Agenda item - Public Involvement

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Agenda item

Public Involvement

To consider the following matters raised by members of the public:

 

(a)       Petitions: to receive any petitions presented to the full council or at the meeting itself;

 

(b)       Written Questions: to receive any questions submitted by the due date of 12 noon on the 8th November 2017 (copy attached);

 

(c)   Deputations: to receive any deputations submitted by the due date of 12 noon on the 8th November 2017.

 

Minutes:

Petitions

 

46.1     There were no petitions. 

 

Questions

 

46.2     Mike Bojczuk asked the following question:

 

          “Will Council agree to provide Wi-Fi access to common area lounges of their senior housing schemes? Volunteering with Digital Brighton & Hove I have found that none of the Council run senior schemes provide this, unlike Housing Association schemes visited.

 

Providing broadband to 25 schemes isn’t greatly expensive and if provided by the Council, it could be used in many ways to add to and improve communication and services to senior residents. City libraries and buses provide free Wi-Fi access so can you also extend this service to help mitigate the digital exclusion faced by many of our older residents?”

 

46.3     The Chair replied as follows: 

       

“Thank you for your question.  BHCC Housing is committed to supporting digital inclusion initiatives.  The council is a partner of Digital Brighton & Hove and is actively working with local community and commercial organisations that provide volunteers to support residents to improve their online skills and experience.  Seniors housing schemes have held many ‘gadget workshops’ supporting older people to become more familiar with all things digital.  With more families communicating digitally and more organisations moving information on-line we’re keen that older people in seniors housing, as well as other residents, are not digitally excluded.

 

There are real challenges to providing internet access and we’ve previously had discussions with providers (BT, Barclays) to see if they could offer a free pilot project.  Unfortunately, at that time, they were not able to offer a system that was suitable to allow the necessary level of data management that is required by our own policies as well as national and European legislation. There are some particular challenges on security, and the council’s liability, when providing access to a communal setting, not least in terms of people accessing illegal or inappropriate material.

 

This said, we are continuing to investigate how we can support better digital inclusion amongst all council tenants (for example those of working age who are impacted by Universal Credit), despite the known challenges.

 

In seniors housing we are looking at how we can support better digital connectivity at our new extra care scheme, Brooke Mead, which may help provide useful pointers in terms of delivering this more widely in our schemes.”

 

46.4   Mr Bojczuk stated that he was a volunteer with digital Brighton & Hove and had worked to help bring Wi-Fi into Elizabeth Court with BT and Barclays. Mr Bojczuk stated that IT at the council put a much greater level of security on a simple Wi-Fi connection than was actually needed. He asked if the council could look at the security and make it to a lower standard so that it will suit the more limited needs of older people.

 

46.5   The Chair stated that the Digital First Lead would be asked to contact him to discuss this issue. 

 

46.6    RESOLVED- That the Public question be noted.

 

46.7     Barry Hughes asked the following question:

 

“I am aware that, in purely legal terms, the normal service of notices “sent by first class post shall be deemed to have been received by the addressee within 48 hours of posting”. However I have recently been involved in a Leaseholder dispute where Section 20 notices were sent to my members and not received and I am reminded that, in the commercial world, “proof of posting is not proof of receipt”. I would respectfully request that the council, in enacting its value of customer focus, adopts the use of recorded delivery when issuing Section 20 notices in the future?”

 

46.8     The Chair replied as follows: 

       

“The Courts accept first class delivery as proof of service on the second business day after posting. A move to using recorded delivery would both increase costs for leaseholders and create greater difficulty for the Council in ensuring service. Recorded delivery requires a person to sign for the post. If the leaseholder is not at the property for any reason, then it means that added delay and uncertainty would be brought in to the process. The letter could for instance sit in the post office uncollected.

 

There is no advantage to the Council or leaseholders to incur additional costs for an uncertain delivery process. The Courts have allowed first class service for a long time specifically because it does provide certainty. I would urge leaseholders to ensure that the Council has their correct correspondence address and provide an additional address for service (which could include an e-mail address for instance) to ensure that their correspondence does reach them.”

 

46.9   Mr Hughes stated that he considered that it would be best customer service practice to ensure notices were received when the council were asking someone to spend more than £250 and sometimes several thousand pounds.

