Tenants’ views to be sought on future housing management

Coun Allan Hepple, second left, policy board member for housing, planning and regeneration at Northumberland County Council.
Coun Allan Hepple, second left, policy board member for housing, planning and regeneration at Northumberland County Council.

Northumberland County Council’s policy board has agreed to the principle of ending the arm’s-length management of its housing stock and establishing an integrated housing management structure within the council.

All tenants and leaseholders will now be consulted through a test of opinion before a final decision is made.

During the next week or so, each tenant will receive a leaflet explaining the proposals and a questionnaire which they should complete and return no later than Friday, January 30.

Responses can also be provided online at www.northumberland.gov.uk/homes from Monday where tenants will need to quote the unique reference number on their leaflet.

A report to the board this morning considered the best way of allowing the council to invest in council homes in the future, while continuing to provide first-class management for its 8,500 council homes.

Like many other councils 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 Blyth Valley and Alnwick district areas.

One of the key aims of having arm’s-length management was to carry out work to properties to bring them up to Decent Homes standard. All initial work has now been completed on this in Northumberland – 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 such as IT and HR within the council.

It is estimated that in excess of £750,000 a year could be saved by running current Homes for Northumberland management functions from the core of the council – freeing up this money to reinvest in council housing and services for tenants.

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.

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

“We have a strong commitment to developing and managing 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 now be contacting all tenants and leaseholders to ask their opinions on these proposals, and I would urge them all to consider this carefully and let us know their views.”

Tenants’ views will be taken into account by the council in making its final decision – which is likely to be in March 2015.