Agenda item

Housing Revenue Account Budget 2022-23


A report outlining the proposed Housing Revenue Account (HRA) budget for 2022-23 was before the Joint Executive Advisory Board (EAB) for consideration at its meeting held on 10 January 2022.


Following introductions by the Resources Director and Head of Housing, the Joint EAB considered the report and the ensuing points arose from related questions, comments and discussion for forwarding to the Executive:


1.           Some concern was expressed in relation to the comment in paragraph 5.5 of the report that the wider social housing sector was becoming increasingly commercial moving towards market rental levels.  However, the Council’s stock remained designated as social housing.  Approximately 97% of Council tenants were charged rent at social rent levels whilst the remainder paid affordable rent levels or were in a shared ownership arrangement.  Therefore the majority of Council rents were considerably lower than those charged by most housing associations, which limited the Council’s cashflow opportunities.  For those tenants in receipt of Housing Benefit, rent payments were covered up to the affordable level in accordance with the current Government framework.  There were no indications that this framework was likely to be amended in the near future.

2.           In terms of building cladding, fire risk assessments had been undertaken in respect of the Council’s entire housing stock following the Grenfell tragedy and the findings indicated that there was no cause for concern in this area as none of the stock was cladded with the type of cladding utilised at Grenfell Tower.  A recommendation arising from the Grenfell inquiry had been to review the manner in which fire risk assessments were undertaken resulting in the identification of new approaches and the issue of updated guidance.  The Council was therefore embarking on a fresh programme of assessments in line with this guidance.  This was one evolving area where the requirement for additional expenditure to remedy identified issues was anticipated and this had been factored into the budget.

3.           As the Government had not changed its stance in relation to the Right to Buy scheme, this initiative was continuing.  Where the Council sold residential units under this scheme, it received capital receipts and was working to ensure that the receipts were spent to enable new replacement properties to be added to its stock.

4.           Fees, Charges and Miscellaneous income predominantly related to service charges and rents associated with a number of HRA investment properties in the Council’s ownership.  Outstanding appendices would be added to the report when it was finalised and the amount of additional income referred to in paragraph 7.4 would be rounded to £2.7 million.

5.           There was currently no certainty with regard to the timescale for the full scale transition of recipients from Housing Benefit to Universal Credit.  Where tenants had transferred to date, they had been in receipt of advice and support from the Council and other agencies to assist with the process, which was particularly necessary in the case of vulnerable tenants.  The success of this was reflected in the low level of rent arrears, currently 1%, in the Borough compared to arrears of 5-6% experienced by most social landlords.  Although the Council took all possible steps to avoid evictions, occasionally tenants made poor money management decisions resulting in the accumulation of rent arrears.  Under these circumstances, it was necessary to follow the social landlord protocol before considering court action.  Ultimately, the decision to end a tenancy was made by a judge.

6.           The proposed investment of £24.5 million in the Council’s housing stock to secure improvements in quality, energy efficiencies linked to climate change, and safety by reducing anti-social behaviour (A-SB) was welcomed.

7.           Meeting the Climate Emergency target which the Council had set in respect of energy efficiency to achieve net zero carbon by 2030 was a challenge and ahead of the national target set by Government for social landlords to achieve net zero carbon by 2050.  Although much of the technology required to achieve this goal remained under development and few related products had reached the market, there was an early opportunity to install some ground source heat pumps where home design and layout allowed.  However, as the cost of installing a pump was £9-10,000 compared to a price of £2,500-£3,000 to install a more traditional boiler, more of the latter were currently being provided in the housing stock over the next 12 months.  These boilers were amongst the most energy efficient models available and were able to operate using alternative fuels such as hydrogen.  There were also moves to increase insulation and overall energy efficiency in the housing stock including low energy lighting installations and roofing work.  In instances of condensation, residents would be advised as how to tackle this.

8.           Fire safety work was also being undertaken and the fire doors being installed were fully compliant with current standards and with developments expected to come forward with new legislation later in the year.  The doors featured closers and intumescent strips which expanded when hot to seal them.  Fire alarm systems were also being upgraded and included enhanced corresponding magnetic door controls.  Improvements in the information available to the Fire and Rescue Service were being pursued to inform it of alarm systems and CCTV coverage in the event of fires occurring.  The Service was also made aware of tenants’ disabilities / mobility issues.

9.           With regard to A-SB, the Council was looking to work with colleagues across a number of agencies in order to identify where such behaviour could be addressed through measures including building design, improved lighting, parking arrangements and landscaping.  Proposals would be funded from the Capital Programme and were informed by direct interface with tenants and feedback from the Residents’ Group.  Such consultation would continue.

10.        The nature of the Council’s role as a supplier of social housing included providing homes to vulnerable tenants and supporting them in their tenancies to assist them to lead successful and fruitful lives, with the benefit of a wide ranging support package involving other agencies to address needs.

11.        The importance of communications to tenants was highlighted to make them aware of the proposed rent increases, with reassurance that these would be covered by benefits in many cases, and of the Council’s proposed investment in its housing stock to increase safety, and energy efficiency in the interests of climate change.


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