Housing Services Covid 19 Service Update – August 2020
In late March we scaled back our services in line with Government guidance but managed to continue to deliver essential services for our residents and keep our homes safe throughout the Covid-19 lockdown phase.
Recent announcements and guidance means we are now beginning a phased re-start of some of our services with housing staff following guidance on social distancing and limiting contact between teams with other changes introduced that will enable us to respond quickly to service requests, whilst containing the virus.
At the Civic Centre we are operating a rota which limits the number of staff in every day but all staff are working remotely and there has been no disruption to services or tenants and residents ability to contact us. And much like others we have managed to arrange appointments with residents and meeting with staff and other internal and external agencies virtually via the use of virtual meeting technology.
The Civic Centre is now partially re-opened for visitors, for limited hours and by appointments only, but this arrangement is under constant review and will follow the government and public health England advice. For up to date details for the Civic Centre re-opening, please view our Contact Us page.
Your home is important so make sure you don’t put your home at risk during these unsettling times. We acknowledge the impact the current pandemic is having on our tenant’s income and the risk to longer term job security.
If your income has been affected as a direct result of Coronavirus (COVID-19) and you are struggling to pay your rent please continue to contact us for advice and assistance by calling the Rents Team on 01322343134 or via our online form to discuss how we may be able to help with short term solutions.
Our priorities will continue to be:
*Contacting tenants in arrears to agree suitable affordable repayment plans
*Signpost to the benefits available and guidance about how to claim
*Help with budgeting advice and offer access to income and expenditure reviews
*Support tenants with any difficulties around their Universal Credit / Housing benefit claims
*Agree for the housing cost part of your Universal Credit to be paid directly to us (if appropriate)
*Signpost to partner organisations for specialist assistance and advice if required
If you need debt assistance citizens’ advice services are available by telephone or on-line. They can be contacted as below:
CAB Dartford 0300 330 9001 or on line firstname.lastname@example.org
We have seen a significant rise in the number of ASB complaints we have received during the Covid – 19 pandemic. We are still investigating all ASB complaints but are prioritising those where there are safeguarding issues, criminal damage, where people are feeling unsafe or there is a danger to life. More people than usual are in their homes for extended periods of time as they follow the Government’s advice, have children or are working from home some as key workers doing shift work.
It is important to show consideration for those around us and patience with the changed lifestyles of people confined to their homes as we all have to adapt to these new ways of living. Please be aware of your actions, the impact they could have on your neighbours and whether they could be perceived as anti-social behaviour (ASB).
Repairs and safety of our homes
Throughout the pandemic we have continued to deliver an emergency repairs service. We have also continued to deliver routine repairs to communal and external areas. Where access is safe for Contractors and Residents we will begin to complete routine repairs internally in tenant’s homes. We have a backlog of around 100 repairs that require a pre-survey by a Dartford Council Inspector and we hope to start booking these appointments in by the end of July.
Our contractors have all been issued with PPE, including gloves and masks, to protect both themselves and our residents, and reduce the potential risk of infection. This will be worn at every appointment.
Safety of our homes
We have continued with all health and safety checks including fire risk assessments, water safety, electrical checks, asbestos management and delivered associated actions plus lift servicing and repairs. Where our residents have been unable to make the appointment because they are ill or social distancing we have rescheduled the appointment to a time when they can.
We have also continued with our annual gas safety check programme throughout and will continue to contact you for access to complete this important works to ensure that your home is safe for you.
Since 17th March, our main focus has been to get ‘everyone housed’ as per the Government’s directive to remove all rough sleepers off the streets and prevent any one who is at risk of sleeping rough on the streets from getting to that situation. This has been an enormous task and continues to be a huge focus of our resources. We are looking upon this as a great opportunity to work with local partners to ensure that the people that we have accommodated in an emergency do not return to the streets as lockdown eases.
We have not been able to conduct any face to face assessments since lockdown commenced and the civic centre shuts its doors. We have however successfully moved over to a full remote service where we can conduct our statutory homelessness assessments via telephone appointments. We have a full telephone duty line and case officers are successfully maintaining contact with all their clients.
We have also been able to continue to meet with all our partners, stakeholders and support agencies via virtual meeting technology.
We will continue to deliver our service in this way for the time being and are currently working on ways to safely ease back into face to face appointments for emergency cases only. We have maintained strong contacts with all agency partners and attended many virtual safeguarding meetings and worked hard to keep our community safe, focussing on supporting victims of domestic abuse and other hidden vulnerabilities.
