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MANCHESTER HOUSING ASSOCIATION IS RAISING STANDARDS

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An independent report out today found the housing services provided by Willow Park Housing Trust in south Mancheste...
An independent report out today found the housing services provided by Willow Park Housing Trust in south Manchester are of a 'satisfactory standard', with an approach to continuous improvement that is 'raising standards'.

Willow Park was formed in 1999 when it was created to receive a transfer of stock from Manchester City Council and now manages 5,800 properties in East Wythenshawe. Between March 1999 and March 2004, Willow Park invested around£70m in renovation works to its properties.

A team of housing inspectors from the Audit Commission found a number of positive features in the Trust's performance, including:

- The repairs service is customer focused, performing well and delivering a value for money service

- A proactive and efffective approach to dealing with nuisance and anti-social behaviour

- Responsive to the the needs of tenants and the environment in which it operates, including actively working towards delivering an inclusive service with a clear focus on equality and diversity issues

- A commitment to delivering accessible services with positive satisfaction levels across all customer groups

- Clear and detailed procedures for dealing with rent arrears, providing a balanced approach to rent collection and an emphasis upon customers receiving appropriate advice and access to benefits

- An established formal process of tenant and resident involvement, including training for tenants to increase the effectiveness of their role.

However, there were some areas for improvement identified, including:

- Insufficient information was provided to applicants and staff to assist people applying for homes

- The need for greater clarity in how the trust deals with requests for aids and adaptations

- Strengthening the approach to dealing with racial harassment incidents.

Nick Atkin, head of housing at the Audit Commission's housing inspectorate in the north said: 'Since the stock transfer it is clear that Willow Park Housing Trust has delivered significant improvements to the condition of the properties and the environment, making it a place where people want to live. It has introduced customer-focused services and responds to suggestions for further improvements to its services. Its processes for delivering continuous improvement are robust and we could see a number of examples where services had improved following these reviews. Furthermore it continues to play a major role in the regeneration of the Wythenshawe area.'

The association's approach to continuous improvement includes the following positive elements:

- The improvement plan is robust and reviews follow the trust's best value framework

- Willow Park embraces its role within the community and works well with stakeholders to deliver sustainable improvements

- It has a good approach to managing performance and continually looks for ways to improve its service.

However, the trust's current approach to improvement would be enhanced by greater involvement of customers and staff in the process. To help the service improve, inspectors made a number of recommendations including:

- Increasing tenant involvement at an earlier stage within the service review process

- Enable staff to take a greater role in contributing to continuous improvement

- Ensure that all aspects of equality and diversity are fully embraced within the improvement process

Copies of the report are available from Willow Park Housing Trust or on the Audit Commission's website at www.audit-commission.gov.uk

NOTES

Willow Park was formed in 1999 when it was created to receive a transfer of stock from Manchester City Council. Over 6,000 properties on a single council estate were transferred. Most of which were developed in the 1930s-1950s. Willow Park Housing Trust stock is located in a compact area - it operates solely in East Wythenshawe, south Manchester. This area suffers from a lack of amenities and high levels of poverty - Benchill is the most deprived ward in the country (Indices of Deprivation, 2000).

Willow Park Housing Trust manages 5,800 properties in south Manchester. The trust's rental turnover in 2003/2004 was£15.7m and the collection rate during the year was 98%. Over the last 5 years, empty properties have fallen from 10% to just below 2%.

When Willow Park was first set up, it managed 6,600 properties but a strategic demolition programme (450 units) plus increased Right to Buy sales (350) has resulted in the housing stock reducing to 5,800.

The trust's actual performance to date has been in line with its original business plan and the cumulative operating deficit has been funded from its£35m loan facility.

The trust employs over 200 staff and it operates an in-house maintenance service. Following on from a successful ballot, a further 2000 properties in East Wythenshawe will be transferred in October 2004 to Willow Park from Manchester City Council.

The Audit Commission is an independent watchdog responsible for ensuring that public money is spent economically, efficiently and effectively. Our remit covers more than 15,000 bodies which between them spend nearly£125bn of public money each year.

We are active in local government, health, housing, criminal justice and fire and rescue services and consequently have objective evidence on the overall impact of public services on users.

In addition to making sure that taxpayers receive value for money, our aim is to provide impartial information on the quality of public services. We also act as a force for improvement by providing practical recommendations and spreading best practice.

The Housing Inspectorate was established 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 housing service is currently serving local people, based on a rating from 'failing to comply with the Housing Corporation regulatory code' to 'good' and its ability to work toward continuous improvement.

We are committed to working in partnership with other regulators and to ensuring that our own activities also represent value for the taxpayer. Further details about the commission can be obtained from its website - http://www.audit-commission.gov.uk

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