Housing Service: Maintaining and Improving Neighbourhoods Policy 2020-2025
The purpose of this policy is to outline Housing Services approach to working to improve neighbourhoods in which we own and manage housing.
This policy is concerned with the effective management of the external areas around Wealden District Council’s homes and shared communal areas to ensure that our neighbourhoods are safe, attractive and well maintained places to live.
The policy explains our approach to managing the neighbourhood, how we will involve local residents in neighbourhood planning and improvements, and partnership working with other agencies concerned with the safety, security and appearance of the neighbourhood.
Our Maintaining and Improving Neighbourhood Policy has been written having regard to our corporate and housing vision and values, relevant legislation and best practice.
This policy is in-line with our corporate objectives. One of the four themes of which is Communities, which provides that: “We want people in Wealden’s communities to have the opportunity to enjoy an excellent quality of life.”
It is also consistent with the housing strategic objectives and its key principles which are:
- Reducing inequality – making sure that services are welcoming and responsive to the needs of Wealden’s whole community.
- Improving neighbourhoods – making sure services contribute to creating safe sustainable communities.
- Accountability to local people – making sure that local people are involved in decisions about the services that affect them.
- Value for money – making sure services are good quality and provide excellent value for money.
- Partnership working – making sure the Council works with other agencies that can help improve the quality of life residents in the District.
The Regulator of Social Housing Neighbourhood and Community Standard (paragraph 2.1) requires registered providers, in consultation with their tenants, to publish a policy for maintaining and improving the neighbourhoods associated with their homes.
We will continue to ensure that the estates are managed in accordance with best practice and relevant policy and legislation. Therefore the policy should be read in conjunction with the following:
- Housing Service’s Tenant Involvement Strategy
- Housing Service’s Antisocial Behaviour Policy and Procedure
- Housing Service’s Housing Revenue Account Business Plan
- Housing Service’s Asset Management Plan.
- Housing Service’s Fencing Policy
- Wealden’s Tenancy Agreements
- Wealden District Council’s Housing Strategy
- Wealden District Council Local Plan
- Regulator of Social Housing: Regulatory framework for social housing in England 2015
- Wealden’s Tenant’s (including temporary accommodation tenants), Retirement Living Leaseholds and Right to Buy handbooks.
Wealden’s Housing Service recognises that there is a clear relationship between the quality of the local environment and residents overall quality of life.
We are committed to:
- ensuring the grounds and communal facilities we own and manage are well maintained so they are clean, safe and secure communities where tenants and residents are proud to live
- ensuring we have clear standards so that residents know what to expect from our services
- ensuring our services and improvement works deliver value for money
- maintaining a regular, visible presence on our estates
- ensuring we comply with all Health & Safety requirements
- encouraging residents to take responsibility for their environment/neighbourhood
- taking a clear and firm approach to environmental crime which includes fly-tipping, abandoned cars and dog mess
- working in partnership with residents and other agencies to develop sustainable communities that are safe, secure and well maintained.
- ensuring any estate improvement works are planned and the local community involved in shaping these
- providing an opportunity for our customers to be involved in developing, monitoring and reviewing our estates and neighbourhood management services
- placing tenants at the heart of the approach to managing and improving neighbourhoods. This includes working with constituted resident associations, other relevant groups and individual tenants to deliver this policy and respond to community issues raised
- improving lives, neighbourhoods and communities by promoting a culture of pride and respect
Our neighbourhoods can be defined as estates, groups of homes with shared external or internal areas, or ad hoc roads or pockets of land that we own.
This policy applies to all the common areas of homes and estates owned or managed by the council and to all the tenancies and leases managed by the council.
We recognise that our neighbourhoods are diverse and so our approach to neighbourhood management reflects the individual requirements of our homes, communal areas and associated land in a particular area. Therefore we will listen to residents’ views to get the local picture; and we will work with partners to prioritise work in response to local need.