 

46.10  The Chair noted Mr Hughes’ comments. 

 

46.11  RESOLVED- That the Public question be noted.

           

46.12    Barry Hughes asked the following question on behalf of Martin Cunningham:

 

“With regards to the proposed Hereford House Hostel what measures will be put in place to protect the residents from the increase in anti-social behaviour this will bring to Kemptown?” 

 

46.13    The Chair replied as follows: 

       

“The Council has listened to the concerns of residents in the local area regarding the proposal to relocate West Pier Hostel to Hereford House and this relocation will now not be taking place.” 

 

46.14  Mr Hughes asked the following supplementary question:

 

“Was the Committee consulted on the proposals to convert "Hereford House" into a "vital hostel facility" in place of the approximately 25 people already living in the building? Hereford House is currently a home to retail workers, nurses and students, including a woman who is eight months into her pregnancy.? If the Committee was not consulted, do Members feel it should have been?”

 

46.15  The Chair replied informed Mr Hughes that this proposal was taken forward by Adult Social Care. Housing & New Homes Committee were not consulted as it is not a housing scheme.

 

46.16  RESOLVED- That the Public question be noted.

 

46.17    Daniel Harris asked the following question:

 

“The Council have announced that only 605 homelessness applications were received during Quarter 1 and 2 2017, can the council tell me exactly how many temporary accommodation units they plan to stop using and how this process will work?”  

46.18    The Chair replied as follows: 

       

“The figures for Quarters 1 and 2 are in line with previous years and on target.

On average the council receive around 1000 applications per year and accept a full housing duty to around 420 households.

 

The council is working towards preventing homelessness in the first place by sustaining accommodation where possible. Furthermore, where possible we want to avoid the need for homeless households to move twice to and from temporary accommodation to sustainable accommodation.

 

We already have an ambitious new build programme; our joint venture with Hyde housing to deliver 1000 new homes and through the community housing hub to promote community housing. Alongside these initiatives we are focussing on prevention and finding sustainable housing solutions, which should reduce our need for Temporary accommodation by half by 2019.

 

This is in line with Homelessness Reduction Act from April 2018 and currently being delivered through our Homelessness Trailblazer project, which you will hear more of later on the agenda.”

 

46.19  Mr Harris asked the following supplementary question:

 

“Recently the Department of Communities and Local Government reported that Brighton & Hove City Council since 2015 have reported that no children have lived in bed & breakfast accommodation for more than six weeks. Would you be willing to guarantee today that these figures are correct?”

 

46.20  The Chair confirmed that the figures were correct. 

 

46.21  RESOLVED- That the Public question be noted.

 

46.22    John Hadman asked the following question in relation to the night shelter opening on 10 December:

 

I am very pleased that we are going to have a night shelter operating from the 10 December. I would like to move the whole thing on so for next year we are more prepared to have night shelters starting on a more appropriate date and properly funded. What provision will be made in the council’s budget in next February’s review?”

 

46.23    The Chair replied as follows: 

 

          “We have received good news that we have a night shelter opening on 10 December. It has been very difficult to work through the logistics of funding a suitable venue and many councillors here are part of a working group looking at this issue. We need to discuss at our budget council whether there is money put aside for a sustainable future for the shelter.”

 

46.24  Mr Hadman asked the following supplementary question:

 

“What assurance have we got that this will happen? The council voted to use their empty property in January and they still had not got anything sorted until yesterday. They did not prepare getting a night shelter in place for this winter. They started less than five weeks ago.

 

46.25  The Chair replied as follows: 

         

          “No that is not correct.  I know that there has been a working group working on this issue for many months now. It has taken this long to find accommodation to make sure it is a safe space for rough sleepers to use. It has not just been five weeks, it has been many months. Councillor Clare Moonan has been working on this all through the summer and she has achieved a great deal because of her hard work in pushing this forward.  I cannot give assurances. It is down to councillors at Budget Council to determine what next year’s budget will be and I as just one councillor cannot give assurance for all 54 councillors. I am sure it will be put in the budget but the test will be how it is voted on.”

 

46.26  RESOLVED- That the Public question be noted.

 

46.27    Clare Hudson asked the following question:

 

It was welcome news to hear a positive response to John Hadman’s question at the Housing Committee on 20 September regarding a permanent Night Shelter managed and run by Brighton and Hove City Council?.

