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Closed: Have your say on how council housing services are managed in Eastbourne

Eastbourne Borough Council recently consulted tenants and leaseholders over options for how we will deliver our 'Homes First' housing services in the future.

From 4 December 2023 to 16 February 2024 we carried out a consultation over a proposal to bring the governance of Eastbourne Borough Council's housing services back into the council and the future of the EHL Board and Residents Voice.

Consultation report

Thank you to everyone who responded to this consultation.

  • 71% agreed with the proposal to bring governance of Eastbourne Borough Council housing services back into the council
  • 23% neither agreed or disagreed
  • 5% disagreed

Download the consultation report

Outcome of the consultation

At Eastbourne Borough Council Cabinet on Wednesday 20 March 2024, the recommendation was agreed to bring governance of Eastbourne housing services back into the council.

For more detail, see agenda item 59 here: Cabinet on Wednesday, 20th March, 2024

The consultation has given clear direction around the will of residents to take the governance back under the control of Eastbourne Borough Council. This has no reflection on what remains a hugely successful model of governance for Eastbourne tenants and their homes. The reputation of Eastbourne Homes Ltd remains high amongst our residents and has delivered considerable investment in homes during the last two decades and outstanding results during often challenging periods of operation, as a result of the oversight and scrutiny of Board members and ancillary committees, working alongside officers.

Since 2005 tenants have benefitted from unprecedented investment in their homes, ensuring safe, warm and compliant homes and environments for individuals, families and communities. During considerable periods of challenge especially in the last few years since the 2020 Covid pandemic, cost of living challenges and inflationary pressures on services, the scrutiny and solid management of EHL has been a constant that tenants have been able to confidently rely on.

The move back to the council will draw on this experience and take with it the good practice that has been developed over that period into a new future, with that enhanced focus upon the professionalisation of housing services and a new regime around consumer standards, led by the Regulator for Social Housing.


Background

Housing services in Eastbourne are currently managed on behalf of Eastbourne Borough Council (and its housing brand, Homes First) by Eastbourne Homes Limited (EHL), which is an arm's length management organisation (ALMO).

At the time EHL was set up, the council was able to access 'Decent Homes' funding to improve the standard of housing across the borough. It also enabled us to make our housing services more community-focussed and has achieved many positive things over the years. Crucial to this has been the positive impact of the EHL Board and its oversight of the delivery of housing services.   

Eastbourne Borough Council has been looking carefully at the pros and cons of continuing the current arrangements of EHL managing our housing, versus bringing the service back into Eastbourne Borough Council, continuing as part of Homes First.

Looking to the future

Eastbourne Borough Council is facing increasing financial pressures, much like many other local authorities across the country. These pressures are due to the cost-of-living crisis, the dramatic increase in homelessness and numbers of people in need of council housing and the increased pressure on Repairs and Maintenance budgets, which have been challenging to manage alongside increased need for investment in our housing stock.

Returning the governance of our housing services to the council would put us in a strong position to respond to these pressures.

Making this change would have no negative impacts for tenants, leaseholders or housing staff but it would provide benefits including greater financial stability and longer-term security of the council's housing services.  

The review of the current ALMO arrangement has been informally discussed with tenant representatives and those we have spoken to so far have been supportive of change.

No staff are employed by EHL and the proposal seeks to ensure continuity of service delivery.

What has changed since Eastbourne Homes Limited was set up? 

In recent years, central government has brought in new laws for how council housing services must be run. These aim to increase service quality and safety for tenants. To make sure we are meeting the new standards we need strong governance for our housing services.

Along-side the financial challenges of the cost-of-living crisis and an increase in homelessness, changes to government housing policies have added further pressure to councils' housing budgets. These include the Government's rent cap. The costs of repairs and maintenance services have also increased significantly. 

Crucially, the additional funding opportunities for arms-length management organisations, which central Government brought in, no longer exist.

The council would also be able to simplify many of its back-office systems and operations if this change happens.

What would change? 

