Public service standards on York Council estates

A few months ago an executive Councillor considered how to deal with problems relating to graffiti. As some of the problems had arisen on Council estates – with some tenanted homes being targeted – not unreasonably Council officials republished a copy of the relevant Service Level Agreement (SLA) or Customer Contract covering graffiti removal.

Service level agreement for Council housing services in York 2013

This had been updated in 2013 and specified how quickly issues like graffiti should be resolved.

The new graffiti removal process now seems to be working well on Council owned structures although utility boxes are still an issue in some parts of the City.

A recent Freedom of information response has raised more questions than it has answered.

Asked to publish the most up to date SLA for each public service area, the Council has so far only come up with one for Housing. It turns out to be different from that published in October although the new agreement apparently dates back to May 2019.

The SLAs for other public services have not yet been provided.

Closer examination of the housing services agreement  – now referred to as a “local offer” – reveals that many of service standards which make a neighbourhood a pleasant place to live have now been discarded.

The only work volume now being monitored relates to fly tipping.

There is no mention of anti social behaviour or other crime, no standards for grass or hedge cutting, no indication of how quickly estate improvements will be completed, nothing on road and footpaths either in terms of  numbers of complaints or public satisfaction and nothing on street cleanliness.  There are no figures for empty properties and garages.

There are some public satisfaction measures, but they are very general in scope with results unlikely to be reliable at individual estate level.

There are no stats on estate inspections either in confirmation of where they are taking place or what issues are being revealed.

There is nothing on the garden maintenance scheme.

“Local Offer” on Council housing standards May 2019

Officials say that the new measures have been agreed by a “tenant’s panel”. It appears that the Council has appointed six tenants to replace the tenant’s federation which lapsed some 2 years ago. How these tenants are appointed and – crucially – how they assess the views of York’s 8000 other tenants is something of a mystery. The tenants concerned are not identified. They apparently meet once a month, but no agenda or meeting minutes are published on the Councils web site.

It is likely that those individual Residents Associations that do exist, will now insist on having an input into a revised Service Level Agreement for Council housing.

We will publish the Service Level Agreements covering other public service standards in the City when we receive, them

1444 on housing waiting list in York

There are currently 1444 people registered on the housing waiting list in York.

3 of these have been given an emergency classification with a further 204 in the top urgency category (Gold).

The York Council is leaving the North Yorkshire pooled “home choice” system next November (2020). It will then implement its own housing allocations policies.

There are currently 7512 Council homes in York. Around 600 a year of these become available for reletting. Since 2014, 522 additional homes have been added to the pool although this has been offset by 324 “right to buy” sales.

The Council hopes to build an additional 600 new homes across York over the next few years.

One major issue facing York is the demand for elderly persons accommodation. York has an estimated shortage of independent living and extra care properties which is forecast to be over 1100 independent living properties and almost 500 extra care properties by 2039.

68% of York’s’ housing is owner occupied. Average house prices have risen by 25% over the last 4 years to £235,000. That is nearly 9 times the average wage.  In the same period rents on private 2 bed properties have risen by 11.5% to £725 a month.

For those living on benefits, there is a major gulf between income and monthly private sector rents.

Housing affordability in York

Unfortunately, the Council has no influence on the terms of “Right to Buy” sales, so must try to bridge the gap with new build.

Housing fraud prevention processes to be tightened in York

According to a report which will be considered by the Councils Audit committee next week more needs to be done to prevent fraudulent applications for Council houses.

There are concerns about sub letting.

The report says

The process for identifying housing fraud was found to be working reasonably well at the outset of tenancies in that the procedure for applying for properties is being followed with the necessary documents being obtained to support the housing application.

Applications for housing are input manually onto the housing system by Housing Registrations Officers based on a phone conversation or meeting with the applicant with no signature obtained to confirm the information on the application is correct.

Pictures were not routinely taken of tenants when they start their
tenancy nor is there an agreed process or timescale to take pictures of existing tenants.

This means that an important way to confirm that the
person living at the property is as expected is being missed.

Further details of homes plans for Ordnance Lane, Duncombe Barracks & Burnholme

The York Council says that the next stage of it’s work with York residents to design the homes, streets and open spaces planned for the city is underway, and everyone is welcome to get involved.

The latest workshops will inform our architects of local priorities before they start work at the drawing boards, and are open to all residents to join in. The next phase of these engagement events will be for Ordnance Lane, Duncombe Barracks and Burnholme site.

Duncombe Barracks housing site

David Mikhail, is the founding director of our architect Mikhail Riches and is the design director for the sites coming forward in City of York Council’s Housing Delivery Programme. He said: “Our design team and City of York Council are eager to learn from the people who live, work or study in the area.

“We believe in co-design and know that collaborating with people on our projects helps us to design and build a better place: a new place that belongs to the neighbourhood right from the start.” 

Tom Brittain, assistant director of housing and safer communities, said: “The three-stage engagement events for the council-owned sites will be guided by our housing design manual (www.york.gov.uk/housingdesignmanual). We want to encourage as many people as possible to continue to support these sessions so that they can help create the homes and settings for them that they want to see.”

The event at Hospital Fields Road will be the first for this site and will start conversations between residents and our architects from Mikhail Riches. This will include asking residents about the area and what they want from the homes, streets and open spaces on the site, as has already been done for Duncombe Barracks and Burnholme.

The events at Duncombe Barracks and Burnholme will be detailed, one-day workshops, with lunch provided. At them, residents can hear the ideas and priorities voiced at the first workshops held in October. They can then create 3D models of how they’d like each site to look like.