 

Are Members of the Committee satisfied with progress made? How many people will be accommodated in the Night Shelter and for what period will the shelter be available? Are facilities to be made available on a permanent and long term basis?”

 

46.28    The Chair replied as follows: 

       

“We have a large room at the Brighton Centre as has been stated in The Argus. It will operate from the 10 December to 11 February. By then we should another venue in place to continue on that shelter. It will be for up to 30 people and work is ongoing through the budget process to ensure that this is a sustainable project going forward into future years.” 

 

46.29  Ms Hudson asked the following supplementary question:

 

“Can you confirm what will happen to the other 114 people currently sleeping rough on our streets following the two deaths we have had recently?”

 

46.30  The Executive Director of Neighbourhoods, Communities & Housing replied as follows: 

 

          “In addition to the night shelter we have also extended SWEP, the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol which will offer accommodation. It should be said that that even when we do operate SWEP it is used by about 30 rough sleepers even though there is provision for all rough sleepers. In addition to this we work with St Mungo’s to provide outreach. We also work with Equinox and Pavilions to provide support for people that are rough sleeping, so through the additional SWEP which will happen now when there is an amber weather warning or when there is two nights that are predicted to be below zero and through this night shelter and through the continued work we are doing through the rough sleeper strategy we are looking to help as many rough sleepers as we can.”

 

46.31  RESOLVED- That the Public question be noted.

 

46.32    Gemma Challenger asked the following question:

 

“The ‘Oxford Street Housing Office’ - What progress has been made in converting this building into a permanent Night Shelter or temporary accommodation?  For what period has this building been empty and when is it scheduled for use in a manner that benefits our homeless fellow citizens??”

 

46.33    The Chair replied as follows: 

       

“Oxford Street former housing office was decommissioned in November 2014 and in January 2017 the Housing & New Homes Committee requested officers bring forward options to convert the building into much needed Temporary Accommodation (in accordance with the needs identified in the housing strategy).

 

As part of the options work, issues were identified with the party wall which has impacted on the progress of the project. Professional advice has now been received and we are currently engaging with the adjoining owner to carry out necessary remedial work with the aim of lodging the formal planning application in spring 2018.

 

Consultation will be carried out with the local residents to input into the pre-planning stage of the project and subject to planning approval the council hopes to complete works by mid-2019.”

 

46.34  Ms Challenger asked the following supplementary question:

 

“What plans are there to make this accommodation affordable and is there going to be accessible accommodation within the Oxford Street Housing Office?”

 

46.35  The Chair replied as follows: 

 

          “It would always be accessible to those on our housing register or who have come through our homeless route. It is temporary accommodation for that purpose. In terms of affordability it is temporary accommodation that is usually at the local housing allowance level (up to benefit level).”

 

46.36  The Executive Director of Economy, Environment & Culture stated that he was aware that the building did have some challenges in being a DDA compliant, but any refurbishment that is carried out would look to ensure that this is accessible to people with disabilities as is possible, given the constraints of the building.

 

46.37  RESOLVED- That the Public question be noted.

 

46.38    Maria Garret-Gotch asked the following question:

 

Could the Committee provide any examples of the way in which it could delay or prevent the “roll-out” of Universal Credit in Brighton and Hove?  Could you please provide precise details by post code of the Government proposals for Universal Credit in our City?”

 

46.39    The Chair replied as follows: 

       

“Thank you for your question.  The Council is not able to prevent or delay the roll-out of Universal Credit in our city, as this is government policy.   There is, however, a lot of work being done in the city to support people with some of the impacts of this new welfare reform and I know that housing officers have been working on this for the last 18 months, particularly with our tenants.

 

Roll-out has commenced in the BN3 postcode area from October this year; with BN2 planned for the end of November this year; and BN1 and BN41 planned for mid-January 2018.   More information, on any changes, can be found on the government’s Department for Work and Pensions’ website.”

 

46.40  Ms Garrett- Gotch asked the following supplementary question:

 

“With the roll-out of Universal Credit across the UK, instantaneously we have seen it caused poverty, debt, homelessness and death. Are the implementations of our council that are being put in place as a safety net successfully going to secure and protect the lives and homes of the residents of our city bearing in mind the housing benefit loan grant only covers  80% and people are without money for six weeks?”