From a tenant and leaseholder's perspective there would be no change to the way services are delivered.

The EHL Board - where governance and decision-making currently takes place - would end in its current form.

In place of this there would be two options for governance and tenant involvement.

  1. The EHL Board remains in place as an advisory / scrutiny body rather than a decision-making body.
  2. The EHL Board is combined with Residents Voice, making this the combined strategic tenant body.

Both options would provide transparency of decision making but we would like to know whether you have a preference between these two options.

How we consulted 

We invited comments from housing tenants, residents, partner organisations and other stakeholders on our proposal to bring the governance of our housing services back into the council and the future of the EHL Board and Residents Voice.

An online survey was provided to help respondents structure their feedback.

Paper copies of the survey were available on request, as were copies of the consultation information in different languages and formats, such as audio and Easy Read.

Speak to us about the proposals

We held a series of events where interested residents could speak to staff about the proposed change.

Sessions took place on:

  • Hampden Park Willingdon Trees Area Panel at Hampden Park Community Centre on Friday 5 January 2024 from 10am to 12 noon
  • Retirement Housing Forum on Monday 22 January 2024 - please raise any questions you have with your retirement housing representative in advance of the forum meeting.
  • Residents Voice at Eastbourne Town Hall on Tuesday 23 January 2024 from 10am to 12.30pm
  • Hampden Park Willingdon Trees Area Panel at Hampden Park Community Centre on Friday 2 February 2024 from 10am to 12noon
  • Eastbourne Area Panel at Eastbourne Town Hall on Tuesday 13 February 2024 from 10.30am to 12.30pm

Members of Eastbourne Borough Council / Homes First attended above meetings to speak about the proposals. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What will happen to Homes First?

Homes First will continue to deliver the full range of housing services (housing advice, homelessness services, tenancy management, repairs and maintenance, private sector housing and tenant participation) across Eastbourne.

Currently, Homes First delivers services in Eastbourne on behalf of Eastbourne Homes Ltd (EHL) who in turn provide these services on behalf of Eastbourne Borough Council.

Bringing the governance of our housing services back into the council would mean Homes First is directly accountable to Eastbourne Borough Council rather than the EHL ALMO.

Will Lewes District Council and Eastbourne Borough Council remain separate?

Yes. The legal status of the two councils remains separate and there will still be two sets of councillors, two Lead Cabinet Members for housing - one for each council. There will continue to be two separate budgets (Housing Revenue Accounts), which will continue to be used to deliver services to current and future tenants and leaseholders in Lewes district and Eastbourne borough respectively.

How can I get more involved in decisions about how housing services are run?

Any of our tenants or leaseholders are welcome to get involved in our engagement activity and we are happy to provide training to support this.

We would support EHL Board members to remain involved in the scrutiny of housing services to harness their knowledge and experience.

Would my rent change?

There will be no changes to your rent as a result of bringing management of our services back into the council. The rent we charge is set by a government formula and we will discuss any opportunities to influence rent charges with residents outside of this consultation.

Would the proposed changes affect my tenancy?

No, your tenancy and leasehold rights would remain the same as in the current management arrangement. Any changes to tenancy agreements would need a separate consultation exercise.

Will Homes First contractors change?

There would be no changes to any contracted services provided on behalf of Homes First such as Mears, BSW and Just Ask as a result of this decision.

Will services improve?

The proposals would give tenants and leaseholders continuing opportunities to have a say in how services are run and help drive improvements in the quality of our housing services.

How will the decision be made?

We will gather the views of tenants and leaseholders through the consultation exercise and prepare a summary of feedback received. This will be shared with respondents, tenants, the EHL Board and to councillors who will then make a decision on the future of our housing services.

We will keep you updated throughout the process and would be happy to answer any questions you have about the proposals. Please email your questions to tenant.involvement@lewes-eastbourne.gov.uk

 

 

To request the consultation information in a different language or format such as a paper copy, please email CustomerFirst@lewes-eastbourne.gov.uk