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SOUTH LAKES HOMES RECEIVES 'FAIR' RATING

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South Lakeland's housing management service has been rated as 'fair' by inspectors from The Audit Commission, indep...
South Lakeland's housing management service has been rated as 'fair' by inspectors from The Audit Commission, independent housing watchdog, in a report published today.

The service is provided through South Lakes Homes, which was established in April to manage the council's 3,500 homes. A full inspection will be carried out in January 2005 when a rating of 'good will be required in order to access a potential additional£20m capital funding over the next six years, to improve the quality of its housing.

A team of housing inspectors awarded SLH one star out of a possible three, citing good customer involvement, high satisfaction rates with service delivery, a well managed gas servicing programme and a responsive adaptations service amongst their reasons. They also noted that estates were maintained to a high standard and reflect 'secure by design' principles. However, there were some significant weaknesses including a poorly performing responsive repairs service, access to offices being unsuitable for disabled clients and performance management not driving improvement.

The report outlines a number of factors such as the fact that performance management is not being used as a tool to drive improvement; the Arms Length Housing Management government initiative has yet to complete the necessary analysis to demonstrate that services are delivering value for money and the council's and the ALMO's approach to equalities and diversity is under-developed. Given the fact that South Lakes Housing is a relatively new organisation and that a number of issues are to be addressed, the service's prospects for improvement have been judged as uncertain.

Audit Commission head of housing (north), Nick Atkin, said: 'South Lakes Homes is a very new organisation which is in some instances is delivering a good service to customers and tenants are involved in suggesting and monitoring improvements. Despite this, we found that there are significant weaknesses in some areas which have resulted in the rating of a 'fair' service. The responsive repairs service for example is not performing as we would expect within a good or excellent organisation and other services are not improving. This is not a service that is standing still or falling back and we do feel that the full inspection, which will be carried out in January 2005, is a realistic timescale to allow many of the weaknesses to be addressed.'

The report highlights a number of key strengths, including:

-customers are the focus of service delivery and are involved in setting service standards, monitoring performance and agreeing targets;

-adaptations are carried out quickly to meet the needs of disabled residents;

-gas appliances are serviced during the summer months on an annual basis to minimise disruption to customers;

-the rent collection service offers a personal service to tenants and is used well to identify other tenancy related issues;

-estates are very well maintained and reflect secure by design principles;

-residents of sheltered schemes have access to a varied range of activities throughout the week.

However, there are some issues which need to be tackled:

-not all offices are easily accessed, opening hours are very traditional and have not been agreed with customers;

-the ALMO does not know whether its services are being used by all sections of the community due to an absence of suitable monitoring arrangements;

-the repairs service is not managed to ensure an appropriate response to emergencies and that all repairs are delivered cost-effectively;

-the information available on property availability has not been improved due to a lack of progress in considering/developing choice based lettings

-leaseholders do not receive the service they are entitled to and are not receiving value for money;

-rent statements are not made available to enable customers to monitor their rent account;

-debt recovery is not carried out in a robust manner;

-support plans are not developed for residents of sheltered schemes to ensure their needs can be met and

-some services are not improving as performance is being monitored but not managed.

A downloadable copy of the report is available on the Audit Commission's website www.audit-commission.gov.uk or via South Lakeland DC.

NOTES

South Lakeland DC owns approximately 3,500 rented homes. The ALMO is responsible for all day to day housing management services including management of the housing capital programme, responsive repairs and empty property management, rent collection and arrears recovery, estate management and tenant participation. The revenue budget for the service is around£1.8m.

Councils are encouraged to set up ALMOs to manage, maintain and improve its housing stock. This was an indicative inspection to offer a judgement on the standard of the housing service before the full ALMO inspection in January 2005. The government decided that councils pursuing this option can secure additional capital funding if the new arms length body has received a 'good' rating from the Audit Commission's Housing Inspectorate.

The government allocated approximately£440m to the first 25 ALMOs for the period April 2002 to the end of March 2004. A further twelve councils were conditionally allocated additional funding in Round 3 - Barnet, Easington, Gateshead, Harrow, High Peak, Islington, Newcastle, Poole, Sheffield, Solihull, South Lakeland and Warrington .

The inspection took place within the framework of the government's best value initiative which places a duty on all councils to deliver the most economic, efficient and effective services possible (Local Government Act 1999).

The inspection involved interviews with council staff and members, and members of the public using the service.

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 housingservice is currently serving local people, based on a star rating from 0-3 where 0 is poor and 3 excellent, and its prospects for improvement in the future.

The Audit Commission is an independent body responsible for ensuring that public money is spent economically, efficiently and effectively, to achieve high-quality local and national services for the public. Our work covers local government, housing, health and criminal justice services.

As an independent watchdog, we provide important information on the quality of public services. As a driving force for improvement in those services, we provide practical recommendations and spread best practice. As an independent auditor, we monitor spending to ensure public services are good value for money.

Further details about the Commission and its guidance on the inspection of ALMOs can be obtained from its website: http://www.audit-commission.gov.uk

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