Calls for inquiry into running of Brighton and Hove social housing

Calls for inquiry into running of social housing

Calls for inquiry into running of social housing

First published in News by , Reporter

TENANTS have called for an independent government inquiry into the way social housing is run in Brighton and Hove after a body holding the city council’s housing team to account was scrapped to save money.

Residents involved in the biennial City Assembly have passed a vote of no confidence to call for an independent inquiry into the decision to get rid of the council’s housing management consultative sub-committee.

With the support of Brighton Kemptown MP Simon Kirby, residents have written to the government calling for the move.

With 83% of the 68 people at the biennial City Assembly supporting the motion, those behind it claimed they were speaking for the majority of the city’s 14,000 tenants and leaseholders.

But Bill Randall, chairman of the council’s housing committee, said: “I understand the emotions behind the motion, but it paints an inaccurate picture of the city’s housing service and, particularly, tenant involvement.

“We are strongly committed to involving our 11,500 tenants and 2,800 leaseholders in everything we do as a landlord.”

John Melson, who proposed the motion, said there had been growing distrust and dissatisfaction among tenants in recent months.

He added this came to a head when Green and Labour councillors voted to scrap the sub-committee as part of a reorganisation – while saving £16,000 a year.

Mr Melson, of Wiltshire House in Lavender Street, Brighton, said: “It’s not like I went round rounding up the votes. Coun Randall is failing to realise that he helped create these problems.”

In response, Cllr Randall said the move to scrap the committee was voted through at two town hall committees by a majority of democratically-elected councillors.

He added there were nearly 70 groups run by elected representatives in the city which dealt with social housing issues.

Coun Randall said this was in addition to a further 2,000 residents who were surveyed thanks to a drive to connect via social media; and a Tenants’ Scrutiny Panel, which was introduced by the Greens to independently scrutinise any aspect of the housing department’s work.

On value for money, Coun Randall said the council’s housing team were recently assessed by an outside body who said they were good value for money.

He added: “I look forward to working with all tenants in the future.”

Comments (2)

Please log in to enable comment sorting

1:11pm Mon 2 Jun 14

jonem1 says...

Councillor Randall's comments are quite what we expected. As Chair of Housing, though pleased enough to take the £10.927 Special Responsibility Allowance taking the responsibility itself doesn't seem to be on the agenda.

I've copied the full Notice of Motion below and you can make up your own minds.

Under this Administration Residents' participation in their Housing has halved and become a sick joke (usually the all-day City Assembly attracts around 140 of us, this time around only 68 at the start though 9 more passed through later in the day).

The vote was not brought by malcontents and was supported by many of the most moderate residents, the strength of that support for the Motion was higher than I had expected, more than 8 out of 10 people, suggesting that the situation is worse than many of us had realised.

People are voting with their feet and it is high time that Housing Management took the Government requirement to consult seriously instead of its current state of denial.

Outside assessments of whether or not the Council provides good Value for Money is dependent on what documentation they see - that documentation is provided selectively by officers.

-------------
Text from City Assembly:
Brighton & Hove Council Tenants City Assembly
J. Melson (Deputy Chair)
Wiltshire House
Lavender Street
Brighton

Email: jonemz.jm@gmail.com

19th May 2014


The Minister for Communities & Local Government
House of Commons
Westminster
London SW1A 0AA


Dear Minister,

Residents in Brighton & Hove City Council housing have serious concerns over the management of their homes and those concerns were taken by residents to the City Assembly. (City Assembly is a twice-yearly meeting open to all council-housed residents in Brighton & Hove. Councillors and Council officers also attend.)

It is a bad day when it is felt that a Notice of Motion is necessary.

It is a worse day when such a Notice of Motion is agreed by an 83% in favour vote.

The Notice of Motion was time-limited so not all were able to speak to it and not all concerns were raised so the brief outline attached is not comprehensive. Housing Management exercised its “Right to Reply” before the residents’ vote was taken.

In accordance with the outcome of the vote on the Motion below I am writing to request that you treat the views of the residents of Brighton & Hove seriously and to order an Independent Inquiry into management of Council Housing in our City.


