The Audit Commission inspection team gave the service one star* because while the council's response to emergency repairs is good and telephone access times have been extended and improved, customer satisfaction levels are still low.
Jo Killian, lead housing inspector, London Region Inspection Service, said: 'The service has made improvements in some baseline areas - it has extended telephone access hours, and more emergency repairs are completed on time. However, there are still too many delays in completing non-urgent and communal repairs. Appointments for non-urgent repairs and inspections are still not routinely offered to residents.'
The inspection report highlights a number of key strengths:
- call centre had extended opening hours from 8am to 6pm
- good range of quality leaflets available to tenants and leaseholders on various parts of the service
However, inspectors also found weaknesses:
- the call centre does not answer its calls quickly
- a high percentage of repairs are issued as emergency orders
- a high percentage of non-urgent repairs are not completed on time
- Hounslow has not identified why ethnic minority tenants are less satisfied with the service
- customer satisfaction levels are low
To help the service improve, inspectors made a number of recommendations, including:
- agree, in consultation with residents, target time-scales for repair inspection and ordering and targets for meeting the various repair priorities (including communal repairs)
- consult customers on opening times at local housing offices for those who wish to report repairs in person.
- ensure that tenants are advised of their statutory 'right to repair'
- clarify the roles of all staff involved in ordering and monitoring communal repairs to ensure that all repairs are issued and completed within agreed time limits, including those outside the responsibility of the housing department, such as street lighting and roads.
Hounslow LBC owns approximately 15,000 rented homes. The council is responsible for repairs, which are carried out by the in-house contractor Hounslow Building Services. They are also responsible for empty property management, emergency and out of hours repairs. The budget for the service is approximately£13m.
A press release from the local authority follows.
Hounslow LBC has acknowledged the publication of the Audit Commission's report in to its housing repairs & maintenance service and has vowed to implement the commission's recommendations as soon as possible, to the benefit of residents. The report assesses the repairs service as 'fair', though at the time of the inspection Hounslow was in the process of implementing its own action plans from a previous best value review.
In the latest performance statistics Hounslow is within the top quartile for London boroughs for urgent repairs completed on time, and are pleased that, from today we have achieved a 90% response rate for all repairs. The next aim is to be in the top quartile overall by the end of summer 2002.
Over the last year Hounslow's repairs service, operated by Hounslow Building Services (HBS), have developed a number of new schemes to improve waiting times and customer service for residents. These improvements include:
- Achieving 90% for all repairs being carried out on time.
- Putting into place a new communal repairs team, to improve the co-ordination of planned repairs for residents' communal areas.
- Putting tenants first by improving response times for the repairs call centre to ensure that residents can report repairs as quickly and effortlessly as possible.
- Improving responsive repairs, by expanding the pilot appointments system for repairs
- Continuing our commitment to listening to tenants, by implementing additional research with residents and stakeholders to continue improving the current systems.
The Audit Commission also praised the service for its emergency response times and the extended opening hours of the call centres. The range and quality literature provided by the service was also singled out as a key strength. Since successfully changing the repairs call centre to a free phone number the service has seen the number of calls more than double.
Chris Langstaff, director of Hounslow Homes, said: 'We are committed to providing a top class service to our residents. We welcome the Audit Commission's analysis and will obviously be taking their comments on board, as an important contribution to help us to improve the service still further.
'Over the last 12 months we have seen a significantly better service and I hope that residents and tenants can see these. However there are yet more improvements to come in the next 12 months.
The timing of the Audit Commission's inspection represents a time when we were implementing an action plan from our own best value review. I am confident that the re-inspection will identify the results from these and so reflect the fact that the service is improving all the time.'