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ROTHERHAM REPAIRS SERVICE IS ON THE MEND - BUT CHALLENGES STILL LIE AHEAD

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Tenants in Rotherham have seen a marked improvement in their housing repairs service over the past 18 months, and a...
Tenants in Rotherham have seen a marked improvement in their housing repairs service over the past 18 months, and although the council still faces significant challenges, this trend in improvement should continue says an independent report out today.

A team of inspectors from the Audit Commission judged Rotherham MBC's repairs and maintenance service to be a fair, one star service with promising prospects for improvement. A previous inspection in August 2002 found the service to be a poor, zero star service with promising prospects for improvement.

More repairs are being carried out 'right first time' and repairs staff are being trained in multi-skilling to increase efficiency. The service is much more customer focused and tenants have more opportunity to participate and are regularly consulted. Tenants have a local budget which is managed and monitored through area panels and are involved in making decisions about how money can best be spent. A limited repairs-by-appointment service has been introduced - although evening and weekend appointments are not yet available.

However, the council must take stronger control of its housing budget if it is to avoid a repeat of an overspend of£377,000 expected in 2003/04 .

The council has a robust programme in place to bring homes up to the government's decent homes standard, however, many more are below this standard than was originally thought and although empty homes are brought up to a high standard for re-letting, many prospective tenants turn homes down with very little work undertaken to find out why.

Nick Atkin, head of housing in the north, said: 'The council faces significant challenges. Money is tight, staff sickness levels are high and many more homes than was originally thought do not meet the government's decent homes standards. However, the council is determined to make improvements and the service already has a number of positive features including more repairs being done 'right first time' resulting in higher levels of customer satisfaction. Overall, we believe the council has moved on since our last inspection from what was a poor service to a much improved and customer focused service.'

Inspectors found the following strengths:

-The repairs service is easily accessible through local offices and Rotherham Connect, a customer contact centre introduced to make it easier for customers to contact the council.

-Offices are customer friendly, well signed and are equipped to assist people with disabilities, for example with hearing loops and ramped access. A wide range of relevant information and leaflets is available.

-Empty homes are cleaned and repaired to a high standard and all viewings with prospective tenants are accompanied.

However:

-A translation service for customers whose first language is not English is not widely available in all offices, which limits its effectiveness. Generally, the council does not yet work well with black and ethnic minority communities or other hard to reach groups.

-There are currently no repairs appointments available after 6pm or at weekends - although the council is consulting with tenants about this.

-It is not clear how decisions are made about decoration allowances. This is currently left to individual members of staff to decide leading to inconsistency and unfairness in providing this much needed help.

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

-Look at ways to introduce evening and weekend appointments for repairs.

-Involve customers much more in running the service and give them a greater say in how things are done. Make sure tenants' forums and panels are representative of all tenants across the borough, and ensure those from black and ethnic minority communities and other hard to reach groups can take part.

-Improve the call centre system so that when a vulnerable customer or someone with special needs calls in this is automatically flagged up to the member of staff taking the call.

This report covers the repairs and maintenance service, including day-to-day repairs, looking after empty homes, general maintenance, and capital works to the council's 25,140 homes. Housing services are estimated to cost£22,703m for 2003/04.

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