 

46.41  The Chair replied as follows: 

 

          “Unfortunately this is government policy so I cannot say with any assurance or any certainty what will happen to our residents. We are as prepared as we can be however there may be people who haven’t before contacted the council in any way and we will not know about those people. We won’t know how much they are in debt or need our support until they actually appear on our doorstep. We urge anyone who needs support to contact us as early as possible for any help at all. The earlier we are contacted will result in a better result for our residents.”

 

46.42  RESOLVED- That the Public question be noted.

 

46.43    Jim Dean on behalf of Steve Parry asked the following question:

 

“The recently published response by the Government to the Communities and Local Government & Work and Pensions Committees Joint Report on the future of supported housing, the DWP Supported Housing Task and Finish Groups Final Report,?and the DCLG/DWP Policy Statement and Consultation on Funding Supported Housing have major implications for Brighton and Hove particularly in relation to Temporary & Emergency Accommodation including BHSCH.

 

Will the Committee commission a report from officers to be discussed at its 17.1.18 meeting, and ensure that community representatives are invited to contribute to this report particularly ETHRAG and the Brighton and Hove Housing Coalition?” 

 

46.44    The Chair replied as follows: 

       

“Thank you for your question. There may be a little confusion here, as our temporary and Emergency accommodation is not supported housing. The consultation reports you have referred to are for Supported housing, which does not impact on our Temporary and Emergency accommodation. Any comments can be fed back directly to the Government and Adults social services will be responding to the DCLG consultation within the timescale on the impact to supported accommodation.”

 

46.45  Mr Dean asked the following supplementary question:

 

“Does the Committee feel that it would be important at this stage to review the supported housing in respect of finance? Stories travel round the city of accommodation which was £700 rent; a box gets ticked and the rent is increased to £2000 because it has been considered to be supported housing.  When there is no change to the property and very little change to the service it is provided through that property doesn’t the Committee feel it is important to review those rent hikes?” 

 

46.46  The Chair replied as follows: 

 

          “Unfortunately there is some confusion here. Housing & New Homes Committee are not responsible for Supported Housing. This is an Adult Social Care issue. Could I suggest that you put a question to the Health & Wellbeing Board who work the finances through for Adult Social Care in the City.”

 

46.47  RESOLVED- That the Public question be noted.

 

46.48    The following question had been received from of Zuzana Sukova on behalf of Brighton Homeless Action Group:

                   

“Taking into account all of the deaths of homeless human beings on our streets, when will the local authority start to apply the Extended Winter Provision” for those living on our streets by opening shelters every night throughout the winter from November to March as advised by the Homeless Link Guidance to prevent the loss of even more lives on our streets. Although, severe weather can arise outside of these months so shelter is needed all year round as a long–term solution.”         

 

46.49    The Chair replied as follows: 

       

“The Council has been working to secure provision for a night shelter over winter and we have made that announcement very recently.

 

We have recently changed the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol to operate when the temperature is predicated to be at 0 degrees or below for two consecutive nights.  This is a change from the 3 consecutive nights under the winter 16/17 protocol.

 

SWEP continues to operate to protect rough sleepers during severe weather and is open to all rough sleepers within the city regardless of need or local connection.”

46.50  Ms Melody asked the following supplementary question:

 

“It is still completely immoral to wait two nights below zero. It is not protecting those on the street at all. This is why we are asking why it can’t be updated to every night throughout the winter until something more permanent is put in place? 

 

46.51  The Executive Director for Neighbourhoods, Communities & Housing replied as follows: 

 

          “Government statute is three nights below zero. The reason we are not able to provide one every night is twofold. 1) The government fund us to provide the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) and we wouldn’t get funding for that. 2) The reason that SWEP is able to take everybody with very high support needs is because it is run by our partners in the city who have specially trained staff. When those specially trained staff run SWEP they do it in addition to their own job and in the event that we ran SWEP every night we couldn’t get the qualified trained staff that we currently have in place. We have spoken to Brighton Housing Trust and St Mungo’s about operating as much as we can and it has been established that what we are operating is within the ability of what we can do staffing wise. We also wouldn’t have the funding to be able to extend the service.”