Wealden is the largest district in East Sussex and covers 323 square miles. The council continues to own and manage its own housing stock. As at July 2020 Wealden owned 3,000 rented properties across the 5 main towns in the district and in 30 of the 37 parishes. Just under two thirds of this stock is concentrated in the main towns of Hailsham, Crowborough, Heathfield, Polegate and Uckfield. The remainder of the stock is in the small hamlets and villages in rural locations. Most of the housing was built in the immediate post war years and through the 70’s and 80’s.
In addition, the service manages 27 properties on behalf of A2 Dominion across two sites (24 for rent and 3 shared ownership). The Council collects the rent and provides the same management services as it does for its own tenants in return for an administration fee and a set cost per month for repairs works. A2 Dominion remain responsible for any major works or modernisations to the properties. The service also manages 208 leasehold properties sold under the Right to Buy, 77 retirement leasehold properties, 2 Right to Buy shared ownership properties, and 2 general needs shared ownership properties as well as 401 garages.
Broadly speaking it can be defined as a geographically localised community within a larger town or parish. The Housing Service has therefore generally categorised neighbourhoods by estates.
This has resulted in the following examples:
- Town Farm, Hailsham
- Alderbrook, Crowborough
- Jarvis Brook, Crowborough
- Churchcoombe, Uckfield
The Head of Housing and the Property and Housing Services Managers are responsible for ensuring that all aspects of their services comply with this policy.
All other employees within the service are required to ensure that they act in accordance with the policy in carrying out their duties.
Delivery of this policy falls into 5 main areas:
- Estate Management
- Property Services
- Tenant Involvement
- Partnership Working
Staffing and funding are subject to review and any changes to these resources may impact on our ability to deliver this policy.
Wealden employs three generic Housing Officers and three Estate Wardens who work across the whole district.
The three Housing Officers work primarily covers tenancy management and enforcement but also includes estate management.
The three Estate Wardens work closely with the three Housing Officers, offering a visible presence on estates, helping to promote successful communities and to keep our neighbourhoods clean, tidy and safe.
The three Estate Wardens are trained and carry out monthly fire safety inspections to all flats which have communal areas. The inspection includes both an internal and external inspection.
In Retirement Living Courts these are done on a weekly basis by the Court Manager.
The Housing Management Team is responsible for grounds maintenance and have developed detailed plans of estates to ensure areas within its ownership get maintained, this includes flowerbeds, borders, hedges, ditches and grass cutting or other areas of planting on our land. Grounds maintenance is provided to 92,359 m2. These areas are included in our grounds maintenance schedule, and this service is delivered on our behalf by a contractor.
The Housing Service continues to explore ways to engage with residents/resident groups on general needs estates to ensure that works are carried out in accordance with the contract; this includes actual work carried out and quality monitoring.
We aim to publish on an annual basis a schedule of works for the forthcoming year. This will be shared with the local resident groups where they exist.
In order to ensure that communal areas and communal windows in both general needs and retirement living housing are cleaned to an agreed standard on a regular basis a contractor delivers these services, and they are paid for by residents through a service charge.
These services are monitored by our Contracts Supervising Officer.
Enforcing conditions of tenancy
One of the roles of the Housing Officer is to ensure that tenants’ comply with tenancy conditions. This will include keeping gardens maintained, clean and tidy, the keeping of pets/animals and the building of any structures etc. Where a breach of the tenancy conditions is highlighted appropriate and proportionate action will be taken.
Tackling Antisocial Behaviour
The Housing Service use a range of strategies designed to tackle neighbour nuisance and antisocial behaviour early on, which can stop problems from escalating. The Housing Service work with partner agencies to tackle these issues.
We have a published policy on antisocial behaviour and associated conditions within all our tenancy agreements and leases. We have recently undertaken work to include more on acceptable behaviour as part of our tenancy agreements. Our policy is tenure neutral enabling us to act on conduct that directly or indirectly relates to or affects our housing management functions. It allows for action to be taken for or against our own secure, non-secure, flexible fixed term and introductory tenants, owner-occupiers and private sector tenants.
Where estate walkabouts are carried out either the Housing Officer or the local resident association/group will take the lead in organising these. The frequency will be agreed locally, and depending upon local issues and available resources. The Housing Officer or local resident association/group may also invite local residents, representatives from residents associations, the Police, Highways, and councillors to attend.
