Thanet councillors due to approve axing of East Kent Housing contract

Council homes

Cabinet members at Thanet council are expected to approve the axing of East Kent Housing and the return of housing management services under direct control of the council when they meet next week.

In December the board of East Kent Housing, which manages local authority properties in east Kent, was dismissed and replaced by the chief executives of Thanet, Canterbury, Dover and Folkestone & Hythe councils.

The action came on the heels of revelations earlier last year that hundreds of council property tenants across east Kent had been awaiting gas safety certificates due to overdue Landlord Gas Safety Register assessments.

It then emerged that there were also grave concerns over potential further issues with electrical certification, lifts, fire safety and legionella testing.

In addition there was the possibility of a criminal case being brought due to contractor P&R overpayments to which could ‘constitute fraud.

P&R terminated its contract with EKH and work is currently being undertaken by Swale Heating.’

East Kent Housing’s Chief Executive Deborah Upton stepped down the same month.

Damning report

A report by Pennington Choices into what went wrong at EKH said a number of factors led to the failure around health and safety compliance including:

The role of the board, appointed to set the strategic direction of EKH and oversee its day-to-day running, was not understood by either side effectively making it redundant

A lack of leadership at EKH combined with a lack of challenge and holding to account by the four councils

The perception of staff at EKH that saving money was a key priority

The poor quality of the data being used by EKH and a lack of IT capability

A collective failure between EKH and the councils to award contracts and engage suppliers in a timely manner

The difficulty encountered by EKH working for four different councils with different political, strategic and operational priorities leading to a dysfunctional relationship

A resident consultation over plans to axe arrangements with East Kent Housing then took place.  

Public consultation

The results of the consultation event for Thanet District Council show 3,422 consultation surveys were issued, although only 427 were returned (12%). Responses came from 403 tenants and leaseholders, 17 other individuals, Addington Street Community Group, Newington Community Association,1 shared ownership resident and 1 former tenant with 3 respondents not saying in what capacity they were responding.

Of these 60% strongly agreed with bringing housing back under council control.

Costs and timescale

Thanet council says the process of withdrawing from East Kent Housing, including  the TUPE transfer of staff, will have one off transition costs estimated at up to £250k plus £55,000 for an interim post of Transition Project Manager.

This process will take up to one year. A report to councillors says: “ Establishing an in-house service, if agreed, is complex and will take time to set up. It is therefore assumed that this would need to be completed and the new in-house service fully operational by 1 April 2021.”

A decision to bring the ALMO back in house may result in a TUPE transfer of staff from EKH to TDC but it is not revealed how many staff will not be covered by that process.

The report says: “The councils will want to retain as many staff as possible with key specialist skills that will be required in the new in house services and local arrangements to facilitate the transfer of staff not protected by TUPE will be needed.”

Residents who took part in the consultation say the main areas that need focusing on are repairs and maintenance, anti-social behaviour, value for money for  rent and service charges, building new council homes, estate services (such as grass cutting, cleaning communal areas etc), dealing with customer enquiries and complaints and involving and listening to residents

Other issues included improving the dialogue with disabled residents.

Next steps

If agreed all four councils will need to agree termination of the EKH contract and then take the action needed to close the organisation and pass responsibility to each council.

Officers from the four councils will establish a Transition Board to co-ordinate the project and a  Tenants and Leaseholder Panel will be created in each local authority area – Thanet already has a panel.

Fees to EKH of around £3.6million over two financial years will be clawed back into the budget  to help pay on-going revenue costs of the service.

Cabinet members will discuss the issue at a meetng on Monday (February 17).

East Kent Housing (EKH) was launched on 1 April 2011 to look after the housing stock for Canterbury City Council, Dover District Council, Folkestone and Hythe District Council and Thanet District Council, amounting to some 17,000 properties.