Diary of a Sutton Councillor

Thursday 24th June 2010 6pm

Housing Advisory Group

For my first Housing Advisory Group meeting we had one of its largest agendas, covering the Housing Revenue Account business plan and proposed reforms; consideration of the policy of recharging window replacement costs to leaseholders; a review of Sutton Housing Partnership tenancy conditions; and consideration of the new Sutton Housing Strategy.

As leaseholder representatives had been invited to this meeting and were in attendance I took the item considering the council’s policy of recharging replacement window costs to leaseholders first. Under the existing policy leaseholders with property in council owned flats were required to pay a proportionate contribution to the cost of the replacement of windows in their block of flats. For most leaseholders this worked out fairly, but there were cases where leaseholders had already replaced their windows using their own funds, but due to the terms of their lease were still required to contribute to the cost of replacing the remaining windows in the block. Enquiries ascertained that this practice was legally sound and was the policy of all but two London boroughs.

Sutton’s policy had agreed to be reviewed as the result of lobbying by representatives of leaseholders finding themselves in this position. I invited the attending representatives Beverley Brigden and Margaret Onians to present their case. Both pointed out that they themselves were not directly affected by the policy but were here representing leaseholders generally. They pointed out that most had replaced their windows before the council got around to it out of necessity rather than choice. They stated that they supported the proposal set out in the papers whereby leaseholders contributed a much smaller amount towards the replacement costs which still ensured that the Housing Revenue Account was not ‘out of pocket’ as a result of the situation. This was seen as the fairest way to balance the respective positions of the tenants and the leaseholders, if not a perfect solution for the leaseholders.

I was impressed at the leaseholders acceptance of the equity of this solution, as the current position was particularly hard financially on the leaseholders.

It was noted that in comparison to the legally recoverable amount this solution would still leave the housing revenue account with less funds despite the savings from having less windows to replace, and therefore reducing available funds for reinvestment for tenants.

However there was general agreement by the board that this new solution was best in terms of fairness and as it was acceptable to the leaseholders it should be recommended to the Executive that the policy be changed in respect of recharging leaseholders in line with the solution discussed.

Next the board considered the Housing Revenue Account Business Plan which had been prepared to consider the management and maintenance of the council’s housing stock over the next thirty years. The plan had been prepared using the current subsidy arrangements whereby Sutton was in the difficult position of ‘negative subsidy’ which meant that it got back less funds for reinvestment in housing stock than it collected in rent. It was quite clear from the plan that under the current system there was insufficient funding to maintain the existing stock at a decent level beyond the short term. The plan also set out alternative scenarios using the proposed changes in the government’s current consultation paper moving towards self-financing. Even under the worst case scenario it could be seen that the situation for Sutton would be improved. There were still many uncertainties and concern was expressed about the inability to make decisions until these issues were resolved. In particular the reform proposals did not address whether the remainder of the decent homes funding would be paid. A draft response to the consultation was reviewed and suggestions made.

 As a result of issues arising Sutton Housing Partnership had requested some changes to its tenancy conditions. Some were to tighten definitions in the original conditions, and others were to address anti-social behaviour issues and to reinforce messages that domestic violence was unacceptable.

There was some discussion about SHP’s proposals to either ban the possession of firearms or require notification of possession. It was pointed out by Cllr. Brown that notifying the landlord contravened the conditions of holding a firearms licence. There was further discussion about balancing the rights of individuals against the safety of others. It was pointed out that the current laws around possession of firearms aimed to address the safety concerns raised by ensuring that only responsible people were permitted to own firearms. It was eventually agreed that a happy compromise would be to state that it was not permitted for individuals to store firearms (or explosives) in their residences. This then allowed for legal possession whilst satisfying SHP staff that they would be unlikely to be faced with a firearm on the premises they visited.

Members were then asked to consider the objectives as set out in the new Housing Strategy for Sutton. I sought assurance that the strategic aims of the strategy to provide more housing were supported by strategic planning policy. I was assured that there had been discussions between departments to align objectives.

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September 2, 2010 - Posted by | Committee Meeting

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