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The services provided by the housing needs section of Mid Devon DC are fair and have promising prospects for improv...
The services provided by the housing needs section of Mid Devon DC are fair and have promising prospects for improvement, according to an independent report released today by the Audit Commission.

An inspection team gave the service one star because the services that make up the housing needs sections have varying levels of performance. Services like the housing register and allocations and management of empty council properties, closely meet the council's aims, providing users with strong services which are responsive to their needs. However, other services like housing enabling and the council's strategy work - as it relates to the provision of affordable housing - falls short of what the council is trying to achieve.

Jacqueline Canham, lead housing inspector, said:

'We found that the housing needs section provided services that had both strengths and weaknesses. However, above all we found a service that had been thoroughly reviewed and is now working towards implementing a good improvement plan and putting in place the improvements necessary to address the key weaknesses of the service.'

The inspection report highlights a number of key strengths:

- The council has good performance on the length of time it takes to make decisions on homelessness within 33 working days - 97 per cent in 2000/01 and only uses bed and breakfast accommodation for relatively few homeless households, for relatively short periods of time. However, in the last 12 months the council's performance has slipped slightly - 93 per cent - for both the length of time it takes to make homelessness decisions and for the number of people temporarily housed in bed and breakfast accommodation.

- The council has good monitoring arrangements in place for its services and collects and makes good use of the management information it collects.

- The housing register service and allocations service was found to have a high degree of user satisfaction and housing associations recognised the council as being efficient in providing nominations for empty properties within their stock.

- The council's management of its empty properties is strong with a dedicated empty property team and good joint working between them and the allocations team to re-let properties.

However, inspectors also found weaknesses:

- Despite recent improvements in the council's medical assessments system for the housing register there is still the potential for applicants to receive inconsistent assessments and points.

- The council's housing strategy, as it relates to the provision of affordable housing has a number of weaknesses , as does the enabling role generally. The links and liaison between housing, planning and legal are weaker than they have been in the past and the new housing need survey has an important role to play in the council making better use of planning policy guidance and in strengthening the links between services.

- Although the reasons for supporting a development of new sheltered older person housing with a housing association, has been explained and approved by councillors, this support has taken place outside of any clear, formal strategy for tackling the problems within the council's own sheltered housing stock. This leaves the council vulnerable to not being able to achieve its aspirations to convert difficult to let sheltered housing for younger people.

To help the service improve, inspectors made a number of recommendations, including:

- Tackling the increasing use of bed and breakfast accommodation by improving preventative homelessness work and looking at other options for providing temporary accommodation.

- Providing better housing advice by ensuring housing advice leaflets are available and distributed widely.

- Improving the council's housing strategy and enabling by developing an older persons strategy for the council's older person stock and developing procedures and protocols between planning, housing, legal and housing associations.

Mid Devon DC's housing needs section provide homelessness and housing advice services, housing register and allocation services and the housing enabling and housing strategy function as it relates to the housing needs service, including the preparation of the strategy. As well as providing these services the council owns and manages about 3,400 homes.

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