Ø Jo Garfoot – Acting Housing Service Lead
Ø Andrew Mitchell – Housing Solutions Manager – Housing Options ‘The Magic Garage’
Ø Graham Baker – Housing Property & Asset Manager – Green Homes Grant, work and fuel poverty
Ø Sue Bewes – Housing Services Manager – Estate Management – financial resilience and budgeting tips
The Chair welcomed Jo Garfoot - Acting Housing Service Lead; Andrew Mitchell - Housing Solutions Manager; Sophie Davies – Housing Business and Customer Improvement Manager, and Sue Bewes – Housing Services Manager, to the meeting.
Jo Garfoot gave an overall introduction to the Housing Service and the work of various officers and stated that;
· Upgrading properties to be carbon neutral was likely to have the biggest impact on costs for tenants in terms of reducing the potential for fuel poverty.
· Upgrading properties was also likely to be the biggest expenditure that the Council had ever made.
Andrew Mitchell gave a presentation about Homelessness and this included the following points:
· Homelessness and poverty go hand in hand and the Council had a number of initiatives to address these inter-related issues.
· There was a clear increase in demand for temporary accommodation in 2019 and 2020, and when the COVID pandemic started to make its impact felt several months later. This had given rise to initiatives such as ‘Everybody In’, increases in Domestic Violence, and the inability for people to ‘sofa-surf’.
· EDDC had responded with schemes including the Rent Deposit and Bond scheme to assist people into the private sector, and the Homemaker Financial Advice and Assistance scheme which were working well and assisting an increasing number of people.
· Housing First was a scheme to provide accommodation for rough sleepers who had no other options. Accommodation was provided by the Local Authority with support provided by others and funded by monies from the Rough Sleeper Initiative. EDDC has 3 properties in 2020-21, but is hoping to apply to MHCLG to double that to 6 over the coming months.
· The Furniture Project is set up to assist people moving from temporary accommodation into more settled housing, but have no means of furnishing it. The project ensures that people have what they need when they move into a property and uses recycled furniture which may have been donated.
· This links to a number of Council strategies in tackling homelessness, climate change and poverty.
· There are a number of challenges facing officers in this work in relation to how far the Council can go to assist on top of its statutory duties, including storage, transport, and lifting of items amongst others.
Debate following the presentation included the following comments:
· There were currently about 25 residents in B&Bs presently which had a big financial impact on the Council and those concerned, and was not ideal for families or single people.
· It was harder to move people on at present due to the COVID situation.
· Domestic Violence victims originated from both urban and rural areas and the Housing Service just needed to respond as fast as they could.
· In the current circumstances EDDC were allocating 60% of accommodation to temporary needs and was actively looking for 3 or 4 bedroom properties in order to bring more properties into EDDC stock.
· After the eviction moratorium, there will be an expected influx of people who will need rehousing.
· Temporary accommodation is exempted from the Right to Buy rules.
· Mutual exchanges occur each year, which are private swaps between existing tenants to suit a variety of circumstances.
· In terms of a moving on programme, there is always a plan to suit the situation of individuals.
· The Housing Service are quietly confident that additional funding will be made available to increase the number of properties from 3 to 6 as previously referred.
· EDDC is expecting monies to become available under the Domestic Violence Bill 2020, which will increase the responsibilities for local Councils in future.
· In response to a question, officers confirmed that carpets can be recycled for temporary accommodation.
· Work is ongoing with letting agents to understand forthcoming cases and assist with deposits and rents.
· The former Housing Company TaFF is evolving into a different kind of group hoping to increase levels of housing stock.
Sophie Davies (who was replacing Graham Baker – Housing Property & Asset Manager due to an unexpected appointment) gave a presentation about the Green Energy Project and this included the following points:
· The aim of the project was to improve the energy performance and affordable warmth of some of the worst performing and most expensive to heat properties; to improve living conditions for tenants and reduce carbon emissions by more than half.
· Funding was made available by Government in 2020 as part of their Green Homes Grant Local Delivery Scheme. EDDC successfully bid for funds on condition that it was able to match fund the project costs by a minimum of 50%, which it confirmed that it would.
· The grant fund was to install more efficient air source heat pump powered heating systems to 100 homes, while EDDC match funds would be used to put in additional measures to improve the energy performance of the homes.
· 100 properties will have received the pumps by the end of March 2021, with other measures to follow.
· Tenant feedback to date has been very positive about the new heating systems.
· Funding models to cover EDDC housing stock and to meet climate change targets need to be developed.
· The Stock Condition Survey will form the basis of future work on the suitability of different properties to green works. It will enable a forecast of the cost of carbon efficient works required on Council housing stock and facilitate the planning of spend over the next 20-30 years.
Debate following the presentation included the following comments:
· Criteria for prioritising which tenants are assisted are given as part of the scheme.
· Tangible benefits for tenants who have provided feedback include how life has changed by, for example, being able to afford to heat a whole house instead of only one room.
· Issues were discussed in relation to the cost of upgrading properties which could then fall under the right to buy and money being lost for the benefit of future Council tenants. This would effectively mean public sector funds were being handed to the private sector, and would be an issue facing Councils everywhere.
Sue Bewes gave a presentation (on behalf of Nettie Giles who was unable to attend) about the work of the rental team in preventing poverty and this included the following points:
· The challenges currently facing EDDC tenants include having no money for rent or council tax, for food, for heating and many are living in fear of poverty.
· The pandemic has taken away financial and emotional security of tenants and the rental team ensure that they do not lose their homes, and that they can live in a comfortable environment in which they can care for and feed their families. This is done with outside agencies.
· Financial support is offered via referrals to Homemaker Southwest, as well as to food banks and charities for furniture or other goods.
· Tenants will also be given support with claims for Universal Credit, Council Tax Reduction and Discretionary Hardship Payments.
· The team work across the Council with Housing Benefits and Council Tax teams to assist tenants.
· Three case studies were referred to, to indicate the various ways in which the Rental Team had worked with others to assist tenants in positive and practical ways.
The Chair thanked Jo Garfoot, Andrew Mitchell, Sophie Davies and Sue Bewes for their presentations which would be circulated after the meeting.