In areas without formal estate walkabouts with local residents the Housing officer and/or Estate Wardens will undertake a regular walk around of the area to identify any issues that need addressing.
As well as estate walkabouts on general needs estates there are also regular walkabouts in retirement living courts with the court manager.
Wealden will consider improvements to estates on a case by case basis and in full consultation with residents; this will be dependent upon budgetary constraints.
The Council will also work with and support local resident associations/groups to bid for external funding to deliver estate improvements or facilities such as skate parks, play areas, planters etc.
Where the graffiti is on land or buildings owned by the Housing Service it will be removed as soon as possible.
Abandoned vehicles are controlled in the district by Operation Crackdown through which Wealden District Council work closely with the police. Officers have direct access to the DVLA system. All reported vehicles are put on the system and visited within 24 hours, with various checks being run via the DVLA system to establish ownership or authorisation to remove. Vehicles are no longer stickered as this encourages possible vandalism and arson. We will work to identify owners of suspected abandoned vehicles and arrange for the vehicle to be removed, stored and disposed of if the owner does not respond after giving the required notice. Where the owner is identified we may re-charge them the costs for the removal, storage and disposal of the vehicle.
Where rubbish has been dumped on one Wealden’s housing estates/land the Estate Wardens will usually remove the rubbish and take it to a nearby Waste Recycling site. Where the perpetrator is known to the Housing Service we will endeavour to take action against them.
Where fly tipping occurs on land not in the ownership of housing service, Wealden District Council will visit the site for investigation purposes. This is done within 24 hours but normally within a few hours of being reported to retrieve evidence. Items are then removed by the next day.
The council will only remove items fly tipped on public land. Items fly tipped on private land will be removed but there is a charge for this service, however they will visit the site for evidential purposes. In certain circumstances fly tipped items can be removed from private land with no charge.
The council has a robust investigation procedure and claim back clear up costs, issue formal warnings and also prosecute dependant on the circumstances.
All reports of dog fouling are dealt with through the Council’s Street Scene team.
Wealden recognises that trees on estates may require maintenance on an either an on-going or ad-hoc basis. Wealden will maintain trees on estates of which there are 4898 and carry out inspections.
Where a tree is within the grounds of an individual property the resident will be responsible for maintaining the tree, in-line with their tenancy agreement. There may be exceptions to this where the council will carry out the work and re-charged to the tenant, e.g. where the tree is dangerous or damaging other properties.
Installation satellite dishes
Before installing a satellite dish a tenant must get written consent from their Housing Officer. They must also check with the Planning Service to ensure that they are not restricted from installing a satellite dish before doing so. Installation should be in such a place as to minimise the impact on the estate or neighbourhood, for example to the rear elevation of the property.
Location of sheds, greenhouses and other structures
Where a tenant wishes to erect a shed etc. this will be subject to permission from Housing Officer, and any necessary planning permission.
Prior to granting permission the council will consider various factors including:
- The position of the shed and the impact on the estate or neighbourhood;
- Any potential fire hazard to the property, boundary fence or adjoining property.
Service charge costs
Some Wealden tenants pay a weekly “service charge” within their rent. This is to pay for services such as grass cutting of communal areas, communal cleaning or window cleaning or lighting. Service charges cover the actual cost of providing these services through a contractor. Service charges are reviewed annually and details for the following financial year’s charges are issued in March each year.
Vehicles and Parking
Many of our homes are located in areas where demand for parking spaces is now greater than the supply. Our approach is to encourage responsible parking so that as many people can benefit from this scarce resource as possible.
Our tenancy agreements have specific clauses related to parking which tenants must adhere to. This includes the need for all vehicles on our land must be taxed, insured, have a MOT and be roadworthy. There are also restrictions with regards to vehicle size and other vehicles such as caravans, mini-buses, boats, trailers need our written consent before being parked. Additionally, only minor repairs to tenants own vehicles is permitted provided that it does not causes nuisance or annoyance to your neighbours. We consider vehicles parked on our land that do not meet these requirements to be causing a nuisance. We will take action to remove them in accordance with our procedures.
