|Council housing management remains 'fair', say auditors|
But prospects for improvement promising
The housing management service provided by London Borough of Ealing is fair and has promising prospects to improve, according to an independent report released today by the Audit Commission. In 2002, the service was also graded as one-star 'fair', but prospects were thought to be uncertain, so at least things are looking up.
The Audit Commission inspection team gave the service one star out of a possible three because the council has made improvements to the service it delivers to tenants and is providing a fair service.
Hugh Boatswain , Audit Commission senior manager, said : �Ealing Council is changing the culture of its organisation and is now working to provide a service which is responsive to the needs of its tenants. It is building service improvements around tenant priorities and satisfaction.'
Around £375 million has been identified as necessary to bring the housing stock up to the government's Decent Homes Standard, which sets a target for all local authorities to bring their homes up to standard by 2010. The funding gap amounts to £207 million. The council applied to the government for approval to borrow the money and has been advised that it will receive £64 million for 2005�2007 if Ealing Homes receives a two star rating when it is inspected in May 2005.
As of March 31 2004, the council owns 14,545 homes. It owns the freehold to 4,829 leasehold flats that have been sold under the right to buy. Of the 14,545 rented properties, nearly 80% are medium and high-rise blocks within council estates. In addition there are 491 homes that are leased by the council from a housing association.
The inspectors found:
· Positive steps taken to avoid rent arrears include early intervention and independent debt advice. Text messages and phone calls are also made during weekends and evenings to make contact with tenants in arrears and address issues;
· Estates are generally clean and green spaces are well tended. Services to tackle graffiti, fly-tipping and abandoned vehicles operate quickly and efficiently;
· A specialist Tenancy Support Team plays a vital role in identifying and supporting vulnerable people;
· Residents have been able to influence both the future ownership and management of their homes and the detail of service standards, policies and procedures;
· There is positive practice in tenant involvement. For example, residents were involved in the appointment of staff to the new ALMO, Ealing Homes. They are also closely involved in specifying and monitoring service levels and contracts; and
· Residents are positively greeted when visiting offices or telephoning. This is a consistent practice across housing management teams.
To help the service improve, inspectors made a number of recommendations, including:
· The council should ensure its relationship with the ALMO will enable reconsideration of funding arrangements to support the provision of quality housing and a quality service to tenants and leaseholders;
· Use positive learning in Rents Service to inform the services delivered to leaseholders; and
· Develop the capacity of resident representatives (who are contributing to the strategic decision-making) to ensure they have a genuine understanding of the choices to be made around competing priorities and are able to express preferences
January 5, 2005