During the lockdown, we have been prevented from making any offers of social housing or arranging viewings of properties unless it was an emergency, such as a fire or a case of domestic abuse. This has given us time to bring our housing register assessments, change of circumstances and medical and welfare assessments up to date. The team have been providing a full housing register remote service including a duty phone line and email service. There has been no interruption to this normal service and therefore it has been business as usual.
As lockdown starts to ease, we are busy planning how we can bring the allocations up to date of the properties that have come online for re-letting during the crisis. This will involve properties that need to be advertised coming back online in due course.
We have continued to work closely with our partners to ensure that all residents in the Council’s Housing Schemes are kept safe and understand what our service can do to help them during this unprecedented event.
Although our physical availability at the Housing Schemes has been reduced during lockdown, we have continued to visit every scheme every week day. The service we have provided during lockdown has been a telephone service only, and this will continue until we can phase in our return to providing a full face to face service whilst still adhering to social distancing requirements in accordance with the revised guidelines.
Our internal communal areas such as lounges and kitchens will remain closed for the time being but we hope that these will be phased back into use on a gradual basis as soon as we are sure it is safe to do so and can ensure residents abide by the social distancing guidelines. Our communal gardens and the laundry in each scheme have remained open throughout the lockdown period on the understanding that tenants will have followed the Government’s guidelines on social distancing whilst using them.
Right to Buy
During the lockdown we have continued to provide a full telephone and electronic right to buy service. Although we have not been able to progress applications past the valuation stage due to the lockdown, we have continued progressing all other stages in the process. We will look to recommence physical valuations during the next few weeks in a way that ensures our valuer is able to maintain social distancing whilst inside properties, however this also depends on the RICS advice being updated.
The right to buy service will continue as a telephone and electronic service only for the foreseeable future and face to face meetings and appointments will therefore be unavailable for the time being.
New Council housing development
As you may be aware, Covid-19 prevented work on development sites across the country. We are pleased to report that we have now appointed a new contractor, TSG Building Services, to build a new phase of council housing across 4 sites in the borough at Milton Road, Keary Road, Mead Crescent and Gilbert Close (Gilbert Close subject to planning permission). The planning applications can be viewed on the Council’s website at: https://publicaccess.dartford.gov.uk/online-applications/search.do
Works will commence this year and are likely to complete in 2022. All 32 homes will be available to let to local people on the Council’s housing register; providing much needed rented accommodation in the borough.
We have developed a revised Housing Repairs and Maintenance Policy. This can be viewed on our Housing Strategy and Policy page.
We have continued to work closely with our leaseholders and have provided a full service during the lockdown period, and although due to the Government’s guidelines no arrears recovery action has taken place, this work will be gradually phased back in over the coming weeks. We are concerned at the potential impact this situation will have on our leaseholders in terms of their security of income and potential risk to job security and provide information and guidance via our website regarding support for those who are in financial difficulties.
If our leaseholders are worried about paying their service charges, please talk to us. Service Charges will still be charged, but we will try to help our leaseholders to manage by offering income and outgoing expenditure reviews and agreeing mutually acceptable and appropriate payment plans.
We have continued to keep in contact with the local Dartford Council Tenants’ and Leaseholders’ Forum during the lockdown period and they have maintained oversight during this difficult period. The Chair of the Dartford Borough Residents’ Forum has provided an update on some of the work that they have been carrying out over the lockdown period. The update can be viewed on the Forum Covid-19 update page.
Private Sector Housing
Despite not being able to carry out any inspections of properties, the private sector housing team has been very busy taking calls from tenants with queries about the condition of their property, landlords with queries about managing their properties and looking at ways we can use available funding to help people be safe in their homes through the Better Care Fund. Licencing of Houses of Multiple Occupation has continued as has enforcement work to ensure that residential housing remains at a good level.
Our Environmental Promotions Officer has been busy working with partners on schemes to improve our environment with a strong focus on ending fuel poverty for as many of our residents as we can.
As lockdown eases, we have already started to inspect some properties where we have concern over conditions and we’ve arranged heating to be installed where applicants qualify for assistance schemes. As our partners begin to ease their lockdown and more people return to work, we will continue to work towards improving the lives of our residents.
We thank you for your continued support and understanding during this difficult time.