To examine the progress made between 1 April 2022 and 12 September 2022 in relation to the completion of the Internal Audit Plan for 2022/2023 including an update on Internal Audit Recommendations (report of the Head of Internal Audit enclosed).
The Homelessness Reduction and Private Sector Improvement Manager will be in attendance to provide the Committee with a verbal update on progress made towards the Housing Internal Audit recommendations.
Consideration was given to the report of the Head of Internal Audit which asked the Committee to examine the progress made between 1 April 2022 and 12 September 2022 in relation to the completion of the Internal Audit Plan for 2022/23. The report also included an update on Internal Audit Recommendations.
The Head of Internal Audit advised that this was the final report to come forward on behalf of Eastern Internal Audit Services, prior to Lincolnshire Audit taking over the internal audit function.
The Head of Internal Audit introduced the report and the following points were highlighted:
· The audit plan had been split to take account of the change in internal auditor halfway through the year;
· During the period covered by the report, two reports had been issued in final – Procurement and Contract Management (Reasonable Assurance); and Economic Growth (Substantial Assurance).
· One audit from 2021-22 was reported as outstanding at the July meeting. Performance Management had now been finalised, resulting in Reasonable assurance with one Important and three Needs Attention recommendations raised and agreed with management. The Executive Summary of this report was attached at Appendix 3.
· Appendix 2 provided a high-level summary of the auditor’s findings;
· Appendix 4 provided a high-level summary of the status of agreed Internal Audit recommendations
Members were advised that no updates had been received in time for inclusion within the report at Appendix 5 around Housing Needs, Allocations, Homelessness and Housing Register, and the Homelessness Reduction and Private Sector Improvement Manager was therefore in attendance to provide the following verbal update on the outstanding Internal Audit recommendations:
Housing Needs, Allocations, Homelessness and Housing Register
· Recommendation 1 (Important) – Full assessments of homelessness applications be completed as soon as possible after the application is received. Performance in this regard should be monitored to ensure that applications are assessed within a pre-determined timescale.
· Recommendation 2 (Important) – All decision letters to be uploaded to the relevant case.
· Recommendation 3 (Important) – Personal Housing Plans be created and regularly updated for all homelessness cases accepted by the Council.
(Councillor Biggadike left the meeting at this point, prior to the discussion on Private Sector Housing).
Private Sector Housing
· Recommendation 1 (Urgent) – For a report to be designed in Assure that allows for a list to be produced of all HMOs showing a full audit trail of the inspection history and the date the next inspection is due. This report to be run regularly and reviewed by management to ensure all scheduled inspections are taking place. Any outstanding inspections to be completed forthwith.
· Recommendation 2 (Urgent) – For a report to be designed in Assure that allows for a list to be produced of all HMOs subject to enforcement action including a full audit trail of the enforcement history, both past action and the date the next inspection is due. This report to be run regularly and reviewed by management to ensure all scheduled inspections are taking place.
· Recommendation 3 (Urgent) – For a report to be designed in Assure that allows for a list to be produced detailing the status of follow up action where an enforcement notice has been issued. This report to be run regularly and reviewed by management to ensure all scheduled inspections are taking place
o Members were advised that work was being done on these actions however progress regarding the design of reports had currently stalled whilst awaiting the availability of a consultant with the external software provider. This had been chased on multiple occasions. An update would be provided when further progress had been made.
o Members commented that this recommendation should not remain outstanding without a timeframe for progress/completion. Officers responded that it was currently difficult to provide a timeframe due to being at the mercy of an external provider.
o To provide some assurance to members, officers advised that outstanding recommendations were now being reviewed by the Senior Leadership Team, prior to being reported to the Committee – this would allow escalation of recommendations where it was felt they were not being dealt with at the appropriate pace.
The Homelessness Reduction and Private Sector Improvement Manager also provided the following examples of good work that was taking place:
· Houses in Multiple Occupation – Good work was being undertaken by the Private Sector Housing Team, and the approach to inspections was now much more proactive and collaborative.
· Even though reports were not yet available, all the information and data required was stored and available.
· Recommendation 4 (Important) – Quarterly budget reconciliations between the Council’s main financial system and PSH records (spreadsheets) to be subject to independent check by the Homelessness Reduction and Private Sector Improvement Manager, with evidence retained thereof, thereby ensuring accuracy over Disabled Facilities Grants expenditure
o Quarterly reconciliation meetings took place, and a meeting to discuss Quarters 1 and 2 was diarised for October, and these would then follow on a quarterly basis.
· Recommendation 5 (Important) – To ensure that the Council complies with the ‘Mobile Homes and Caravan Site Licensing and Fee Policy – Issued August 2021’ including any subject to new planning applications, in respect of fee charging, where applicable. Where a fee is not required, the reason(s) to be recorded.
· Recommendation 6 (Important) – To ensure all outstanding sites are licensed and the introduction of routine management reporting and oversight of caravan licensing activity.
o The website had been updated with licence applications and the public register of relevant protected sites. There with three new outstanding applications being dealt with currently.
· Recommendation 7 (Important) – The Council’s PSH Team review its approach to overseeing administration of empty homes to align to the priorities within the Empty Homes Strategy whilst at the same time taking into account the actual numbers of empty properties in the district and available resources.
o The officer responsible for this area had been undertaking training sessions with officers from BBC and ELDC. Some background work on this area had started, and an up-to-date list of properties had been requested from the Council Tax department. Once this had been received and background work completed, officers would begin contacting landlords. This area of work was very resource-heavy and not a statutory function.
o Members commented on the delay to the Team’s work as a result of the delay in obtaining information from the Council Tax department. Did the Authority have an escalation process to deal with this?
o The Assistant Director Finance advised that the information should be provided by PSPS and as client liaison officer with regard to this, she would ensure that this was progressed.
· Recommendation 8 (Important) – A procedure be produced that provides levels of delegation for officers assessing/approving financial assistance under the Housing Assistance Policy (current/new Policy) with evidence (Audit trail) retained where independent approval is required.
o Everything regarding the delegation for officers was included within the Policy itself. A revised Policy was currently being drafted.
o Auditors confirmed that if this recommendation was not relevant and that the information needed was included within the Policy, commentary along those lines be provided and the recommendation could be closed down.
The Head of Internal Audit concluded that Eastern Internal Audit Services had had a good relationship working with SHDC. A lot of work had gone into improving the control framework and many areas had improved their audit opinions over the years. She thanked the Governance and Audit Committee for their support to the work of internal audit.
Members considered the report and the verbal update, and the following additional points were raised:
· Appendix 1 showed a client request for the Leisure Audit to be moved from Quarter 2 2022/23 to Quarter 3 2022/23. The Leisure contract was an area of concern for some members and a report into this area would be appreciated as early as possible. Sufficient pressure should be applied to get this area into an auditable position.
That the information detailed within the report be noted.
(Councillor Biggadike re-joined the meeting following discussion of this item).