Minutes of ACF Meeting, Kingsfield Close, Southwick
Thursday, 2nd February 2012
Present: – Wendy Farmer (Chair), Bruce Andrews, Ruth Andrews, Fred Bathurst, Rose Boden, Patricia Crowdy, David Donaldson, David Guy, William Guy, Gary Hackett, Paula Kinsella, Sue Lane, Richard Letchford, Bob McClelland, Carol Morris, Tony Morris, Len Nye, Marice Nye, Bridget Orman, Sylvia Page, Tanya Page and Ron Pope.
ADC: – Christine Ryder and Jo-Anne Chang-Rogers (Finance Managers for Adur and Worthing) and Charlie Strong (Maintenance Manager).
1. Welcome and introductions
Wendy welcomed everyone to the meeting.
Apologies were received from Kevin Davis.
3. Housing Revenue Account Budget
Wendy introduced Christine Ryder and Jo-Anne Chang-Rogers (Finance Managers for Adur and Worthing). Jo-Anne will be taking over responsibility for Housing Finance from Christine in the near future. They had come to talk about the Housing Revenue Account and the proposed rent increases for 2012/13 and proceeded to go through the recommendations in their report.
The report recommends an average rent increase in the new financial year of 7.7%, in line with government guidelines. Christine was asked whether central government is responsible for raising rents. She explained that the government makes recommendations and under their plans to bring council rents in line with those of housing associations, annual increases are allowed up to inflation (based on the Retail Price Index) plus 0.5% plus £2 per week.
Although there will be some capping of benefit levels in the private sector, affordable rents will remain within the guidelines. This will leave Housing Revenue Account reserves at around £1.9 million, which is equivalent to approximately 10% of annual expenditure. Under new self-financing arrangements, councils will have more flexibility but for every 1% reduction in the level of rent increase, this will result in a deficit of £104,000. The question of accurately defining the term ‘affordable housing’ was raised and it was agreed that this is an exceptionally high rent increase which should be challenged at the Cabinet meeting.
Garage rents are largely set according to supply and demand and it is recommended that this year they should be increased by 2%. Charges for garages will be increased if there is evidence of more demand for them.
Under new self-financing rules coming into force in March, councils will be able to keep the money they collect in rents, rather than paying money over to central government but as part of this arrangement, Adur will have to pay a one-off settlement to them of £51.5 million. The council will have to borrow this money but they will be able to obtain it at fairly favourable rates of interest. Christine was asked if the council was intending to buy back former council properties and implied that under the new self-financing arrangements, this remained a possibility in the long-term, along with building new properties.
Wendy thanked Christine and Jo-Anne for attending and answering their questions.
4. Community Payback Scheme and Tenants Handbook
Community Payback Scheme
Charlie Strong introduced himself and began by saying that the council are keen to embrace the Community Payback Scheme and then explained ways in which they could get involved.
One option would be to take on groups of supervised teams. The cost of supervision is estimated at about £100 per week and to save on administration, an annual payment of £4,800 could be made from the Housing Revenue Account. Tenants voiced their concerns about the scheme and in particular, that it could be exploitative and may take paid jobs from working people. It was suggested that more people should raise their concerns if they are unhappy with the scheme.
Among the questions put to Charlie were:-
Q. If jobs allocated to this scheme are not done, would the council step in to do them anyway?
A. In some cases Waste Services would be called on to do the work.
Q. Are the people on these schemes taking work from those looking for jobs in the public sector?
A. No, this will generally be work that the council cannot afford to do.
Q. Are the jobs ones that are normally allocated to contractors?
A. No, people working on the scheme will be assisting the contracted workers.
Q. Why can’t people in their own communities do the work?
A. There are not enough community volunteers to help, which is one reason why the Community Payback Scheme is being suggested.
Q. What guarantees have residents got that the scheme workers won’t re-offend?
A. Those taking part will be supervised and should be given a chance.
Charlie stated that there is no timescale for making a decision on this and that the council would be adopting a commitment, not a legally binding contract, if they went along with it. He said he would be willing to contact Surrey and Sussex Probation Trust to see if one of their staff would be willing to attend an ACF meeting to explain the scheme in more detail. All agreed. Tony suggested that someone should also be invited along to put the trade union point of view to the meeting.
Charlie has put together a revised draft version of the Repairs and Improvements Section of the Tenants’ Handbook. There is a need to reduce spending on repairs and these ideas were first put forward and discussed at the Tenants’ and Leaseholders’ Annual Conference last year. Charlie said that not a lot has changed overall but he identified some of the different responsibilities of the council and tenants. The handbook is currently at the proof reading stage.
A number of people had questions for Charlie about repairs and maintenance to their own properties, which Charlie noted. He then left the meeting at this point.
5. Minutes of the last meeting – 24th November 2011
6. Matters arising
7. Bids for environmental improvements
No bids received this time.
8. Treasurer’s report
Total in bank is £2557.10.
9. Reports of committees
i) Compact Monitoring Group
The last time tenants and leaseholders on the Compact Monitoring Group met, it was suggested that a Scrutiny Group be formed to scrutinise the workings of Adur Homes Services. It was also suggested that the ACF investigates how other local authorities scrutinise their interests.
ii) The Forum
The first meeting for the Spring Edition will be held at 10.30am on 21st February at the Lancing Office.
iii) Adur Leaseholders’ Forum (ALF)
In Kevin’s absence, Ron Pope mentioned about the fire risk assessments and asked how the removal of ‘obstructions’ from communal areas are going to be enforced. He said some sheltered housing residents use the areas to store their wheelchairs and other mobility appliances.
Tony said that he is involved in an active campaign at the moment to oppose changes to Support Services at sheltered schemes. There have been successful meetings with councillors, letters have been sent to West Sussex County Council and they have been collecting signatures for a petition. Councillor Angie Mills attends regular meetings at WSCC and has attended several residents’ meetings at Shadwells Court recently to answer their questions and to let them know what is happening.
Tony also pointed out the dramatic changes that are planned for welfare allowances and said that although help may be available, tenants would need the backing of their G.P to get access to some of them.
10. Any other business
Tony expressed concern about the recent arson attack at Shadwells Court sheltered housing scheme.
As many questions were raised regarding communications between the ACF and the council, it was thought that it would be a good idea to invite Julie Searle to a future ACF meeting.
Due to shortage of time, there were no other matters raised.
The raffle raised £23.
11. Date of next meeting
To be arranged.