The Audit Commission inspection team gave the service one star out of a possible three because tenant involvement is an integral part of the service delivery and rent collection levels are improving. However there is a profusion of service standards, with no consistent method for measuring or publishing these. In addition inappropriate charges have been levied on the Housing Revenue Account (HRA).
'Watford BC provides their tenants and leaseholders with a fair tenancy management service. We found that the strong and dynamic leadership have clear plans to improve this service, but the systems are still very new and have still to be proved. The council is developing systems for financial management, performance management, planning and review but these have yet to fully proven'.
The report highlights a number of key strengths such as:
Effective procedures in place for the management of arrears.
A joint protocol has been developed with the local police and Three Rivers DC for the implementation of anti social behaviour orders.
The concept and culture of tenant participation and involvement and of consulting tenants is firmly embedded within the service.
However, inspectors also found weaknesses such as:
There is a profusion of service standards for each individual element of the service.
A need to take steps to extend participation and consultation to leaseholders and special interest groups, in particular to sheltered housing residents.
The systems for handling complaints are not clearly understood by staff and are liable to be applied inconsistently as a result.
Leaseholder issues are dealt with by different departments and to date no clear procedures have been implemented for collecting Leaseholder contribu tions to planned maintenance works (Section 20 notices).
To help the service improve, inspectors made a number of recommendations, including:
Advise customers of the specific service standards they can expect in all service areas and publicise remedies available for service failures.
Improve tenancy information and introduce a clear policy on tenancy checks.
Ensure that the income from leaseholders contributions to planned works and maintenance is maximised and that all staff appreciate the importance of ensuring Section 20 notices are correctly implemented.
The tenancy services management review covered rent recovery, neighbourhood management, tenancy management, leasehold management and right to buy. All of these services are delivered in house, with the exception of the cleaning and gardening functions. These were tendered under compulsive competitive tendering in 1991 and are run by the council's direct labour organisation which at the time of the best value review, was managed by the TownServices Department. The concierge service at the Meriden high rise flats has been outsourced and is run by a private company. Estimated costs of these services for 2003/04 are £789,000.