 

46.52  RESOLVED- That the Public question be noted.

 

46.53    Ree Melody had submitted the following question on behalf of Love Activists:

 

 “When will the local authority adhere to the change in law made by the supreme court of law in May 2015 with regard to the vulnerability assessment of those who are homeless?”

 

46.54    The Chair replied as follows: 

       

“Thank you for your question and I am pleased to confirm that the council adheres to the new assessment which requires us to consider whether or not someone, when homeless, is “significantly more vulnerable than ordinarily vulnerable when compared to the ordinary person becoming homeless” as referenced in your question (that the Hotak case brought in and which replaced the previous test set by the Pereira case). The Council changed its assessment immediately following the court case and remains entirely compliant with this test.  We have also implemented the lessons from the cases of Kanu and Johnstone and continue to review all cases from the Higher Courts as they are decided, implementing changes where they are needed.”

 

46.55  The Senior Lawyer stated that the Chair had briefly described the test that was introduced by Hotak replacing Pereira. It was a conjoined appeal in the Supreme Court. The Senior Lawyer did not know when the council implemented it but she was instructed that Hotak was taken on board immediately the report was available.  

 

46.56  RESOLVED- That the Public question be noted.

 

Deputations

 

46.57    The Committee considered the following deputation which was presented by Michael Fitzpatrick and supported by Diane Montgomery, John Hadman, Joanna Evans and Ian Needham: 

 

Deputation to Housing and New Homes committee from the Living Rent Campaign on Rent Policy

 

“We are here today to urge the housing and new homes committee to agree a rent policy for new council houses that is affordable for those households on low incomes. The Living Rent Campaign argues for rents to be set in relation to household incomes not the market. We want to see a rent policy that enables the council to provide a range of rents, in particular rents that are affordable for the lowest income households who suffer most economic stress in the current housing market and for whom the council is the only hope of affordability.

 

Each year at least 50 socially rented council houses are sold. When the council replaces these with welcome new homes the rents have been more than double social rents and are not affordable for low income households. There are no other housing providers (other than co-ops who are currently small scale) offering rents at less than Living wage rents. The living wage rent concept is laudable in that it links rents to incomes, however the assumptions made about incomes are flawed since they do not look at actual household incomes (and end up producing “living wage rents” just less than local housing allowance that are not affordable for the lowest actual incomes)

 

Looking at actual household incomes, the committee report suggests that a third of households in the city have incomes of less than £20,000. According to Shelter rent should swallow up no more than 35% of household income to be affordable. Therefore it follows that an affordable rent for the lowest income households (the bottom third- who are the very households that most need low rent housing), should be less than £7,000 a year or less than £135 a week. Rent options offered in the report are all higher than this ranging from £148 to £339)

Only social rents provide for this and yet the committee report is proposing the exclusion of social rents being charged for new council housing. So none of the options recommended are affordable for the bottom third of household incomes in the city

 

We therefore propose that the committee include in their rent policy a “living rent option” (which is set at 60% more than social rents. These rents would range from £110 a week for a 1 bed flat to £168 a week for a 4 bed house. These rents would be much more affordable for many of the low income households that the proposed rent policy seeks to provide with truly affordable homes, but would still be high enough to reflect the enhanced energy efficiency of the new homes and would not place anything like as great a demand on existing HRA funds for support as would the social rent option

 

According to the councils own “Assessment of affordable housing need” report (2012) there are 15,000 households who can only afford to pay social rents, so we urge the committee to also include social rents as an option for new council homes for the lowest income households along with a “living rent  which is calculated to be 60% more than social rents as an option that we estimate would be affordable for most of lowest 40% of household incomes (once energy cost savings are allowed for).

We also ask that the committee consider, in line with the legal advice in the report, the option of providing a mix of rent levels in any one scheme, so that rents can be better aligned to peoples’ ability to pay.”

 

46.58    The Chair responded as follows:

 

“Thank you for your deputation and comments. The report on the agenda today sets out a number of principles for a rent setting policy for new council homes, as well as rent options for members to consider and social rent is one of those options. A key one of these is that rents should be affordable to those in low paid employment as well as households with full benefit entitlement.

