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Agenda Item No

 

The Vale of Glamorgan Council

 

Scrutiny Committee (Housing and Public Protection): 19 June, 2013

 

Report of the Director of Visible Services and Housing

 

Voids Management

 

Purpose of the Report

1.             To advise Committee of the actions being taken to reduce the number of empty Council owned homes in the Vale.

Recommendations

1.             That Members note the actions being put in place to reduce the number of, and time taken to manage / let empty Council owned homes.

2.             That this report be forwarded to Cabinet for information.

Reasons for the Recommendations

1.             To address any concerns Members may have regarding the management of void properties.

2.             To ensure that Cabinet is suitably informed.

Background

2.             This report is provided in response to Members' concerns on the 'turn around' time for void properties.

Relevant Issues and Options

3.             Empty homes present the Council with a number of challenges;

  • impact on its Housing Revenue Account income stream
  • repairs and improvement costs associated with empty property refurbishment and security
  • aesthetics of the neighbourhoods in which they are located
  • potential impact on temporary accommodation costs

4.             In previous years, officers from Housing and Building Services have made positive steps in improving performance both in terms of reducing the numbers of empty properties and the time taken to let them.  In April 2012 the average time to let a property was 37.45 days and the number of empty properties stood at 20.

5.             As part of the Welsh Quality Housing Standard (WHQS) programme, all void properties are now brought up to the WHQS standard prior to letting.  Previously a lower letting standard had been adopted.  The Vale’s Building Services team, the main contractor for empty properties work, was given a target time of 30 working days to complete each property (excluding agreed extensions of time for complex voids.)

6.             Since the introduction of the improved ‘empty property standard’ there has been a marked increase in the average length of time taken to let an empty property. This is shown graphically at Appendix 'A'.  Since the introduction of WHQS improvements to void properties, there has also been an increase in the number of voids empty in excess of 10 weeks.  This has increased from 58% in the first half of the year to 79% in the second.  This is also shown graphically at Appendix 'A'.

7.             The actual number of voids has also increased, with a 50% increase in turnover when comparing 2011 / 2012 to 2012 / 2013.  Further analysis of this will be necessary to uncover the themes and trends to firmly establish the reasons for the increase.

8.             For Members' information the following bullet points detail the type of work that is undertaken in a WHQS empty property, which is additional to ‘normal' empty property work, e.g. clearance, cleaning, making good / basic re-decoration if required, etc.

  • Full kitchen refurbishment - This includes making good walls, tiling, concealing electrics, new flooring and replacement of asbestos ceilings (where possible).
  • Full bathroom refurbishment - This includes making good walls, tiling to ceiling height, concealing electrics, new flooring and replacement of ceilings (where necessary).
  • Central heating - This includes fitting a new boiler, (ideally in the kitchen), installing new radiators (where required), installation of thermostatic valves and new thermostatic controls for improved efficiency.
  • Electrical re-wire - Full, and not partial rewires, due to access opportunities and a desire to minimise disruption to occupying tenants.

9.             It should be noted that there may also be a requirement for an increased scope of works in more ‘complex' voids.

10.        There are a number of specific issues that are being encountered which are adversely affecting progress.  These include:

  • Black mortar which has been found in many areas.  This causes additional remedial work and requires an increased cleaning resource.  It is not considered an option to retain areas of black mortar where it has been exposed.
  • Re-plastering has been necessary to a greater extent than originally planned, due, in part to the above but also due to additional areas of ‘blown plaster’ being apparent when units and fittings have been removed.
  • It has been necessary on some occasions to remove internal walls due to small existing kitchens that would not achieve WHQS.  This has also been the case with certain bathrooms and WC's where internal walls have been removed in some cases to form 1 room from the previous 2.  This would also require additional works and time to make good the exposed brickwork etc.

11.        The average cost of refurbishing a void property has increased significantly with the introduction of the WHQS, however when completed there should be no need for further WHQS work at these properties other than the relevant maintenance of the refurbished property in order to retain the new standards.

