs are substantially salary orientated together with grant support to our local home improvement agency. 10 5.3 The capital funding of assistance for approved works substantially comes from the council’s own resources although the Government directly reimburses some of the expenditure on mandatory disabled facilities grants (DFGs) 5 . The allocation of capital funding towards private sector housing renewal will vary annually, as it is dependent on other areas of capital spend. The capital funding allocated to private sector housing renewal will be spent on the assistance detailed in this strategy. 5.4 The approved budget for housing grants is given below: 2006/07 2007/08 £ £ Disabled facilities grants 500k 550k Housing renewal grants 150k 150k 5.5 If applications for assistance exceed the resources available, we will operate a waiting list. Applications may not be approved and payments may not be made until sufficient resources become available in the following financial year. If this situation arises, all affected parties will be kept fully informed of when their application for assistance is likely be approved or paid. Applications for disabled facilities grants, adaptation grants and home safety grants for people dealing with domestic violence will receive priority over applications for other forms of assistance. 6.0 Monitoring and Review 6.1 An updated action plan is attached, as Appendix 3. Progress against the action plan will be reported to the Community Policy and Review Panel. A new strategy will be developed for implementation from 1 April 2009, to take account of the result of the disabled facilities grants consultation and the outcome of the Regional Housing Board bid. Other developments in private sector housing renewal will be reported to Members of the Council. 6.2 If minor changes are required to the strategy that do not substantially affect the assistance provided, the Head of Housing will make these in consultation with the Cabinet Member for Community. Ratification of any minor changes will not be sought from Cabinet. 6.3 Changes that substantially affect service provision or the assistance provided will require Cabinet approval before the revised strategy takes effect. 5 In 2006/07 this was £221k, which represented 40% of the budget for disabled facilities grants. 11 7.0 Conclusion 7.1 The strategy has been updated to take account of the key issues identified in section 2, principally to deal with the growth in demand for disabled facilities grants and to encourage more “recycling” of housing renewal funding. 7.2 It continues to describe an effective framework for the council to improve the quality of private sector housing in a way that reflects local needs. 7.3 A new Private Sector Housing Renewal Strategy will be developed for implementation from 1 April 2009. 12
"Private Sector Housing Renewal Strategy"