 

It is not the case that the new homes the council has built so far are not affordable for low income households. Many tenants of the new homes are working and qualify for Housing Benefit to help pay their rent, a measure of their low earnings.

 

Of the 34 homes completed under the New Homes for Neighbourhoods programme to date – all of which are let at Affordable Rents capped at Local Housing Allowance levels of Housing Benefit - 15 tenants are on full Housing Benefit, 15 are on partial Housing Benefit and there are four that have no Housing Benefit award at present. That’s the same proportion of tenants on full Housing Benefit as in the council’s stock as a whole. And a greater proportion in new build are on partial Housing Benefit compared to wider council tenants, reflecting their priority need in recently being allocated a new council home.

 

Nationally the majority of Housing Benefit claimants are working households on a low income, so availability of benefits needs to be taken into account when assessing affordability of rents.

 

Many tenants of our new homes have health and mobility issues which make it more challenging for them to be in employment. These households may be fully dependent on benefits and also need homes that are suitable for their physical needs. So, were the council to charge rent at less than the affordable rent capped at Local Housing Allowance level, then it would be foregoing this extra income from the Department of Work and Pensions. All our new homes are built to be easily accessible and adaptable for people with mobility needs, with at least 10% to full wheelchair user standard. 15 of the 34 homes already completed new were let to people with an assessed mobility need, including 5 Mobility 1 bedroom homes designed for wheelchair users.

 

Tenants of the council’s new build homes completed so far all told us they are satisfied that their rent provides value for money and 80% are very satisfied with their rent level. That’s actually higher than satisfaction levels for tenants in our older council homes let at social rents.

 

The report explains that there are many factors to be considered in agreeing a rent policy in order to balance fairness for new and existing council tenants and to enable the council to continue its much needed programme, so that more people in housing need can be offered good quality, secure accommodation at well below market rent levels.

The rent policy also needs to be consistent, fair and easily explainable, and must be easy and cost effective for officers to administer, including calculating any annual rent increases.

 

Whereas the benefits system keeps track of households’ changing income levels and adjusts their benefits payments accordingly, the council as landlord does not. Therefore a rent policy and rent increases geared to each tenant’s varying and fluctuating ability to pay with a mix of rent levels at each scheme would be very complex and administratively burdensome to deliver.

 

The committee will consider the options in the report and any amendments later in the meeting. But to be clear, the committee report is not “proposing the exclusion of social rents being charged for new council housing”. The proposed policy is that officers will model Target Social Rent levels along with the other rent options, and then recommend one of these three rent options as appropriate for that scheme based on the rent principles as agreed by this Committee.”

 

46.59    Councillor Mears stated that her group supported affordable housing in the city and welcomed all rent options in every scheme so that viability could be considered in order to be able to provide affordable housing for those most in need in the city particularly those on very low incomes.  Councillor Mears had spoken to many tenants who had expressed their concerns that what was being built was unaffordable.

 

46.60    Councillor Hill agreed that there needed to be different options in the council’s rental policy, and there needed to be options that reflected incomes. Such a rent level had been used in the council’s joint venture with Hyde Housing, which related proposed rents to incomes. Councillor Hill stressed that social rents were in the policy and she considered that the deputation was incorrect in stating that “Rent options offered in the report are all higher than this ranging from £148 to £339” because the lowest possible social rent for a one bedroom flat was much lower than those figures. The deputation stated “…we urge the committee to also include social rents as an option…” This was already being done. Councillor Hill stressed that there was a trade-off between the rents that the council offered and the number of new homes that the council could build, and stated that she would be interested in hearing more from the people on the waiting list for council homes regarding this issue.

 

46.61    Councillor Gibson stated that the Green Group would be proposing an amendment later on the agenda to offer a lower option and to make it completely clear that the social rents were an option. He believed that the council should try and achieve affordability as far as possible by offering an option based on the living wage rent principle.  He agreed with Councillor Hill in that there was a trade-off and this would be debated later on the agenda. Decisions needed to be debated on a scheme by scheme basis.  He further agreed that the council should consider the views of people on the waiting list.

 

46.62    RESOLVED

 

(1)                That the deputation be noted.  