I am, Sir, yours faithfully


John Melson


John Melson
(Deputy Chair, City Assembly)

Attached docs: Notice of Motion and supporting grounds (City Assembly, 10-05-14)






Request to Minister for Communities & Local Government

Notice of Motion to City Assembly 10th May 2014
Proposed: John Melson, Deputy Chair, City assembly
Seconded: Roy Crowhurst, Chair, Sheltered Housing Action Group

“This Assembly has no confidence in the Chair of Housing and Housing Management by Brighton & Hove City Council.
“This Assembly requests the Minister for Communities and Local Government to order an independent investigation into the failure by Brighton & Hove City Council to:
(a) deliver Value for Money,
(b) conduct an Equalities impact assessment and adhere to its own Equalities Policy before depriving the Tenant Disability Network, Sheltered Housing Action Group, High Rise Action Group and Leaseholders Action Group of representation at Councillor level in conjunction with other residents, and
(c) deliver genuine Resident Inclusion and Consultation.”

The Motion was agreed 83% for, 17% against.








Outline of Residents’ concerns:




1.0 Value for Money

1.1 Photo-voltaic Panels:

1.2 The out-going Administration (Conservative control) left in place a scheme for the supply, installation, repair and maintenance of photo-voltaic panels on all suitable Housing Revenue Account (HRA) properties cost neutral to the HRA, saving Residents £9m (reduction of the Feed-in Tariff reduced the saving to £7m).

1.3 Even with no Feed-in Tariff payment, Residents would have benefitted by energy bill savings, particularly those in accommodations with District Heating systems.

1.4 Properties fitted with pv panels have enhanced Capital value, lower Maintenance costs and health benefits by reducing damp and condensation problems.

1.5 The new Administration (Green No Overall Control) failed to sign-off the scheme and the identified £7m saving has been lost.
Instead of a HRA cost-neutral provision of photo voltaic panels the new Administration has spent HRA funds on the installation of 17 new systems in 2011/12. (Cost of the 17 systems and the Repairs and Maintenance contracts undisclosed.) The capital investment programme, for the next three years, identifies a further spend of £1.55 million to accelerate installations.
1.6 Furthermore, there is the wider failure to reduce the Brighton & Hove Carbon-footprint at no cost to the HRA.

This is not Value for Money.


2.0 Regeneration

2.1 The newly created Regeneration Directorate is funded jointly by the HRA and the General Account (GA). The HRA is responsible for an on-going Annual contribution of £286k.

2.2 Though HRA properties comprise just 9.8% of dwellings in Brighton & Hove it is providing 30% of the funding for Regeneration instead of a proportionate 9.8%, this is not a fair distribution of costs, is not a the proper use of the HRA, and is using HRA funding to prop up the General Account.

This is not Value for Money.


3.0 Discretionary Grants to 3rd Sector Agencies

3.1 Discretionary Grants to 3rd Sector Agencies were funded by the General Account (GA). All households in Brighton & Hove pay Council Tax into that account and it is the appropriate source for grants to agencies to which all residents across the Social and Private sector have access.

3.2 Moving the responsibility of £145,000 to the HRA is not fair as Housing Association and Private Sector tenants make no contribution to the HRA. Once again the HRA is being used to prop up the General Account and 9.8% of residents (among the poorest in the City) are subsidising the rest.

This is not Value for Money.


4.0 Equalities Impact

4.1 Brighton & Hove council-housed residents are represented by Residents’ Associations and 4 city-wide “special interest” groups, the Leaseholders’ Action Group (2,500 households), the Sheltered Housing Action Group (800+ households), High Rise Action Group (2,300+ households) and the Tenant Disability Network (c60% of socially-housed households).

4.2 Abolition of HMCSC means that those “special interest” groups no longer have an effective voice in matters that affect them collectively.

4.3 The Groups do not have representation at Housing Management Area Panel level (with 4 Area Panels city-wide “special interest” group representation at that level would create an imbalance) and were reliant on representation at Housing Management Consultative Sub Committee (HMCSC).

4.4 Effective Representation of these Groups in the new BHCC structure would be extremely difficult. This shows lack of foresight & abandonment of the BHCC strategy of “working together with residents”.

5.0 Resident Involvement Strategy (RIS):

5.1 Despite Central Government Directives and the Localism Bill that Council Policies and Strategies should be Resident-led the new Resident Involvement Strategy (RIS) has not been allowed to go to a Residents’ vote at Area Housing Management Panels, Housing Management Consultative Sub-Committee or City Assembly (where voting was excluded specifically).

5.2 This a clear disregard by Housing Services of Best Value for Money, established processes of Decision-making and Consultation with Tenants and Leaseholders and the decision-making powers of Councillors.