Cars in gardens without a hardstanding are not permitted.
We do not designate communal parking spaces to individual residents; all our communal spaces are available to all our tenants and their visitors.
We will not normally intervene in parking disputes between residents unless someone is in breach of their tenancy due to the way they are using parking facilities or the way they are behaving towards other residents (e.g. where their actions are serious enough as to cause alarm and distress to others).
In recent years we have demolished some underused garages to create addition parking on some of our estates. It is worth noting that most of the parking on our estates is owned by Highways which means that we are unable to undertake work on them such as parking lay-bys.
All our staff have a duty in the course of their day to day work when they are out and about in our neighbourhoods to note any communal repairs and issues, particularly those which pose a threat to health and safety, and report them promptly.
We also encourage our residents to report any issues that they become aware of to us so that appropriate action can be taken. Where issues are reported to us that are not our responsibility we will provide details of those whose responsibility it is and how they can be contacted.
We will ensure that signage on our estates is clear, necessary, appropriate and well maintained. Health and safety and other mandatory signage will also be present where required.
We will avoid unnecessary signage and will remove outdated and obsolete signage. We will generally not put up signage such as ‘no ball games’ as this is not enforceable.
Wealden’s Housing Service also employs two Contract Officers, a Contracts Supervising Officer and a Voids Surveyor. Between them they are responsible in the context of this policy for the responsive repairs contract, external contracts including gas and electrical contracts, major works and asbestos, grounds maintenance, communal cleaning contracts as works to properties before they are re-let.
Delivering Property Services
Every year we carry out stock condition surveys of our properties to validate existing information and gain up to date information on our stock. Using this and our asset management system we develop a detailed 10 year planned maintenance programmes, contract manage the delivery of the works and also to carry out scenario modelling.
As part of this process we will review any works that are needed to estates over and above ongoing maintenance services such as re-surfacing of paths, re-building of walls etc.
The council employs 2 tenant involvement officers to set up and work closely with tenants and community associations/groups. In the context of this policy they help community associations/groups to identify community needs through surveys and then work with partners and bid for funding to deliver improvements (for example new play areas, environmental improvements, parking improvements and activities for young and older people). They also work with residents to ensure feedback on services and involvement in reviewing existing services and developing new ones.
Delivering Tenant Involvement
Role of Tenants
Tenants are at the heart of the approach to managing and improving neighbourhoods. This includes working with constituted resident associations/groups, other relevant groups and individual tenants to deliver this policy and respond to community issues raised through engagement.
Residents are able to choose the degree to which they get involved in monitoring and developing services on our estates through making a report, completing surveys, attending walkabouts, a focus group or resident association/groups meetings.
Arising from the work with resident’s potential projects will be identified and the Tenant Involvement Team will work with groups and partners to identify and obtain funding for these.
Working in partnership
Estate and neighbourhood management is more effective when working in partnership because no single agency can tackle such wide ranging issues. We are committed to developing effective partnership working to improve and maintain our estates.
As well as working with tenants/resident groups we will work with the others including but not limited to: the police, highways, social services, health services, contractors, community and voluntary organisations/charities to improve the quality of life of residents.
Delivering Partnership Working
Purpose of Partnership Working
Work with key stakeholders and partners in delivering the vision for communities through engaging with partners to address the challenges of:-
- Tackling crime and community safety
- Improving housing
- Ensure that the communal areas of our properties and estates are clean and safe
- Improving the physical environment of the community. Examples include development/works to play areas, gardening projects, parking areas.
- Providing value for money
- Tackling financial, digital and social inclusion
- Enabling and supporting community run activities
As well as tackling wider issues including:
- Social inclusion
- Improving health
- Raising educational achievement/improving skills
- Financial capability/inclusion
- Digital inclusion
Some recent examples of achievements through partnerships include Street Learning Project to deliver free courses, digital support and training and social activities in retirement living courts.