 

 

46.63    The Committee considered the following deputation which was presented by Mr D Croydon and supported by David Rumelle, Keith Marston, Barbara Roberts, Monica Del Olmo and Michael Bushby: 

 

Deputation: Legal action against B&HCC leaseholders on the Bristol Estate

 

          “Irwin Mitchell LLP, on behalf of Brighton and Hove City Council, in a letter dated 25 September 2017 to all B&HCC leaseholders in Allamanda, Sorrel, Jasmine, Hazel, and Meadowsweet blocks on the Bristol Estate have stated they are to take all leaseholders to the First - Tier Tribunal. This proposed action is despite a number of leaseholders being in the process of following B&HCC complaint and dispute procedures that are not yet completed.

 

This action is unprecedented, potentially involves large sums of money for tenants (through the HRA) and leaseholders individually, is causing a great deal of stress for many individuals including vulnerable residents, and appears to involve an absence of Duty of Candour.

 

We request that the Committee discusses this issue before any further action is taken and ask that every effort is taken to avoid an application to the Tribunal including discussions between this Committee, the Leaseholder Action Group, Justice for Tenants and the Brighton and Hove Housing Coalition.”

 

46.64    The Chair responded as follows:

 

 “We acknowledge the Deputation.

All but 12 of the 39 leaseholders involved have already made arrangements to meet the charges which they have been asked to pay.

The outstanding sum of money is approximately £400,000 and was due to be paid over two years ago. This is money that has been spent by the HRA and money that would otherwise be of benefit to the tenants of Brighton and Hove City Council, in a difficult financial period. All those disputing payment have been given the opportunity to deal with matters through a dispute resolution process.

The correct method of disputing payments in this situation is not the complaints process but is via the tribunal. What is proposed in this deputation will simply incur further delay for the HRA (and its tenants) and increase costs for the Council. The tribunal process will take several months before it reaches final hearing in which time there will be plenty of scope to seek to come to an agreement if that is possible. 

We are saddened to hear it is causing stress to some of the people who have objected, but by taking matters to the tribunal we can bring matters to a conclusion and so reduce the uncertainty which presumably contributes to the stress. Anyone with vulnerability will be able to bring it to the attention of the tribunal.

 

The Duty of Candour issue appears to be misunderstood in its application in this case. In Public law, the duty of candour is the duty imposed on a public authority 'not to seek to win [a] litigation at all costs but to assist the court in reaching the correct result and thereby to improve standards in public administration'. We can confirm that we are not attempting to win litigation at all costs and that instead after two years we would welcome the Tribunals findings on this issue based on their independent assessment of the issues. We will fully inform the tribunal of all material issues and answer any questions they feel are relevant.

 

It is incorrect to say that seeking to address a dispute through a tribunal is unprecedented. It is what the law says is the correct thing to do. We were engaged in the tribunal process on the first phase of the works on the estate and were pleased that we could reach an amicable agreement with the leaseholders that avoided a final hearing. If those objecting to paying the money are correct then it is to their advantage to have the tribunal decision.

 

We are running a joint working group which is the cross party group to look at how we work with leaseholders in the future, and we are running a workshop with leaseholders in December”

 

46.65  Councillor Mears appreciated the concerns of leaseholders regarding this issue and stressed that it was important to work with leaseholders to find a resolution. She acknowledged that there was a real concern with regard to the pricing of some of the works.  Councillor Mears stressed the importance of the council talking to leaseholders; having a much more open way of working; and looking at this issue at the cross party working group.  She acknowledged the real concerns and pressures that leaseholders had been put through and stressed that it served no purpose to have such a serious dispute. A mechanism needed to be found to be able to look at this issue and to provide proper costings that leaseholders considered acceptable. 

 

46.66  Councillor Druitt expressed concern that the council had ended up in this situation. The only losers were leaseholders and tenants who had to pay the bill for all the legal costs. Councillor Druitt welcomed the cross party working group. He asked if there could be a report in six months to see how the group is working and what measures could be taken as a council to ensure this situation did not occur again. The council needed to work much more closely with leaseholders.

 

46.67  The Chair confirmed that the working party would be reporting back on the work that had been carried out.  She considered that it would be better to report back after a year.

 

46.68RESOLVED

 

(1)            That the deputation be noted.

Supporting documents:

 


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