5.3 Far from increasing resident Inclusion the new Strategy has reduced it by half.

5.4 Over-reliance by officers on use of the Council’s website as a consultation tool is counter-productive, as some 30% of UK households do not have computers. In social housing many low-income households are reliant on Benefits and food banks, and are in fuel-poverty. Such households cannot afford to buy a computer, pay the landline rental and internet package costs leading to marginalisation in the consultation process.

5.5 The RIS is confused, full of double-standards and is badly implemented.

5.6 Officer-made appointments of residents as “Residents’ representatives” to Groups is not democratic, it is a dangerous process and has never been agreed. It is a Restrictive Practice, a clear breach of established Consultation and contrary to the aspirations of co-Regulation.

5.7 Officers have become distanced from the resident client body and are difficult to access, negatively reactive and reluctant to respond to information requests.

5.8 Officer decisions appear arbitrary, contradictory and too often made from personal bias.

5.9 Many residents no longer speak out for fear of ‘reprisals’ by staff.

5.10 A small group of senior Housing Management staff are condescending, dismissive of residents’ feedback and have made deliberately misleading statements to Councillors at Committee level to secure agreement to Report recommendations.

5.11 It was openly stated at the final Housing Management Consultative Sub Committee (HMCSC) meeting that residents do not trust officers to report accurately to Committees and that HMCSC was valuable since any misrepresentation could, and would, be challenged. This is no longer the case as HMCSC has been abolished.

5.12 HMCSC was the last point at which Councillors, officers and residents met together to finalise policies and strategies, and the only point at which Councillors received direct collective resident input and residents received the direct collective Councillor input that helped clarify why some resident expectations could not be met.

