Thurrock Council - Housing Services Audit 2002
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Thurrock Council - Housing Services Audit 2002

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Thurrock B C Housing Services June 2002 © Audit Commission, 2002 ‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹ June 2002 Thurrock B C – Housing Services Improving public services The Government has placed a duty of local councils to deliver services to clear standards – of cost and quality – by the most economic, 1efficient and effective means available. Best value is a challenging framework designed to improve local services. Councils are required to assess their own performance and put in place measures to ensure continuous improvement in all of their services. Councils must show that they have applied the 4Cs of best value: challenging why and how a service is being provided; comparing their performance with others’ (including organisations in the private and voluntary sectors); embracing fair competition as a means of securing efficient and effective services; and consulting with local taxpayers, customers and the wider business community. The Government has decided that each council should be scrutinised by an independent inspectorate. The Audit Commission’s Inspection Service performs this role. The purpose of the inspection and of this report is to: enable the public to see whether best value is being delivered; enable the council to see how well it is doing; enable the Government to see how well its policies are working on the ground; identify failing services where remedial action may be necessary; and identify and ...

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Thurrock B C
Housing Services
June 2002
© Audit Commission, 2002
June 2002
Thurrock B C  Housing Services
Improving public services The Government has placed a duty of local councils to deliver services to clear standards  of cost and quality  by the most economic, efficient and effective means available.1Best value is a challenging framework designed to improve local services. Councils are required to assess their own performance and put in place measures to ensure continuous improvement in all of their services. Councils must show that they have applied the 4Cs of best value: ‹gnnighclaelwhy and how a service is being provided; ‹comparingtheir performance with others (including organisations in the private and voluntary sectors); ‹embracing faircmoepititnoa means of securing efficient andas effective services; and ‹consultingwith local taxpayers, customers and the wider business community. The Government has decided that each council should be scrutinised by an independent inspectorate. The Audit Commissions Inspection Service performs this role. The purpose of the inspection and of this report is to: ‹enable the public to see whether best value is being delivered; ‹enable the council to see how well it is doing; ‹enable the Government to see how well its policies are working on the ground; ‹identify failing services where remedial action may be necessary; and ‹identify and disseminate best practice.
1This report has been prepared by the Audit Commission (the Commission) following an inspection under Section 10 of the Local Government Act 1999, and issued in accordance with its duty under Section 13 of the 1999 Act.
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Contents Improving public services Contents Summary and recommendations Summary Scoring the Service Recommendations Report Context The locality The Council The Councils Best Value Review How good is the Service? Are the aims clear and challenging? Does the Service meet these aims? How does the performance compare? Summary How likely is the Service to improve? Does the Best Value Review drive improvements? How good is the improvement plan? Will the Council deliver the improvements? Summary Appendices What the inspectors did Documents reviewed Reality checks undertaken
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Thurrock B C  Housing Services
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June 2002
List of those interviewed
Positive Practice
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Summary and recommendations
Summary
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Thurrock Borough Council is a Unitary Authority in the South East of England. The population is 134,804 of which 3.2 per cent are from ethnic minority communities.
The Council is Labour led with 37 of the 49 seats. The others are held by a mix of other parties.
The Council employs 5,096 staff across all services.
The Good Quality Homesreview covered Housing Strategy and Enabling, Landlord Services (repairs and maintenance, caretaking services, voids and lettings, estate and tenancy/leasehold management, rent collection and arrears, tenant involvement and sheltered housing), Housing Register (allocations, homeless persons, housing advice) and Cross-cutting Issues (partnerships and regeneration, private sector, grants and adaptations, supporting people and crime and disorder). The Service is estimated to cost £34 million for 2001/02.
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Scoring the Service 5We have assessed the Council as providing afair ,one star service that has promisingprospects for improvement. Our judgements are based on the evidence obtained during the inspection and are outlined below. Scoring chart2: Thurrock B C  Housing Services
'a fair service that has promising prospects for improvement
6The service areas covered by the best value review offer very different levels of services to the customer. 7Housing Register and Homeless services have significant areas of poor performance, which impact directly on those customers in greatest need. We saw examples where users were subject to unfair, inappropriate and insensitive treatment. The service customers receive in this area is unacceptable. 8Housing Strategy and Enabling has not been sufficiently focused on delivering new affordable housing. The financial management of Council homes has been effective and a stock options appraisal has been carried out, although more complete stock condition information is required and information on the private sector needs updating. Consultation with stakeholders is not comprehensive and not clearly structured. 9Access to services is good at most offices but not consistent across them all with one office being particularly poor for telephone contact. Information on services and service standards needs improving. 2 horizontal axis shows how good the TheThe scoring chart displays performance in two dimensions. Service or function is now, on a scale ranging from no stars for a service that is poor (at the left-hand end) to three stars for an excellent service (right-hand end). The vertical axis shows the improvement prospects of the service, also on a four-point scale.