The Housing Service is a very active members of local partnership groups this ensures effective partnership working is implemented. In the context of this policy, this includes:
Safer Wealden Partnership
Wealden’s Housing Service are an active partner of Joint Action Group (JAG). A multi-agency group who work together with the aim of improving the community and environment in which people live by working jointly to find practical solutions to problems arising in communities.
The Housing Service will ensure as far as practical that all resident group meetings are attended by relevant officers including Housing Officers and Tenant Involvement Officers and other officers as applicable.
The Tenant Involvement Team will continue to explore ways to encourage new residents to get involved with their local group or in other ways such as scrutiny, mystery shop, completing surveys, forming or joining resident association/group etc.
The Housing Revenue Account (account into which council tenants rents and service charges are paid and which can only be used for services relating to the provision of council dwellings and related services) owns a number of different types of council assets including land, properties, garages, parking areas as well as open space, woodlands, communal areas and paths. It is important that all of these assets are utilised and well maintained
Delivering asset services
New council homes
The council is now building new homes and will look at available sites that it already owns as well as those owned corporately to see if they are suitable for new homes.
In designing new homes and in making changes to existing homes Wealden will take into account crime prevention and safety measures, energy efficiency and the way public space can be used to enhance the environment and quality of life of the community.
The council owns a number of garages across the district. Anyone wanting a garage will need to fill out an application form in order to go on this waiting list. Council tenants take priority over non-council tenants.
A review has been undertaken into garages and hard standing resulting in the refurbishment of garages in poor condition and demolition of those where an over-supply existing. As a result of the demolitions additional much needed parking was created on some estates.
Effective neighbourhood management is built on the success of shared responsibilities of both tenants/residents and landlords.
Our responsibilities as landlords include:
- Providing quality services that keep communal and external areas in a good state of repair and cleanliness, safe, free from hazards and fit for use by residents and visitors.
- Ensuring that there are no Health and Safety risks to residents and visitors in our neighbourhoods.
- Making neighbourhood improvements and where appropriate consulting with residents.
- Giving residents a wide range of opportunities to influence and be involved in how neighbourhood services are delivered and how performance is monitored.
- Listening and where possible acting on concerns raised by residents with regard to their neighbourhood.
Residents’ responsibilities include:
- Making sure that homes, gardens and driveways are well maintained and in good condition in line with their tenancy/ lease agreement.
- Promptly reporting any repairs or disrepairs for which we are responsible.
- Helping us meet our health and safety responsibility in ensuring that communal areas are kept clean, tidy, safe and free from obstruction and to not use them to store personal belongings or other items.
- Making sure that they have permission to keep any pets and that pets are kept under control, are not used in a threatening manner and do not defecate/urinate in communal areas.
- Not engaging in anti-social behaviour, nuisance or annoyance to neighbours and reporting any concerns. See our Anti-Social Behaviour Policy.
- Not to hoard items, animals or anything at the premises.
Housing Revenue Account (HRA) funding
The majority of works described in this policy will be funded from the Housing Revenue Account (HRA) which is made up from tenant’s rents and service charges. More information on the HRA can be found in our Business Plan at www.wealden.gov.uk/housingstrategiesandpolicies
Wealden’s Housing Service’s Tenant Involvement Team work with resident groups to help groups identify potential funding and help support them with grant applications for projects. These projects will have been identified through surveys and consultation with residents in the neighbourhood. There have been some great successes in the past including the development of a skate park, gardens plots and play areas. More recently as funding has become harder to access large and expense projects are harder to fund. However, a few community groups have recently obtained funding for community gardens.
The Housing Service will ensure that this policy is made available to residents. This will include publishing the document on the website and making hard copies available on request. The policy will be promoted through our tenant and leaseholders newsletter “Threshold” to raise awareness amongst of the policy’s existence.
Successes arising from this policy will be publicised via Threshold as well as other means such as social media, website and the local press. This will include details of successful external funding bids and action taken to improve estates.
Performance in relation to implementation of the policy will be reported to tenants and leaseholders via the Housing Service’s annual report and Threshold newsletter. Councillors will also be informed via reports to Cabinet including achievements in the Closure of Accounts annual report.
Wealden will review this policy every 5 years to ensure it remains relevant and effective.