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Thurrock Council - Housing Services Audit 2005

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34 pages
Inspection report January 2005 Housing Services Thurrock Borough Council p 2 Thurrock Borough Council - Housing Services Contents The Housing Inspectorate 2 Summary 2 Scoring the service 2 Recommendations 2 Report 2 Context 2 The locality 2 The council 2 The service 2 How good is the service? 2 Diversity 2 Access and customer care 2 Value for money 2 Strategy and enabling 2 Homelessness and housing advice 2 Resident involvement 2 Summary 2 What are the prospects for improvement to the service? 2 What is the evidence of service improvement? 2 How good are the current improvement plans? 2 Will improvements be delivered? 2 Summary 2 Appendices Performance indicators 2 Documents reviewed 2 Reality checks undertaken 2 List of people interviewed 2 Positive practice 34 Thurrock Borough Council - Housing Services p 3 The Housing Inspectorate Summary 1 Thurrock Borough Council is a unitary authority in the South East of England which lies on the River Thames to the east of London. The population is 143,200 of which 4.7 per cent are from black and minority ethnic (BME) communities. The main settlements are Grays, Corringham, South Ockendon, Chadwell St Mary, Stanford le Hope and Tilbury. 2 The council is Conservative led with 28 of the 49 seats. 3 The council employs 5,477 staff across all services. 4 The services inspected consist of housing strategy and enabling, homelessness and housing advice and resident involvement ...
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Inspection report
January 2005
 
 
 
Housing Services
Thurrock Borough Council
 
 
p 2 Thurrock Borough Council - Housing Services Contents The Housing Inspectorate Summary Scoring the service Recommendations Report Context The locality The council The service How good is the service? Diversity Access and customer care Value for money Strategy and enabling Homelessness and housing advice Resident involvement Summary What are the prospects for improvement to the service? What is the evidence of service improvement? How good are the current improvement plans? Will improvements be delivered? Summary Appendices Performance indicators Documents reviewed Reality checks undertaken List of people interviewed Positive practice
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Thurrock Borough Council - Housing Services p 3  The Housing Inspectorate Summary 1Thurrock Borough Council is a unitary authority in the South East of England which lies on the River Thames to the east of London. The population is 143,200 of which 4.7 per cent are from black and minority ethnic (BME) communities. The main settlements are Grays, Corringham, South Ockendon, Chadwell St Mary, Stanford le Hope and Tilbury. 2The council is Conservative led with 28 of the 49 seats. 3The council employs 5,477 staff across all services. 4The services inspected consist of housing strategy and enabling, homelessness and housing advice and resident involvement. This was a reinspection of those services that were particularly weak in our previous inspection in 2002. The previous inspection had a wider remit and covered the council’s Good Quality Homes Review which included housing strategy and enabling, landlord services, allocations, homeless people and housing advice and cross-cutting issues such as partnerships, regeneration, private sector housing, supporting people and crime and disorder. The previous inspection score was fair, one star with promising prospects for improvement. The service is estimated to cost £40 million for 2004/05. The contract to manage the housing advice service was awarded to the Citizen’s Advice Bureau and began in June 2003.
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p 4 Thurrock Borough Council - Housing Services  Scoring the service 6We have assessed Thurrock as providing a ‘good’ two star service that has promising prospects for improvement. Our judgements are based on the evidence obtained during the inspection and are outlined below. Scoring chart1 Borough Council - Housing Services: Thurrock Prospects for improvement?      ‘a good service      Poor Fair Good Excellentthat has promising Excellentprospects for improvement 
Promising Uncertain
A good service?
Poor  7We have judged the service to be good because:  bed and breakfast accommodation has been significantly reduced for families except in emergencies;  council has succeeded in increasing the range of temporarythe accommodation available and the furnished lets have proved a successful initiative;  good quality advice is available from the Citizen’s Advice Bureau who were successful in winning the competitively tendered contract for housing advice;  some new initiatives have been introduced to improve the council’s preventative work, such as the cashless rent deposit bond;  since our previous inspection, vulnerable people are treated with much greater sensitivity;  good access with two offices opening on Saturday mornings and crèche facilities at the Civic Offices;  homeless reviews are carried out independently;  the housing strategy and business plan are both ‘fit for purpose’;  the council works well with its housing association partners in providing affordable housing;
 1The scoring chart displays performance in two dimensions. The horizontal axis shows how good the 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 Borough Council - Housing Services p 5   with innovative ways of consulting with youngthe council have come up people and uses a diverse group of tenants as part of a consultation panel; and  a tenant logo goes out on information for tenants meaning that at least six tenants have been consulted and approved the clarity of the information. However, there are some areas where improvement is needed:  tenants are not involved consistently in monitoring the housing service and are not kept informed on a regular basis on the performance of the housing service;  there are no mechanisms in place to monitor service standards and service standards for the homeless service have not been publicised to tenants;  accessing the homeless and housing advice service can still be difficult; and  framework around affordable housing is not robust.the planning We have judged that the service has promising prospects for improvement because:  there is strong leadership within the council and the council is clear about what it wants to achieve;  the council is working well with key partners and is beginning to engage service users on a more consistent basis;  the council has increased its capacity in the homeless service and is further enhancing its capacity through partnership working;  the council is committed to learning from its customers and has used outcomes from mystery shopping, tenant surveys and complaints to improve services;  action plan includes firm plans both for the short and longer-term; andthe  positive progress on implementing almost all of thethe council has made recommendations from our previous report. However, there are some barriers to improvement:  performance management is not yet fully embedded within the service and driving improvement; and  the council has not yet fully demonstrated that the service is providing value for money and financial management has been weak.
p 6 Thurrock Borough Council - Housing Services  Recommendations 11the challenge of continuous improvement, organisations needTo rise to inspection reports that offer practical pointers for improvement. In this context, the inspection team makes the following recommendations.  Put in place a strong robust planning framework for affordable housing which is integrated with the housing strategy. Within six months:  ensure a co-ordinated approach to tenant involvement is adopted and put in place mechanisms for tenants to be involved and informed in monitoring and developing the housing service;  monitoring of the housing advice service particularly in relationensure robust to accessing the service;  make improvements to the performance management of the service and in particular, the financial monitoring, and use the information to drive improvements and ensure the service is offering value for money;  to monitor service standards and ensure theput in place mechanisms information collected is fed back to tenants;  publicise and monitor the service standards for the homeless service;  take action to address all other weaknesses identified in the report; and  and recommendations in this report to the scrutinyreport the findings committee, users of the service and key partners.
 
