Date: 02/09/2008 Category: Housing and Homelessness
Standfirst: Medway Council has embarked on an ambitious three-year plan to improve some of its private sector housing services after an Audit Commission report said some of those services were not up-to-scratch. Medway Matters spoke to the council’s new Private Sector Housing Manager about her challenge to make living in Medway better for everyone. Article: Susan Pledger might have only been in her job since July, but she’s already rolled-up her sleeves and made some significant changes to ensure everyone has access to better housing. Most people would rather run a mile than take the opportunity to lead a team whose morale was at a low ebb, but Susan is a woman who relishes a challenge. She accepted her new job knowing the Audit Commission had identified the council as having shortcomings in its strategic housing service. Two months later and Susan and her team have already made significant progress on the Commission’s 16 recommendations to improve private sector housing. The Regional Housing Board has also given Medway Council £2.5m to help reach some of its targets. Susan said: “There is a lot of work to be done, but we are already making great progress. The Board’s £2.5m will help the council improve housing facilities and bring 230 private homes for vulnerable people up to The Government’s Decent Homes standard. “The council is working with the Kent Energy Centre to help residents access energy-saving devices like loft insulation and replace boilers and failing heating systems. “I want to make sure everyone lives in better homes that are warmer and safer and help reduce fuel poverty for Medway’s most vulnerable and elderly residents, which we will achieve through energy top-up grants, home loans and crisis grants.” Susan, who used to work for Kent County Council’s No Use Empty campaign, is now working to establish an accreditation scheme and code of practice similar to Medway Fair Trader, which will give both landlords and tenants peace of mind. More than 60 private landlords met at the council’s second landlords’ forum in July to discuss the accreditation scheme, ways to improve the standard of local housing, licensing of houses in multiple occupation, information on illegal evictions and how to make properties energy efficient. Susan said: “We are working with the National Landlords’ Association to get landlords in Medway signed up to an accreditation scheme that will give prospective tenants peace of mind when looking for a new landlord and ensure that landlords and letting agents abide by a code of practice to maintain high standards in the housing market.” Although the council has three years to improve its housing services, Susan is confident the team will reach its targets much sooner. “What drives me is helping other people,” she explained. “I’m not evangelical but I do want to make sure everyone has access to better housing and improved living standards.” Sidebar: Medway Council’s Cabinet has approved seven financial schemes to help residents’ homes. 1. Owner-occupier loans to bring non-decent homes occupied by vulnerable people up to the Decent Homes Standard. 2. Coldbusters initiatives to improve the energy efficiency of homes occupied by elderly and low-income households and reduce fuel poverty. 3. Energy efficiency top-up grant to improve the thermal efficiency of ‘non-decent’ homes. 4. Empty property improvement loans to help landlords bring empty properties back into use. 5. Landlord Decent Homes loans to encourage landlords to improve the energy efficiency of their properties and improve any category one hazards under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS). 6. Crisis grants to fund small-scale essential repairs to help elderly people remain safe and secure in their homes. 7. An initiative to encourage people to improve the energy efficiency of their homes by installing solar hot water systems. Find out more by phoning the Private Sector Housing Team on 333066, writing to the team at Gun Wharf, Dock Road, Chatham, Kent. ME4 4TR or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org Sidebar: Photo Pete Tonge with Mike Bundy from the Kent Energy Centre – taken at the Landlord forum The Kent Energy Centre is one of several organisations working with the council to bring Medway’s homes up to a decent standard. The Kent Energy Centre, which is based in Ashford, offers free, impartial advice to anyone who wants to make their home warmer and more energy efficient. Phone 0800 358 6669 or visit www.saveyour20percent.co.uk to arrange a home energy check.