6.0 Two previous requests to the CEO for an Independent Inquiry into Housing Management by the High Rise Action Group have proved to be in vain.
Councillor Randall's comments are quite what we expected. As Chair of Housing, though pleased enough to take the £10.927 Special Responsibility Allowance taking the responsibility itself doesn't seem to be on the agenda. I've copied the full Notice of Motion below and you can make up your own minds. Under this Administration Residents' participation in their Housing has halved and become a sick joke (usually the all-day City Assembly attracts around 140 of us, this time around only 68 at the start though 9 more passed through later in the day). The vote was not brought by malcontents and was supported by many of the most moderate residents, the strength of that support for the Motion was higher than I had expected, more than 8 out of 10 people, suggesting that the situation is worse than many of us had realised. People are voting with their feet and it is high time that Housing Management took the Government requirement to consult seriously instead of its current state of denial. Outside assessments of whether or not the Council provides good Value for Money is dependent on what documentation they see - that documentation is provided selectively by officers. ------------- Text from City Assembly: Brighton & Hove Council Tenants City Assembly J. Melson (Deputy Chair) Wiltshire House Lavender Street Brighton Email: jonemz.jm@gmail.com 19th May 2014 The Minister for Communities & Local Government House of Commons Westminster London SW1A 0AA Dear Minister, Residents in Brighton & Hove City Council housing have serious concerns over the management of their homes and those concerns were taken by residents to the City Assembly. (City Assembly is a twice-yearly meeting open to all council-housed residents in Brighton & Hove. Councillors and Council officers also attend.) It is a bad day when it is felt that a Notice of Motion is necessary. It is a worse day when such a Notice of Motion is agreed by an 83% in favour vote. The Notice of Motion was time-limited so not all were able to speak to it and not all concerns were raised so the brief outline attached is not comprehensive. Housing Management exercised its “Right to Reply” before the residents’ vote was taken. In accordance with the outcome of the vote on the Motion below I am writing to request that you treat the views of the residents of Brighton & Hove seriously and to order an Independent Inquiry into management of Council Housing in our City. I am, Sir, yours faithfully John Melson John Melson (Deputy Chair, City Assembly) Attached docs: Notice of Motion and supporting grounds (City Assembly, 10-05-14) Request to Minister for Communities & Local Government Notice of Motion to City Assembly 10th May 2014 Proposed: John Melson, Deputy Chair, City assembly Seconded: Roy Crowhurst, Chair, Sheltered Housing Action Group “This Assembly has no confidence in the Chair of Housing and Housing Management by Brighton & Hove City Council. “This Assembly requests the Minister for Communities and Local Government to order an independent investigation into the failure by Brighton & Hove City Council to: (a) deliver Value for Money, (b) conduct an Equalities impact assessment and adhere to its own Equalities Policy before depriving the Tenant Disability Network, Sheltered Housing Action Group, High Rise Action Group and Leaseholders Action Group of representation at Councillor level in conjunction with other residents, and (c) deliver genuine Resident Inclusion and Consultation.” The Motion was agreed 83% for, 17% against. Outline of Residents’ concerns: 1.0 Value for Money 1.1 Photo-voltaic Panels: 1.2 The out-going Administration (Conservative control) left in place a scheme for the supply, installation, repair and maintenance of photo-voltaic panels on all suitable Housing Revenue Account (HRA) properties cost neutral to the HRA, saving Residents £9m (reduction of the Feed-in Tariff reduced the saving to £7m). 1.3 Even with no Feed-in Tariff payment, Residents would have benefitted by energy bill savings, particularly those in accommodations with District Heating systems. 1.4 Properties fitted with pv panels have enhanced Capital value, lower Maintenance costs and health benefits by reducing damp and condensation problems. 1.5 The new Administration (Green No Overall Control) failed to sign-off the scheme and the identified £7m saving has been lost. Instead of a HRA cost-neutral provision of photo voltaic panels the new Administration has spent HRA funds on the installation of 17 new systems in 2011/12. (Cost of the 17 systems and the Repairs and Maintenance contracts undisclosed.) The capital investment programme, for the next three years, identifies a further spend of £1.55 million to accelerate installations. 1.6 Furthermore, there is the wider failure to reduce the Brighton & Hove Carbon-footprint at no cost to the HRA. This is not Value for Money. 2.0 Regeneration 2.1 The newly created Regeneration Directorate is funded jointly by the HRA and the General Account (GA). The HRA is responsible for an on-going Annual contribution of £286k. 2.2 Though HRA properties comprise just 9.8% of dwellings in Brighton & Hove it is providing 30% of the funding for Regeneration instead of a proportionate 9.8%, this is not a fair distribution of costs, is not a the proper use of the HRA, and is using HRA funding to prop up the General Account. This is not Value for Money. 3.0 Discretionary Grants to 3rd Sector Agencies 3.1 Discretionary Grants to 3rd Sector Agencies were funded by the General Account (GA). All households in Brighton & Hove pay Council Tax into that account and it is the appropriate source for grants to agencies to which all residents across the Social and Private sector have access. 3.2 Moving the responsibility of £145,000 to the HRA is not fair as Housing Association and Private Sector tenants make no contribution to the HRA. Once again the HRA is being used to prop up the General Account and 9.8% of residents (among the poorest in the City) are subsidising the rest. This is not Value for Money. 4.0 Equalities Impact 4.1 Brighton & Hove council-housed residents are represented by Residents’ Associations and 4 city-wide “special interest” groups, the Leaseholders’ Action Group (2,500 households), the Sheltered Housing Action Group (800+ households), High Rise Action Group (2,300+ households) and the Tenant Disability Network (c60% of socially-housed households). 4.2 Abolition of HMCSC means that those “special interest” groups no longer have an effective voice in matters that affect them collectively. 4.3 The Groups do not have representation at Housing Management Area Panel level (with 4 Area Panels city-wide “special interest” group representation at that level would create an imbalance) and were reliant on representation at Housing Management Consultative Sub Committee (HMCSC). 4.4 Effective Representation of these Groups in the new BHCC structure would be extremely difficult. This shows lack of foresight & abandonment of the BHCC strategy of “working together with residents”. 5.0 Resident Involvement Strategy (RIS): 5.1 Despite Central Government Directives and the Localism Bill that Council Policies and Strategies should be Resident-led the new Resident Involvement Strategy (RIS) has not been allowed to go to a Residents’ vote at Area Housing Management Panels, Housing Management Consultative Sub-Committee or City Assembly (where voting was excluded specifically). 5.2 This a clear disregard by Housing Services of Best Value for Money, established processes of Decision-making and Consultation with Tenants and Leaseholders and the decision-making powers of Councillors. 5.3 Far from increasing resident Inclusion the new Strategy has reduced it by half. 5.4 Over-reliance by officers on use of the Council’s website as a consultation tool is counter-productive, as some 30% of UK households do not have computers. In social housing many low-income households are reliant on Benefits and food banks, and are in fuel-poverty. Such households cannot afford to buy a computer, pay the landline rental and internet package costs leading to marginalisation in the consultation process. 5.5 The RIS is confused, full of double-standards and is badly implemented. 5.6 Officer-made appointments of residents as “Residents’ representatives” to Groups is not democratic, it is a dangerous process and has never been agreed. It is a Restrictive Practice, a clear breach of established Consultation and contrary to the aspirations of co-Regulation. 5.7 Officers have become distanced from the resident client body and are difficult to access, negatively reactive and reluctant to respond to information requests. 5.8 Officer decisions appear arbitrary, contradictory and too often made from personal bias. 5.9 Many residents no longer speak out for fear of ‘reprisals’ by staff. 5.10 A small group of senior Housing Management staff are condescending, dismissive of residents’ feedback and have made deliberately misleading statements to Councillors at Committee level to secure agreement to Report recommendations. 5.11 It was openly stated at the final Housing Management Consultative Sub Committee (HMCSC) meeting that residents do not trust officers to report accurately to Committees and that HMCSC was valuable since any misrepresentation could, and would, be challenged. This is no longer the case as HMCSC has been abolished. 5.12 HMCSC was the last point at which Councillors, officers and residents met together to finalise policies and strategies, and the only point at which Councillors received direct collective resident input and residents received the direct collective Councillor input that helped clarify why some resident expectations could not be met. 6.0 Two previous requests to the CEO for an Independent Inquiry into Housing Management by the High Rise Action Group have proved to be in vain. jonem1
  • Score: 2

