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Private Sector Housing Renewal Strategy

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Private Sector Housing Renewal Strategy

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									 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.




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