Committee round-up: Communities Committee 21.12.17

Committee round-up: Communities Committee 21.12.17

A revised charging policy for care services, the roll-out of a ‘full service’ Universal Credit system, and the approval of a new local housing strategy for Aberdeenshire were among matters discussed at the latest meeting of Aberdeenshire Council’s Communities Committee. 

Implications of Universal Credit rollout discussed

The implications of the rollout of a ‘full service’ Universal Credit benefits scheme across Aberdeenshire was discussed by the committee.

Universal Credit is a single means-tested benefit, administered by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), for people of working age who are in or out of work.

It replaces a number of former standalone benefits: income-based Jobseekers Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support, Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, and Housing Benefit.

Councillors heard how the transition from the former benefits approach to Universal Credit has led to a rise in rent arrears in other council areas, and that the council was putting measures in place to try and minimise any impact on Aberdeenshire tenants.

As well as looking at the experiences of other councils, information sessions have been taking place in partnership with the DWP. Housing officers have been issued with mobile devices to help claimant’s complete claims forms and training has been provided to staff.

The introduction of the ‘full service’ has now begun in Aberdeenshire, and will continue to be rolled out during 2018. It is anticipated that all claimants will be using the new system by 2022.

Councillors went on to have a detailed discussion about the rollout, seeking assurances about support for those facing difficulties during the transition and particularly for those with disabilities or who require support from others to complete the claims process.

Access to crisis grants, and the pressure on council staff to deliver the rollout were also discussed and it was agreed that the council would correspond with the DWP around any concerns about the timescales for the rollout if necessary.

It was agreed that further reports should be brought back to Communities Committee as required, and that a briefing will be brought before the Kincardine and Mearns Area Committee to highlight the work that has been undertaken locally regarding the introduction of Universal Credit in that area.

It was also agreed that reports would go to other area committees as the full service rollout continues across Aberdeenshire.

Police Scotland performance update

Chief Superintendent Campbell Thomson provided the committee with an update on Police Scotland’s local performance between April and September 2017.

He talked of positive staffing statistics and how the 56 Special Constables actively working locally represented a higher number than any other part of the country.

Ch Supt Thomson went on to highlight a detection rate of more than 90% for serious assaults, adding: “The message is clear that if you commit a serious crime you will be brought to justice.”

The average number of housebreakings has fallen over the past five years, with detection rates rising.

Responding to questions from committee members, Ch Supt Thomson noted a fall in the number of parking tickets issued and explained that action is taken where parking is causing issues but otherwise attention had to be focused on other priorities.

Ch Supt Thomson spoke about response times are measured, prompting committee chair Cllr Anne Stirling to propose that the committee visit a police call centre to gain an understanding of how approaches are dealt with.

Other subjects covered included road safety, racist incidents and drug offences before the committee went on to formally note the statistics.

Performance of housing service outlined

The number of people accessing affordable housing in Aberdeenshire has fallen in the last year, councillors heard.

A fall in the number of properties becoming available and the need for major works in some cases were highlighted as possible factors for the change.

The average number of working days to complete non-emergency repairs to council properties has increased slightly but remains better than target, and all areas have seen improved performance since the same period in 2016.

Some progress is being made in reducing fuel poverty in Aberdeenshire, although figures remain slightly above the Scottish average.

Progress of ‘tenure-neutral’ housing adaptations progress discussed

The progress of an approach to help people with disabilities, long-term conditions or who are frail to remain independent in their homes and communities was discussed.

A report before the committee outlined the ‘tenure-neutral’ approach to housing adaptations, aimed at complementing housing, health and social care strategies.

Aberdeenshire’s Tenure Neutral Improvement Project began in May 2016, with work undertaken to simplify the applications process for customers, and to update the way customer feedback is gathered.

It was agreed that further work to improve outcomes is reported both to Communities Committee and to the Integration Joint Board for Health and Social Care, and that area committees would be informed of developments.

Local Housing Strategy approved

Aberdeenshire Council’s Local Housing Strategy for 2018-2023 was supported by the committee.

The document, developed during 2017, outlines priorities for affordable housing; energy efficiency, fuel poverty and sustainability; homelessness and housing options; independent living; minority ethnic communities; and the private sector.

The strategy is informed by an assessment which shows high levels of need and demand for all housing types and tenures in Aberdeenshire, with particular pressure on one-bedroom homes and on housing for older people.

Updated charging policy for social care services agreed

A new charging policy for social care that will see the authority move towards covering the full cost of services has been agreed. It means that costs and charges set by the council will be increased in line with the Retail Price index as a minimum. As of September 2017, that figure stands at 3.1%.

During the meeting, the committee approved charges for both residential and non-residential care for 2018/19. The updated policy will be used by the Aberdeenshire Health and Social Care Partnership in the delivery of services across the area.

Adam Coldwells, Chief Officer of the Partnership, told the committee that the proposed fees took account of national legislation and advice from national bodies for social care, adding that a large amount of services had been receiving subsidies.

It was proposed that increases to care home charges be phased in for existing residents but that new residents should pay the full rate upon entry.

Supporting the proposals, committee vice-chair Cllr Iris Walker called for care home increases to be phased over five years, and said clear communication with service-users would be essential.

The committee went on to approve the new charging policy and agreed that phasing of residential care charges should take place over five years for existing residents. There will be no change to charges for very sheltered housing until a review is undertaken and reported back to committee.

Other matters

• It was agreed that the committee chair, vice-chair and an opposition member (or their substitute) attend the next Chartered Institute of Housing (Scotland) Conference, and the Shelter Homelessness Conference.
• An update on performance within Education and Children’s Services from July to September 2017 was noted by the committee.
• An update was given on the creation of ans Aberdeenshire Culture and Sport Trust.
• The full public reports considered by the committee can be found at http://www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/council-and-democracy/committees-and-meetings/