9:16am Tue 3 Jun 14

Valerie Paynter says...

Officers per se in Housing are seen as a problem by many.

An unforgettable example: A Cttee meeting in March 3013 had an item on the Agenda for statutory cllr decision. A decision ONLY cllrs could take. The deadline had been mid-January, cllr Mears noticed.

The then Chair, cllr Wakefield Jarrett was covered in embarrassed humiliation as she had not known this and officers had made the decision without reference to her.

After the meeting she said "I will get to the bottom of this". In May she was replaced by cllr Randall who seems not to want to get to the bottom of 'this' in all its varying forms and instead to go along with what the officers say (angrily too) and that is disturbing.

HMCSC was the only tenant involvement body with teeth and which transcends the cliquey, bullying aspects of the often ineffective or dormant or non-existent resident associations and area panels along or hobbling of efforts by officers and favouritism by appointing residents they find amenable to cttees (which they gave themselves the power to do under the revised participation system).

Many residents (leaseholders, housing association, council & privately renting) in council owned housing now choose to give the whole thing a miss. It feels corrupted to a contemptible level.

John Melson is taking a stand which is heavily supported. What will Pickles do? Shame there was no authority at BHCC to go to.

For the Greens to be impressed by the old adage "Never mind the quality, feel the width" is a disgrace and an abrogation of responsibility.
Officers per se in Housing are seen as a problem by many. An unforgettable example: A Cttee meeting in March 3013 had an item on the Agenda for statutory cllr decision. A decision ONLY cllrs could take. The deadline had been mid-January, cllr Mears noticed. The then Chair, cllr Wakefield Jarrett was covered in embarrassed humiliation as she had not known this and officers had made the decision without reference to her. After the meeting she said "I will get to the bottom of this". In May she was replaced by cllr Randall who seems not to want to get to the bottom of 'this' in all its varying forms and instead to go along with what the officers say (angrily too) and that is disturbing. HMCSC was the only tenant involvement body with teeth and which transcends the cliquey, bullying aspects of the often ineffective or dormant or non-existent resident associations and area panels along or hobbling of efforts by officers and favouritism by appointing residents they find amenable to cttees (which they gave themselves the power to do under the revised participation system). Many residents (leaseholders, housing association, council & privately renting) in council owned housing now choose to give the whole thing a miss. It feels corrupted to a contemptible level. John Melson is taking a stand which is heavily supported. What will Pickles do? Shame there was no authority at BHCC to go to. For the Greens to be impressed by the old adage "Never mind the quality, feel the width" is a disgrace and an abrogation of responsibility. Valerie Paynter
  • Score: 2

Comments are closed on this article.

Send us your news, pictures and videos

Most read stories

Local Info

Enter your postcode, town or place name

About cookies

We want you to enjoy your visit to our website. That's why we use cookies to enhance your experience. By staying on our website you agree to our use of cookies. Find out more about the cookies we use.

I agree