12.        The typical costs of a void are as follows:

Average cost per property = £11,500

Highest cost to date = £20,000

Lowest cost to date = £6,500

13.        The following paragraphs detail some of the impacts on the Council of our properties being empty.

14.        Rent Loss - The amount of rent lost due to void properties in 2011 / 2012 was £228k, whilst the comparable 2012 / 2013 figure was £367k.  This is at least in part due to the increase in void days as properties are being brought up to WHQS.  This increased cost was anticipated and reflected in the 2012 / 2013 HRA revised budget estimate and the housing business plan for years 2012 / 2013 and 2013 / 2014.

15.        Council Tax Liability - The Housing Department is required to pay Council Tax on properties which have been empty in excess of 6 months. The impact of this has seen a liability on the department of 50% of the Council tax for 39 properties empty for 6 months or more and this equates to £20,139 to the end of the last financial year.

16.        General Fund - The Department has seen little in the way of consequential direct costs to the general fund, mainly due to the fact that the majority of clients placed in B&B are single people, and the Homelessness service in the main re-houses that client group into the private sector due to the limited supply of 1 bedroom Council accommodation.  Families are not re-housed into B&B unless in an absolute emergency and are then provided with alternative suitable temporary accommodation which is usually paid for from Housing Benefits.  However, there is an impact on the Department’s Key Performance Indicators for the homelessness service which has seen homeless applicants remaining in temporary accommodation longer throughout the year.  There is also the impact on families who are anxious to move quickly into more suitable permanent accommodation and the knock on effect to families and children.

Current Interventions and Actions

17.        To address the issues that have been identified within this paper, the Head of Housing and Building Services is working with colleagues in the Property Services Team to seek solutions to improving empty property management performance.  The following bullet points detail the interventions and actions that have taken place since April 2013.

  • Weekly empty property management meetings have commenced with all parties to consider each void property and performance / timescales associated with each
  • A single reporting system has been agreed, i.e.  a shared spreadsheet developed with 'keys in' / 'keys out' date for each stage of the process
  • A ‘Lean' process day has taken place involving officers from Housing and Building Services and Property Services, to identify and reduce waste in the process
  • Housing and Building Services has undertaken a review of how many voids it can deliver successfully
  • Current performance measures have been updated and categorised based on 'normal' voids, 'agreed extended' voids and 'hard to treat' voids

Future Short Term Interventions and Actions

18.        The following paragraphs detail the future short term actions and interventions that will be introduced to positively impact on the empty property management process.

19.        Pre-termination inspection of the Properties - The time that a property is with the contractor (predominantly but not exclusively Building Services) is longer than necessary and is affected by the planning element of the works.  The time taken to complete asbestos surveys / validation surveys after the tenant has vacated has a detrimental effect on the number of days that a property is empty.  Effective pre-termination inspections will allow the Asbestos Surveyors, Housing Improvement Supervisor and Quantity Surveyors to diagnose required repairs and improvements at an earlier stage.  The pre-termination inspection will be carried out on a multi team approach including Housing Officers.  Pre-termination visits should be used by the Housing Team to establish forwarding addresses and explain to the tenant how the property should be left.

Intervention

(a)  Introduction of multi team pre-termination inspections for works planning, including asbestos surveys completed prior to tenant moving out.

(b)  Develop a Rechargeable Repairs Policy

(c)  Consider a ‘Leave it Clean’ Policy

 

20.        Satisfying Housing Need - The empty property management process currently involves three teams within the Council, i.e. Housing, Building Services and Property Services (as the WHQS managing agent).  Property Services currently acts as the client and Building Services the contractor for the ‘improvement works’ part of the lettings process.  From the point that keys come in to the point whereby the next tenant takes up the property there exists a duality in the client role, i.e. Housing for the lettings element and Property for the building element.  The Housing team are responsible for proactively responding to housing need, ensuring those properties that are most in need and easiest to let are prioritised.  The dual client role can cause complications in the delivery of this.

