Changes to management of Northumberland’s social housing

Kevin Lowry, managing director at Homes for Northumberland and associate director of Strategic Housing at Northumberland County Council, with Coun Robert Arkless.
Kevin Lowry, managing director at Homes for Northumberland and associate director of Strategic Housing at Northumberland County Council, with Coun Robert Arkless.

The county council is proposing to bring the management of council homes back in-house at the authority – a decision they say will save around £750,000 a year.

Northumberland County Council is set to consider the way its council homes are managed in the future at the meeting of its policy board on Tuesday, December 9.

A report has been issued to the council’s communities and place overview and scrutiny committee which considers the best way of allowing the council to invest in homes in the future, while continuing to provide first-class management for its 8,500 council homes. Like many other authorities, Northumberland is looking closely at how it manages all of its services – aiming to achieve efficiencies while protecting frontline services to customers.

Housing owned by the council is currently managed on its behalf by an arms-length management company – Homes for Northumberland (HfN). HfN was established in 2009 and runs homes primarily in the former districts of Blyth Valley and Alnwick areas.

One of the key aims of having an ALMO was to carry out work to properties to bring them up to Decent Homes standard, and all initial work has now been completed – with an investment of nearly £102million. A move to bring management of the homes back in-house to the council would still see an annual budget for improvements and ongoing investment to achieve and maintain the homes to a decent standard over the next 30 years.

The council has been looking closely at the costs of running HfN as a separate company, and whether this can be done as effectively by carrying out management and back-office functions within the council. It is estimated that in excess of £750,000 a year could be saved by running current HfN management functions from the core of the council – freeing up this money to reinvest in council housing and services for tenants.

Councillors are being asked to consider whether the council should end the arm’s length management arrangement and establish an integrated housing management structure within the council.

The report notes that any change would primarily affect the governance and management of the services, with very little impact on service delivery for tenants and leaseholders. It also outlines how tenants would be involved in the management arrangements for their homes in the future.

If the policy board agreed to the principle of bringing the management back into the council, consultation with tenants would start from Monday, December 15.

Coun Allan Hepple, policy board member for housing, planning and regeneration at the council, said: “Like all local authorities Northumberland is under unprecedented pressure to save money and achieve efficiencies, while protecting its frontline services.

“We have a strong commitment to developing high-quality council homes and we have identified that through taking management and governance of council homes back into the council we can save money to reinvest in housing.

“We will of course be talking to tenants about this, and as part of proposals ensuring that they are fully involved in the decision, and in management of their homes in the future.”