Low Fell - Gateshead Council

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					                                                                                   ITEM 16

                                                                   Report to the Board

                                                                      8 November 2007




 Title:            Proposed housing office closure – Low Fell

 Report of:        Director of Housing Management


          Purpose of Report

1.        To update the Board on the outcomes of consultation on the proposal to close
          the Low Fell housing office and to seek approval for closure from 21
          December 2007.

          Background

2.        At its meeting 10 November 2005, the Board agreed that a phased
          programme of office rationalisation be implemented which would ultimately
          result in housing services being provided from seven strategically located
          service outlets across the borough.

3.        The Board has since received regular reports on the rationalisation of housing
          office services setting out the background to proposals including:

             The stock managed by offices
             The proximity of the stock to offices
             The costs of transactions at offices
             DDA compliance costs and the costs of modernising offices
             Details of office usage

4.        We have aligned our plans with the Councils Customer Service Strategy and
          developed our proposals in consultation with the Council. Details of the office
          rationalisation programme to date are attached at Appendix 1.

5.        At its meeting 27 September 2007 Value For Money committee approved
          proposals to carry consultation on the closure of Low Fell housing office. The
          committee recommended that the outcomes of the consultation be reported to
          this meeting.

6.        Appendix 2 provides details for the Low Fell office and outlines the service
          improvements implemented that have extended access to services for
          customers.


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7.    This report is in line with the following values of the company: -

         Being customer focused, innovative and professional – involving
          customers in what we do
         Being a listening and learning organisation – staying in touch with what
          customers want.

      Consultation

8.    During October 2007 consultation was carried out with customers served by
      Low Fell office.

9.    1,818 letters and information sheets were mailed to tenants and leaseholders
      detailing the proposals, seeking their views and offering drop in surgeries so
      that customers could have their questions answered and be listened to in a
      confidential environment.

10.   Ward Members served by the Low Fell office and stakeholders in the locality
      were consulted on the proposal.

11.   Resident and Tenant groups served by the Low Fell office were contacted and
      consulted on the proposal.

12.   The consultation exercise captured customer feedback as follows:

          Any questions customers asked
          Any issues or suggestions customers made
          Any compliments about the service
          Anything else highlighted by customers

      Results of Consultation with Customers (see Appendix 3a and 3b)

13.   The main concern of customers was the loss of the office as a cash payment
      facility. In addition some customers expressed concern about not having a
      housing office nearby linked to the loss of a connection with the housing staff
      who were complimented on providing a friendly service.

      Results of Consultation with Ward Councillors

14.   Detailed consultation with elected members and their views on the proposal
      sought.

15.   Feedback indicated that the management of the Low Fell stock should be
      relocated to Wrekenton office. It was also suggested that the small number of
      homes (12) at Teams Colliery be managed from Birtley office.

      Results of consultation with Tenants and Residents Groups

16.   All tenants and residents associations served by the Low Fell office were
      updated on the proposals with no major issues identified. Harlow Green
      residents group asked for further information on where to make rent
      payments. (See Appendix 4 – List of Associations contacted).

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      Results of consultation with the Council and other stakeholders

17.   Consultation took place with Council officers on these proposals recognising
      that the Low Fell offices acts as collection point for Council Tax and other
      Council payments.

18.   Stakeholders in the locality were contacted with no concerns raised regarding
      the proposals. We will continue to work with stakeholder groups and maintain
      links with other service providers in the Low Fell area. (See Appendix 4 -
      List of stakeholders contacted).

      Trade Unions

19.   The proposed closure has been subject of discussions with Unison with no
      issues of concern noted.

      Next steps

20.   Subject to approval we will provide the customers served by the Low Fell
      office and tenants living in Kibblesworth with an information brochure. The
      brochure will include information on how tenants can access services
      including the payment options available for customers.

21.   The brochure will also include details of drop in surgeries to be held in
      November and December (including one in Kibblesworth). These surgeries
      will provide customers with a further opportunity for issues to be addressed.

      Financial Implications

22.   The Director of Finance confirms that fixed cost savings generated by the
      closure of the Low Fell housing office are expected to be £31,117 in a full
      financial year.

      Equalities and Diversity Implications

23.   Housing services in the South will be provided from modern and accessible
      offices at Wrekenton and Birtley supported by improved access
      arrangements.

24.   The development and design of services with tenant involvement will consider
      the equalities and diversity implications of service development. In order to
      ensure that barriers to services are removed, an Impact Assessment has
      been undertaken and an action plan developed.

      Recommendations

25.   It is recommended that the Board




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      (i)    approve the closure of Low Fell office from 21 December 2007;
      (ii)   approve the relocation of housing management services to Wrekenton
             for all properties currently managed by the Low Fell office other than
             for the Teams Colliery properties where it is proposed that housing
             management services relocate to Birtley.




Contact: Neil Bouch, Director of Housing Management     Tel No:(0191) 433 5303




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                                                                                                          Appendix 1




                              REVIEW OF HOUSING OFFICE NETWORK - UPDATE

                  Location                                                 2006/2007

West
Blaydon (P)                            Services relocated to Blaydon from Highfield in March 2006 and Ryton in March
                                       2007.