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Thurrock B C  Housing Services
Overall the repairs and maintenance service is effective with strong elements such as response times and quality of work, although the appointment system is inadequate. Standards of repair and cleanliness of relet properties is satisfactory but insufficient information is provided to new residents. However there are some inefficiencies in the void and relet process and turnaround times need to improve further. There are examples of effective working with the police to deal with anti-social behaviour but levels are not effectively monitored and there is not a structured approach to estate inspections. The standard of caretaking is not consistent and the cost effectiveness of the service needs further examination. A variety of rent payment methods are available to tenants and regular action is being taken to recover arrears. However there is a lack of publicity on arrears and the service is not co-ordinated with money advice services. The level of rent collected as a proportion that is receivable during 2000/01 was comparatively low. Sheltered housing homes are all self contained and are clean and generally well kept. There is joint working with Social Services to provide day care at some schemes. However, there are a significant number of schemes without lifts and there is a lack of comprehensive procedures for sheltered housing. There are a number of active tenants groups and a Borough wide independent residents action groupwhich has two part time workers funded by the Council. Whilst there are some good examples of tenant involvement it is not clearly structured across the Borough and the Tenant Participation Compact has not been effectively used to deliver improved participation. The cross cutting services are a developing area and there was a mixture of good practice and developments, particularly in relation to regeneration, but successful initiatives and lessons learned had only limited application in main stream services. We found that overall the service has promisingprospects of delivering significant improvements. The services were reviewed in four separate areas and the quality of the review and the outcome was very different. The best value review (BVR) process was not applied effectively to Housing Strategy, Homelessness, Housing Register and Cross-cutting Issues although the review of Landlord Services was generally comprehensive. The quality of the improvement plans varies. The improvement plan for Landlord Services covers the key issues identified in the BVR and this report. Those for Housing Register and Homelessness have been developed effectively as a result of the inspection process with a particular impact for people presenting as homeless to the Council,although still with areas for further review. Those for Housing Strategy and Cross-cutting Issues need further development with stakeholders and the Council has begun this process. The plans contain a
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number of further reviews which should have been completed as part of the review itself with clear actions identified from those reviews. 20The new departmental structure and the healthy financial position of the Housing Revenue Account (HRA) will assist implementation in some areas. Significant resources have been identified in the revised improvement planto deliver the plans for Homelessness and allocations which was approved at the Councils Cabinet meeting on 31 May 2002. The Councils track record on addressing problems in some services is inconsistent and progress on the plans in some areas is limited. However the Council has responded very positively to the inspection process by moving quickly to propose solutions to the problems identified and subsequently confirming progress in key areas. 21The inspection identified the following strengths of the service: ‹A good quality out of hours emergency telephone service; ‹Nomination arrangements with Registered Social Landlords(RSL) work effectively and RSL tenants can access Council properties for transfer; ‹Generally pleasant local offices with weekend opening; ‹Translation service available; ‹Saturday morning appointments for repairs; ‹Quick response times for non-urgent repairs; ‹Minimum lettings standards issued to new tenants; ‹Ready to let voids in good state of repair and cleanliness; ‹Variety of rent payment methods; ‹Clear service charge statements for leaseholders and accompanying explanation; ‹In house mediation service; ‹Sheltered schemes are clean and well maintained; ‹Joint working with Social Services to provide day care at sheltered schemes; ‹Council funding of workers for tenants federation; ‹DSO has high level of multi-skilled workers; ‹Recent Housing Needs survey; ‹Corporate strategy for nuisance and anti-social behaviour; ‹Joint working with the police to tackle anti-social behaviour and crime;
