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KINGSTON UPON HULL CITY COUNCIL - HOUSING CUSTOMER'S SERVICE (PLUS COUNCIL REACTION)

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Kingston upon Hull's customer services for housing (front of house service) are fair and will probably improve if i...
Kingston upon Hull's customer services for housing (front of house service) are fair and will probably improve if it considers how to deal with issues such as telephone access to services for local people, according to a new report out today.
Kingston upon Hull has approximately 115,000 homes, of which 32% are council owned (significantly higher than the national average of 18%).
Inspectors from the Audit Commission's Best Value Housing Inspectorate inspected the service under the government's new best value regime, which places a duty on all councils to deliver the most economic, efficient and effective services possible.
The inspectorate gave the service one star because of its positive features such as:
- Local people are generally satisfied with the service they receive, for example inspectors found that 73.8% of people using the central office at Kenworthy House rated the service as very good/good;
- The range of services provided at local housing offices is good, with only a few services centrally provided such as homelessness, private sector grants and adaptations for people with disabilities. The authority is further improving this range by devolving the private sector housing benefit service across the city;
However, inspectors found that Hull's opening hours do not allow tenants access to services outside traditional office hours, meaning that only emergency repairs can be accessed at evenings and weekends. In addition telephone access is currently not good with significant numbers of external telephone calls resulting in a 'busy' tone.
Therefore although the council has an improvement plan in place to address the key areas of weakness, Inspectors recommend that it should also:
- Ensure that customers are clearly informed about the standard of service they can expect;
- Ensure that customers can access better quality information at local offices;
- Actively encourage comments from customers on the service they receive by re-launching the customer feedback scheme, ensuring that there is also clear guidance to staff on how they should define a complaint, and how to use the scheme;
- Place a higher priority on front of house service issues and quality standards in staff performance targets.
Roy Irwin, chief inspector of housing, said: 'The customer services provided by Kingston upon Hull's housing department are currently fair. Tenants are generally satisfied and appreciate the local nature of service provided by the number and location of the local housing offices. However, public information in the offices is poor, and tenants are not fully informed about the standards of services they can expect from local housing offices.
'Despite this Hull is well placed to move forward, and we believe that if it follows the recommendations made in the report, alongside the key actions it has already identified, it will probably improve in the future.'
NOTES
1. The inspection of front of house service at Kingston upon Hull City Council isavailable from the Audit Commission website.
2. The inspection of front of house service at Kingston upon Hull City Council involved interviews with council staff and members, and members of the public using the service.
3. The Best Value Inspection Service is part of the Audit Commission. It was established by the 1999 Local Government Act to provide the public with an independent assessment of whether best value is being achieved by their local council.
Inspection reports judge how well a service is currently serving local people, based on a star rating from 0-3 where 0 is poor and 3 excellent, and how likely it is to improve in the future.
4. The government has placed a duty of best value on councils requiring them to improve local services over the next five years. Services must be delivered to clear standards of cost and quality - by the most economic, efficient and effective means available.
Councils must annually report on their performance (best value performance plans) and review all of their services over the next five years in order to identify and achieve continual improvements in local services.
5. The Best Value Inspection service is responsible for the inspection of local government services, and incorporates a dedicated housing inspectorate responsible for reviewing local authority housing departments and services.
The Inspection service inspects local social services departments jointly with the Social Services Inspectorate and the Social Services Inspectorate Wales; and inspection of local education authorities jointly with OFSTED and Estyn.
6. The Audit Commission for local authorities and the NHS is an independent body established under the Audit Commission Act 1998.
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BEST VALUE INSPECTORS REPORT ON HULL HOUSING OFFICES
Services provided at housing offices in Hull are 'fair' and likely to improve in the future, according to a new report by government best value inspectors.
In the report published today, the inspectors highlight the many strengths of the front of house service provided by 21 housing offices across the city.
They note that 'customers are well served by the number and location of local housing offices' which offer a good range of services. Customers are generally satisfied with the services on offer, which are provided at a relatively low cost. Staff training and development are rated as 'good overall'.
The report reveals that during the past year housing offices dealt with 160,000 visitors and 250,000 telephone calls, as well as 200,000 repair requests. The decentralised housing benefits service also reported 60,000 telephone and 67,500 face-to-face queries from tenants.
The inspectors also recommend a number of improvements. They point out that customers trying to contact housing offices by telephone often find the lines busy and that opening hours are limited,with no later evening or weekend opening.
They acknowledge that customers appreciate the local nature of services, but say the location and number of offices must be reviewed to ensure the overall effectiveness of services.
Action is recommended to improve the quality and quantity of information in housing offices, to inform customers about the standards of service they can expect to receive and to promote customer feedback.
The inspectors conclude that 'the housing service has clear plans to address key issues including queueing, telephones, literature and opening hours' and that action to develop access to services via the internet and e-mail is already under way, along with improvements in office accommodation. A senior manager with overall responsibility for customer services has already been allocated to oversee these and other improvements.
An improvement plan responding to the inspectors' report, and to the Housing department's own best value review, is already being implemented.
Chief housing officer Janet Whipps commented 'We are pleased that the inspectors have recognised that Hull is well placed to move forward and that their report shows how well the service is regarded and valued by tenants.
The areas highlighted for improvement had already been identified in our own best value review. But we are very aware that more must be done to bring housing offices into the 21st century. We are confident that services can be improved and that customers will soon be reaping the benefits.'
Awarding the service one star, on a scoring system from 0-3 stars, the inspectors comment: 'The authority has a commitment to achieving significant improvements, and has the capacity to implement the changes outlined within the improvement plan.'
Notes
The inspectors from the Audit Commission's best value housing inspectorate inspected the service during October and November 2000, visiting eight housing estate offices, conducting a telephone survey of recent customers, consulting with tenants, housing staff and councillors. The inspection followed the council--s own best value review of the service.
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