Inner West
Whickham (P)                           We are in discussion with the Council regarding the location of housing company
Dunston                                services in Inner West alongside a Gateshead @ customer service centre.
Dunston Activity Centre (P)
Teams
Central
Civic Centre (P)                       Services relocated to the Civic Centre from Sheriff Hill in March 2006

East
Felling (P)                            Services relocated from Old Fold to Felling in March 2006.
Leam Lane (P)

South
Wrekenton (P)                          Services relocated from Springwell to the newly refurbished office at Wrekenton in
Birtley (P)                            July 2006.
Low Fell (P)                           Proposed closure of Low Fell 21 December 2007.
P = Payment Facility



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                                                                            Appendix 2

                              Low Fell Housing Office

Stock numbers managed by the Low Fell office:

Date          Homes managed by the Low Fell
              Office
Aug 2007      1818

Apr 2004      1967

Apr 2002      2220

Apr 2001      2270

Apr 1998      2410

Apr 1995      2550

Since 1980 there have been 1,568 RTB sales in the stock managed by Low Fell office

Payment method of tenants managed by the Low Fell office 2007/08:

Payment Method             Numbers-Normal rent          % - Normal rent
                           payment method               payment method
Direct Debit               318                          17.5%
Standing Order             9                            0.5%
PayPoint                   261                          14.3%
Cash office                1146**                       63.03%
Wages Deduction            12                           0.6%
Direct Payment             34                           1.87%
Emolument                  15                           0.82%
No payment profile         23                           1.2%
Total                      1818

** Of the 1,146 who pay at a cash office 551 (48%) have made a rent payment at
Wrekenton Office this financial year.




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Office activity Low Fell May 2006 – Over 88% of office visits were to make
payments (rent/council tax)

May 2006                 Number of         % of total number
                       contacts during     of contacts made
                         May 2006          during May 2006
Letting enquiries           169                  2.7%
Benefits                    143                  2.3%
Other – general             139                  2.2%
council enquiries
Rent        arrears          133                 2.1%
enquiries
Use of the free              75                  1.2%
phone
Repair enquiries             59                  0.9%
Other         TGHC           33                  0.5%
services including
registering
complaints
Reporting ASB                23                  0.4%
Signing for new              19                  0.3%
tenancies

Access to Services

   The implementation of the HomeChoice scheme in July 2006 has extended access
    to the lettings scheme 24 hours a day via the internet and telephone systems. In
    addition with the introduction of HomeChoice we have introduced a telephone
    advice service for lettings.
   The introduction of PayPoint services in December 2006 has improved access to
    services for customers wishing to pay cash, this has increased the range of payment
    outlets available for customers and allows for payments to be made outside of
    traditional office hours.
   Tenants have access to the freephone HomeRepairs service for reporting repairs
    8am to 8pm Monday to Friday and 8am to 12 noon on Saturdays.
   We have a freephone repair reporting system in place for emergency repairs 24
    hours a day.
   We have undertaken work to improve offices within the network including extensive
    modernisation and improvement works at Wrekenton.
   Following the investment in improvements at the Wrekenton office we now have two
    modern, accessible housing offices in the South neighbourhood.
   We have extended the out of hours ASB service for residents across the borough
    up until 8pm Monday to Friday
   In July 2006 the Rent and Income team for the South relocated from Low Fell to
    Wrekenton. This team provides a comprehensive rent and income service for the
    neighbourhood.



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Paypoint Options in and around Low Fell




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                                   South Neighbourhood

          Proximity of properties managed by Low Fell to housing offices


                                                             Distance to Distance to Distance
                                        Low Fell             Low Fell    Wrekenton to Birtley
Estates                                 Stock      Post Code (Miles)     (Miles)     (Miles)
Acquired Low Fell                       26
Albert Place Estate                     4          NE9 5JE   0.2        1.5         2.9
Allerdene                               229        NE9 6LW   1.3        1           2.4
Allerdene Multi Storey Blocks           146        NE9 6LW   1.3        1           2.4
Beacon Lough Lower                      140        NE9 6YS   0.8        0.8         3.2
Beacon Lough Upper                      237        NE9 6YN   1          0.8         3.3
Cedars Green Estate                     11         NE9 6QE   0.6        1.4         2.7
Harlow Green                            236        NE9 7AW   2          0.6         2.8
Harlow Green Multi-Storey Blocks        271        NE9 7AW   2          0.6         2.8
Lyndholme                               27         NE9 6TD   0.4        1.4         2.8
Lyndhurst Lower                         215        NE9 6LY   0.9        0.8         2.7
Lyndhurst South                         94         NE9 7HS   1.7        0.4         2.6
Lyndhurst Upper                         170        NE9 6NH   1          0.9         2.9
Team Colliery                           12         NE9 7TY   1.4        1.3         2.1
Total                                   1818

Stock within 1 mile of Low Fell          830
Stock within 1 mile of Wrekenton        1738




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Appendix 3a
CUSTOMER DROP IN SURGERIES – Consultation Results and Responses
Customer    Questions      Issues /       Comments /      Compliments   Anything      Response
Feedback    customer asked worries /      ideas /         customer      else
                           concerns       suggestions     gave about    customer
                           customer       customer made the service     highlighted
                           raised                         improvement
                                                          plans
LOW FELL

1.            Where can I    None         None          None         No           Informed customer they
             pay our rent?                                                            could pay by Direct Debit,
                                                                                      Pay Point, Post Office,
                                                                                      online, over the phone or
                                                                                      send a cheque. They could
                                                                                      also pay at Wrekenton
                                                                                      Office, or any housing and
                                                                                      Civic Centre.