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‹Low level of rent lost through empty properties; ‹Successful regeneration initiatives with the voluntary sector and other partners; ‹Priority housing consideration for key workers in education; ‹brought greater efficiency to grants andImproved resources has adaptations; and ‹Joint working to develop the Supporting People initiative. 22However a number of other aspects require further attention which include: ‹applications are dealt with within 33 days;Only 77 per cent of homeless ‹High number of agency staff are used in the Homeless Persons section -no procedures or guidelines given; ‹Inappropriate and insensitive decisions being made on homeless applications; ‹Poor provision of housing advice; ‹Shortage of local emergency and temporary accommodation in the area; ‹the area and is of a poor standard;Bed and Breakfast provision is out of ‹No facilities for children in homeless reception; ‹Private interview rooms not always used, personal and confidential information discussed in open office; ‹Emergency out of hours telephone number not on display outside Civic or estate offices; ‹Priority consideration for allocations and transfer of the Councils housing provision lack criteria and applications are being treated inconsistently; ‹Difficulty in contacting Tilbury Office by telephone; ‹No tenant handbook; ‹Inefficient repairs appointment system which is inconsistently applied; ‹Insufficient repairs ordering guidance for tenants and staff; ‹Alteration of repair priorities and pre-inspection requirements without reference back to tenants; ‹Insufficient information provided at sign ups; ‹Inconsistent caretaking standards;
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‹Lack of publicity on rent arrears and lack of co-ordination with money advice services; ‹Lack of clear service standard and procedures for sheltered housing; ‹Lack of progress and review of Tenants Participation Compact; ‹Lack of success in delivery of new affordable housing; ‹Lack of comprehensive and structured approach to Housing Strategy consultation; ‹Lack of recent information on condition of private housing and lack of comprehensive information on HMOs; ‹Lack of ongoing satisfaction surveys for emergency and urgent repairs; ‹High numbers of pre-inspections and high level of emergency repairs; ‹No structured programme of estate inspections; ‹Inadequate monitoring of levels of anti-social behaviour; ‹Lack of difficult to let strategy for sheltered housing; and ‹Non housing elements of the sheltered housing service are being significantly subsidised from the HRA. Recommendations 23rise to the challenge of continuous improvement councils need inspectionTo reports that offer practical pointers for improvement. In this context, the inspection team feels that the Council should now take action to resolve a number of general, political, managerial and partnership issues. 24We recommend that: ‹Reduce the time taken to make a decision on whether to accept people as homeless; ‹Review as a matter of priority training and guidance given to staff in the Housing Register and the Homeless Person Service; ‹Develop and target initiatives that seek to reduce the use of Bed and Breakfast accommodation; ‹Closely monitor improvement actions and standards of service in housing advice and Homelessness; ‹Re-establish a private landlords forum and prioritise increasing the availability of local temporary and rented accommodation; ‹Prioritise undertaking a private house condition survey to provide adequate information to inform policy and establish a comprehensive
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register of HMOs and associated inspection programme. The survey should include consideration of fuel poverty and lead to consideration of priorities for targeting, promotion and expenditure; ‹Ensure a clear commitment to the delivery of social and affordable housing in the Unitary Plan and develop a detailed delivery strategy with clear monitoring procedures; ‹Ensure telephone calls to all offices are answered within identified service standards and review arrangements for prior appointments; ‹In consultation with users produce a comprehensive tenants handbook providing service standards and guidance on services; ‹Review the appointment system for repairs to ensure easy access and consistency of service; ‹Provide comprehensive guidance to staff and tenants on repairs reporting/diagnosis. Set and monitor targets for reducing levels of pre-inspections and emergency repairs; ‹Review the appointments system at the Grays housing desk to ensure that notification of customers arrival is dealt with efficiently; ‹Review the arrears procedure to ensure effective co-ordination with advice services and a wider anti-poverty strategy; ‹In consultation with users develop scheme specific service standards for caretaking to ensure consistent service standards; ‹Establish a structured programme of estate inspections; ‹Produce clear service standards for users of sheltered housing and clear procedures for staff; ‹Review the Tenant Participation Compact in consultation with users and produce a structured programme of involvement/consultation covering all service areas; ‹Develop and publicise a structured process to ensure all stakeholders are adequately involved in developing the Housing Strategy; ‹Use the forthcoming stock condition survey of Council homes to carry out a rigorous appraisal of the investment needs against available resources, in consultation with tenants; ‹Introduce a system of monitoring levels of anti-social behaviour; ‹Develop a difficult to let strategy for sheltered housing; ‹Develop plans links to supporting people to end the HRA subsidy to non housing elements of the sheltered housing service;
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