Intervention

(a)  The Housing Team to be the process owners for empty property management with pre-inspection and post-inspection work to be undertaken by a Client Officer within the Lettings Team.

(b)  Lettings officers to liaise with the Housing based Client officer to prioritise high demand lets through the process

(c)  The voids budget to remain as part of the WHQS monitoring process undertaken by Property Services

 

21.        Hard to Treat Properties - There currently 13 Properties in the Council housing stock that have major structural defects.  These are currently classified as ‘hard to treat’.  The Building Services Assets Team has commissioned full condition / structural surveys for these properties, the results of which are expected by the end of June 2013.

Intervention

(a)  Production of a report that will consider the sustainability of hard to treats on a property by property basis using investment and housing need information.

 

22.        Performance Monitoring - It is critical that the empty property management process has a ‘Process Owner’.  The Operational Manager for Housing has agreed to take on this role.

23.        To measure the performance of the empty property management process, it is intended that the following local performance indicators be collected and analysed on a monthly basis by the Empty Property Management Operational Team

  • No of empty properties
  • No of hard to treat properties
  • Average time to let all properties
  • Average time to let demand property
  • Average time to let hard to treats
  • % of empty properties completed by Building Services within target time
  • % of empty properties completed by Ian Williams within target time
  • % of empty properties completed by Lovells within target time
  • % of empty properties completed by Apollo within target time
  • % of empty properties completed by SMK within target time

Longer Term Actions and Interventions

24.        The following list identifies longer term actions and additional measures to further understand our performance.  It is envisaged that the changes in welfare benefits, i.e. the spare room subsidy and Universal Credit, will also shape our policies, interventions and processes going forward

(a)  Use Anite (the Housing Management IT System) as a medium term solution to map the ‘void path’

(b)  Establish Local Performance Indicators and associated learning for why tenancies fail

(c)  Establish data for why lettings are refused to inform demand regime

(d)  Carry out ‘new lettings’ surveys and lessons to be drawn from this for future planning

(e)  Introduce everyday lettings, that is let properties 7 days per week (we currently only let between Monday and Friday)

(f)  Work with utility providers on interim gas / electric card arrangements so services are in place both for improvement works purposes and for tenants to take up their tenancy more promptly

(g)  Consider the benefits / implications of moving away from WHQS for all empty properties based on housing need / standard of let / time when framework contractor will be working a specific area

(h)  Pilot minor additional improvement works (gardens / surrounding area) for low demand properties

(i)  Develop an Asset Management Plan for long term empty properties

(j)  Monitor the effects of welfare benefit changes and consider the stock profile / resignation options

Resource Implications (Financial and Employment)

25.        There are no additional resource requirements associated with the management changes detailed within this report.  As advised, improved void management arrangements will increase rental income and reduce the department's Council tax burden.

Sustainability and Climate Change Implications

26.        In addition to the rental loss and Council tax cost associated with empty properties, the reduction in stock availability can have a social impact, particularly on those housing clients who may be more vulnerable.

Legal Implications (to Include Human Rights Implications)

27.        There are no Legal implications at this time.

Crime and Disorder Implications

28.        Long term empty properties can have an adverse impact on the perception of residents living on our estates and can lead to increased levels of vandalism and other forms of crime.

Equal Opportunities Implications (to include Welsh Language issues)

29.        Improving our management of void properties will benefit all sectors of the community.

Corporate/Service Objectives

30.        H8 - Deliver the Council Housing Improvement Programme to bring the housing stock to a modern internal standard and good structural condition and achieve the WHQS (2016 / 2017).

Policy Framework and Budget

31.        This report is within the policy framework and budget.

Consultation (including Ward Member Consultation)

32.        As this is a Vale wide issue no specific Ward Member consultation has been undertaken.

Background Papers

None.

Contact Officer

Hayley Selway - Head of Housing and Building Services

Tel: 02920 673 124

 

Officers Consulted

Property Section - Operational Manager

Legal Services - Committee Reports

Accountant - Housing and Building Services

 

Responsible Officer:

Miles Punter - Director of Visible Services and Housing

 

 

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