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AUDIT COMMISSION BEGINS CONSULTATION ON HOUSING INSPECTION POLICY

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The Audit Commission today released proposals on its intended approach to housing inspection for formal consultatio...
The Audit Commission today released proposals on its intended approach to housing inspection for formal consultation. The proposed approach is set in the framework of the commission's Strategic Plan 2004-07 which has recently been published for consultation.

Here the approach seeks to support the aims and objectives of Strategic Regulation. The proposals also take account of some key publications such as inspecting for improvement produced by the Office for Public Sector Reform and independent regulators produced by the better regulation task force.

In April 2003 the commission took over responsibility for the inspection of housing associations. The first six months of the operation of this new responsibility has focussed on ensuring the smooth transfer of staff from the Housing Corporation and avoiding disruption to the inspection service.

During this period the respective approach of the two sectors has been refined incrementally drawing on the best of both approaches. There has now been the chance to fundamentally review the approaches and changes are proposed which are designed to improve the process and outcome of inspection, meet the aims and objectives of Strategic Regulation and draw the approach to the housing association and local government sectors together.

Roy Irwin, chief inspector of housing, says: 'These proposals are firmly embedded in the principles of Strategic Regulation. They also draw on the best practice of the current approaches to housing association and local authority inspection. Ultimately the proposals are designed to ensure that we take a user focus perspective in our work and that resources are used to maximum effect in securing continuous improvement in housing services.'

The key elements of the proposals are as follows:

- An assessment framework will be used for all housing organisations that will permit inspection resources to be targeted strategically in line with that performance. This framework will both support and comp lement the Comprehensive Performance Assessment process for local authorities and the Housing Corporation Assessment framework for housing associations.

- The floor level at which Housing Association inspection starts will be raised from the current 250 to 500 units of accommodation. A risk assessment will be used to decide on whether inspection needs to take place for HAs with stock holdings between 250 and 500 units.

- A range of inspection activity will be developed which is bespoke to the assessed performance and circumstances of housing organisations. This will accommodate the variety and complexity of HAs and some activity will not be organisation specific but based and areas or service outcomes.

- In order to accommodate the relatively small inspection coverage of the HA sector the current scope of HA inspection work will be expanded and based on services to the customer.

- There will be clearer and consistent engagement with the governance structure for an organisationbefore, during and after inspection. This will encompass reporting on all matters that are germane to service outcomes including vision, leadership, management and communication.

- Common judgement systems for HA and LA inspection to utilise the star scoring system that the AC currently applies in local government and poor, uncertain, promising or excellent improvement prospects for the second judgement.

- All inspections to begin with a self assessment by the housing organisation to be inspected.

- The development and publication of succinct outcome based service criteria set in the local

- context, key lines of enquiry linked to those criteria and criteria for judgement in all service areas. These are to be used as part of the self assessment process.

- The emphasis on value for money and efficiency as a standard part of an inspection will be strengthened.

Comments on the proposed approach to housing inspection are invited by 17 January 2004. This follows a series of pre consultation meetings with key stakeholder groups. Following consideration of the responses the intention is that the new approach will be introduced with effect from 1st April 2004 although some of the proposals are longer term intentions and will need a greater period to fully develop.

In order to gain the maximum feedback the review team have set up an e-mail address for any comments on current approaches or suggestions or changes. These should be sent here.

NOTES

The Audit Commissionis an independent body responsible for ensuring that public money is spent economically, efficiently and effectively, to achieve high-quality local and national services for the public. Our work covers local government, housing, health and criminal justice services.

As an independent watchdog, we provide important information on the quality of public services. As a driving force for improvement in those services, we provide practical recommendations and spread best practice. As an independent auditor, we monitor spending to ensure public services are good value for money.

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