2.
              Why can the    None         None          None         No           Explained that the
             office not be                                                            building requires substantial
             made DDA                                                                 works to be modernised in
             suitable?                                                                order to provide improved
                                                                                      customer facilities. The work
                                                                                      required is expensive; the
                                                                                      cost would be £90,000.




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3.             None              Main           None    None    No    Informed customer that
                                 concern is that                          although the office is
                                 they would                               closing, that service delivery
                                 lose the local                           will be maintained. The
                                 connection of                            Estate Officer will continue
                                 an office.                               to work on estate-based
                                                                          issues. . Home visits will
                                                                          also continue to be available
                                                                          to customers.
                                                                          Explained to customer that
                                                                          the same familiar staff will
                                                                          still be available at an
                                                                          alternative housing office




4.            None              None          None     None    No


5.            None              None          None     None    No


6.            None              None          None     None    No

Low Fell drop in surgeries – 6 customers attended




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Appendix 3b - Customer survey

Office: LOW FELL
Number of customers surveyed = 187
Total number of customers = 1812
% return rate = 10%

41% customers commented they had no concerns about the proposals.
21% customers did not express a concern, however they did ask additional questions.
38% customers commented that they had some concern about the proposal

In response to the concerns raised we will:

       Provide tenants with a brochure which will set out how services can be accessed including tenants living in Kibblesworth
       Promote options for payment, including direct debit, PayPoint , telephone payment and online payment options plus the ability to
        check balances on line for rent, council tax and leaseholder service charges
       Provide further information on how many days it takes for PayPoint payments to show on accounts
       Provide information on how to access the range of company services including HomeChoice and HomeRepairs
       Provide details of bus routes to Wrekenton office
       Provide further information on paying Council Tax and promote the Housing Benefit Advice surgeries at Wrekenton
       Provide further details of Estate Officer’s and Neighbourhood Relations Officers and how to access services
       Provide further information on proposed closure date and details of which office the service will be relocated to
       Promote access to home visits

In addition we have explained to customers the costs involved in modernising the building.

It was noted Low Fell customers who visited Wrekenton office during the consultation period (October 2007) commented that they were
happy to use Wrekenton office as it was nearer to their home and they had no concerns regarding the proposed closure of Low Fell. 387
rent payments were made at the Wrekenton office by Low Fell tenants during the period 08/10/07 to 23/10/07.




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* Breakdown of the 38% (71) customers` concerns
Payment options                39%
Loss of Local office           18%
Loss of Friendly staff         11%
Travelling to another office    32%




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Appendix 4 - Stakeholders and Tenants & Resident Groups Consulted

Stakeholders consulted – LOW FELL

Anchor Trust
Advice Service, Trinity Square
Age Concern Gateshead
Alzheimer’s Society Gateshead Branch
Amber Project
Angolan Association
Aquila Way
Autistic Society Tyne and Wear
Bangladesh Association Gateshead
Body Positive North East
Byker Bridge Housing Association Ltd
Centre point
Cheviot Housing Officer
Citizens Advice Bureau
Day Centre for Older People Pelaw
Deaf Advocacy Service North East
Deaf Association (British) North Area Council
Disability Gateshead
Disability North
Empower Gateshead
Enterprise 5 Housing Association Ltd
Gateshead Access Panel
Gateshead African Community Association
Gateshead Forum for Older People
Gateshead People
Gateshead Staying Put
Gateshead Warm Zone
Head of Housing Services, Community Based Services, Gateshead Council
Home Housing Association
Housing 21
Interface Disability Outreach Group
Jewish Community Council
Johnnie Johnson Housing Trust
Mencap – Northern Region
Muslim Society
Necca
Neighbourhood Management
Neighbourhood Wardens
Nomad Housing Group
Norcare
Places for People
Principal Revenues Officer, Housing/Council Tax Benefit



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Shelter
Stepping Stones
Teenage Pregnancy - Gateshead PCT
The Guinness Trust
The Law Centre
The Outpost Housing Project
The Salvation Army
Three Rivers Housing Association
Twenty Four 7 (Gateshead Alcohol & Drug Team)
Two Castles Housing Association
Tyne & Wear Racial Equality Council
William Sutton Trust
Women’s Resource Centre (Gateshead)
Young Women’s Group Gateshead
Youth Offending Team

Tenants and Residents Associations consulted - LOW FELL

Allerdene Community Group
Harlow Green Residents Association




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