The third events are scheduled for spring 2020 for the Duncombe Barracks and Burnholme sites. At these, plans of the proposals will be drawn up and feedback on them requested, as well as from on-line surveys, ahead of planning permission being submitted.

Everyone is welcome to these next meetings as we are very keen to hear your views. They will be:  

For more information, please visit www.york.gov.uk/HousingDeliveryProgramme

Consultation with Council tenants in York

Disappointing report from the York Council.

Its over 12 months since the York Residents’ Federation were forced to fold. They were the victims of an over officious approach by some Council staff. Their independent input never seemed to be welcomed by senior Councillors or officials.

As with any voluntary body, those involved needed to feel that their contribution is valued. Too often it clearly wasn’t by the York Council.

Some Councillors to their credit saw this as a backward step and the LibDem manifesto at the May local elections gave a pledge to revive citywide consultation arrangements.

A report on the subject of tenant consultation has now been published and will be considered by one of the Councils scrutiny committees next week. The report can be found by clicking here

Sadly there is little new in the report. It has apparently not even been run past the several successful residents associations which exist in the City

The Council needs to take consultation and tenant involvement much more seriously.

63% of Council tenants say lack of car parking provision is a problem in their area

Annual Council tenants satisfaction survey results  have been published. Not surprisingly they show little change for the views record last year.

The results are based on the views of 595 tenants who returned the Councils survey form

83% of tenants area satisfied with the overall service provided by the (Council) landlord

Highest level of dissatisfaction relates to poor parking provision in estates. Despite funding having been made available, Council officials seem unable to deliver the additional parking pal-bys in locations that have been identified. It is a problem in parts of the Westfield Ward where 6 schemes, some dating back as far as 2016, have yet to be started. Only one, in Spurr Court, has been completed recently.

There are other areas where tenants say improvements are needed

  • 59% say dog fouling is a problem
  • 59% Are unhappy with the state of roads and footpaths
  • 55% say rubbish and litter is a problem in their area
  • 48% say drug use or dealing is a problem in their area.
  • 44% say disruptive teenagers are a problem in their area
  • 46% say drunk or rowdy behaviour is an issue

The Council was criticised by 1/3 tenants who said the landlord did not listen to their views. This was a marked increase in dissatisfaction since the previous survey was completed.

In 2018 the York Federation of Tenants Associations was wound up, with no independent voice now articulating residents concerns in many of the City’s estates.

£23,620 being written off in York for 4 Council tenant arrears

The York Councils Executive member with responsible for housing is being asked to write off the bad debts of 4 former Council tenants.

The amount involved is nearly £6000 each.

With average Council house rents around £300 a month, it means that these former tenants didn’t pay any rent for around 18 months.

They are unlikely to have been housing benefit cases as the rent payable in those cases is usually minimal.

The tenants apparently absconded between 2 and 5 years ago.

The identities of the tenants involved are not being disclosed. In the past “naming names” has sometimes allowed the Council to trace those who have absconded. It is not clear why the Council has changed its policy and granted anonymity in these cases.

The Council says that if it does trace the individuals concerned they will still be required to pay what they owe.

So how safe are Council flats in York?

We’ve been out checking today

Clearly a check needs to be made on those blocks which have not recently been redecorated to ensure notices are up to date.

Fire procedure notice

We think that the housing department needs to proactively communicate with tenants to reassure them following this weeks tragic news from London.

Combustible storage notice

York has relatively few high rise blocks but, even at those with 2 or 3 storeys, checks need to be made on alarm systems, lighting, fire doors and electrical safety.

The results of the latest Fire Service safety audit needs to be publicly displayed in each block

We think that tenants should be offered smoke alarms and free electrical equipment safety checks.

We hope that the council will ensure that both primary and secondary safety requirements are highlighted in any planning decisions made on new or modernised flat developments ( including conversions such as the one agreed for the former Nestle factory as recently as Thursday).

Fire exit direction sign

Finally the Council needs to reconsider whether it should be consulting on transferring its stock into the management of an “arms length company”. This weeks events point to the insensitivity of such arrangements with both tenants and Councillors frustrated at a lack of engagement by officials.

Better to refine the tried and tested Council housing model which at least allows tenants to exercise some control through the ballot box.

The present system is far from perfect but appears to be better than the other available options.

York Council housing at risk

The York Council has decided to spend £200,000 surveying views on whether to ditch its Council house management  responsibilities.

council-housing-at-risk

Some Councillors want to transfer management of the homes to an independent company as was done in Leeds.

We think that they are wrong.

When polled 15 years ago on a similar proposal tenants voted overwhelmingly to retain the York Council as a landlord.

More recently, when asked whether they were satisfied with the Council as a landlord 89% said that they were.

The housing account currently shows a surplus although government policies could change this in the medium term. Central government sets rent levels (which they are reducing as a way of controlling benefit claims).

They also plan to sell off some Council houses, when they become vacant, to the highest bidder as a way of balancing their books. The Liberal Democrats have started a petition opposing this “sell off”. Click here

They also intend to charge “commercial rents” to tenants that they regard as “wealthy”. This plan, at least, wasn’t taken into account in a gloomy and selective officer report which prompted the outsourcing plot.

The plan was opposed by Andrew Waller and a Green Party Councillor when debated by the Council’s Executive but slipped through anyway.

The resulting turmoil and indecision will be exacerbated by the resignation of the Head of Housing Services. His post will be filled on a temporary basis via an internal appointment.

All in all, we think that the Council has more pressing issues to address.

They should abandon this plan which is a waste of time and money