Thurrock Borough Council - Housing Services p 7  12We would like to thank the staff of Thurrock Council who made us welcome and who met our requests efficiently and courteously.  Janet Williams Housing Inspector Mandy Day Housing Inspector Peter Griffiths Housing Inspector Clive Hutchinson Tenant Inspector Advisor Mark Elsworth Lead Housing Inspector – East of England  Dates of inspection: 22 October – 29 October, 2 November 2004 Email: janet-williams@audit-commission.gov.uk  
 For more information please contact Audit Commission Central Region 1stFloor, Bridge Business Park  Bridge Park Road Thurmaston Leicester LE4 8BL www.audit-commission.gov.uk Telephone: 0116 250 4100  
 ‘© Audit Commission The official version of this report is also available on the Audit Commission's website at audit-commission.gov.uk. Copies of this report are also available from the address above. The Audit Commission cannot verify the accuracy of and is not responsible for material contained in this report which has been reproduced by another organisation or individual.’ 
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Report Context 13This 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. The locality 14lies on the River Thames to the east of London. TheThurrock Borough Council population of the area is 143,200, of which 4.7 per cent are from black and minority ethnic (BME) communities. The main settlements are Grays, Corringham, South Ockendon, Chadwell St Mary, Stanford le Hope and Tilbury. 15The borough is a major part of the Thames Gateway, a corridor identified by the government as an area for significant development. As part of the Thames Gateway sub-region the population is expected to increase by around 50 per cent with up to 25,000 new homes proposed over the next 20 years. An Urban Development Corporation (UDC) was established in 2003 to take forward the development proposals for the Thurrock area. 16population work in the borough, mostly in wholesale,Sixty-three per cent of the retail and retail distribution, and in the manufacturing sector. Thurrock is home to Lakeside Shopping centre which has over 300 shops under one roof. Unemployment stands at 2.6 per cent compared with the national average of 2.4 per cent. The index of multiple deprivation (2000) ranks the council as 101stout of 354 local authorities with some pockets of significant deprivation in parts of the borough. The council 1749 councillors. The Conservative party has control withThe council comprises 28 seats, Labour 19 and the Independents 2 seats. The council became unitary in April 1998 and adopted the cabinet and leader model of governance. 18The council’s revenue budget for the year 2004/05 is £162 million with a capital programme of £28.5 million. The council has overspent for the past three years which was funded from corporate balances and reserves. 19a Local Strategic Partnership (LSP) in 2003The council and its partners formed and have produced the first community strategy for the area called ASPIRE. The document sets out the vision of what the area will look like in 20 years time and outlines six key themes: Aspirational, Safer, Prosperous, Inclusive, Regenerated and Energetic and Healthier.
 
Thurrock Borough Council Housing Services p 9 - 
The service 20The services inspected consist of strategy and enabling, homelessness and housing advice and resident involvement. Our previous inspection in 2002 looked at the council’s Good Quality Homes Review which covered housing strategy and enabling, landlord services, allocations, homeless people and housing advice and cross-cutting issues such as partnerships, regeneration, private sector housing, supporting people and crime and disorder. The previous inspection score was that together, these services were fair, one star with promising prospects for improvement however the services subject to re-inspection were those where service delivery was weakest and where greatest improvement was required. The budget for the service for 2004/05 is £40 million a decrease on the previous year.
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p 10 Thurrock Borough Council - Housing Services  How good is the service? 22good the service is, inspectors make an assessment of how wellTo judge how the council is delivering services. This includes an assessment of performance against specific service standards and targets and the council’s approach to measuring whether it is actually delivering what it set out to do. Inspectors will judge how effectively service delivery is informed by the needs of the diverse range of customers, how residents are involved in service development and whether services deliver value for money. Diversity 23The council has a robust and proactive approach to diversity and is taking steps to ensure that diversity issues are fully addressed in decision making. The council has achieved level two of the equality standard for local government and has produced an equality impact assessment tool to support managers. The council is working to level three by April 2005 and has ambitions to reach level five by April 2007. Diversity champions have been appointed in each directorate with Housing and Social Care having two posts, the diversity and policy officer and the diversity support officer whose role is to complement the corporate diversity officer’s role in raising awareness of staff regarding diversity issues and ensuring better quality monitoring of diversity in service delivery. 24Housing comply with the Commission for Racial Equality code of practice in rented housing and analysis has shown that 14 per cent of applicants are currently from black and minority ethnic groups, significantly higher than the percentage of people from black and minority ethnic groups in the borough’s population according to the last census figures. We were concerned, however, that some service user satisfaction surveys were not analysed by ethnicity. 25We found straplines on all leaflets advertising the fact that the leaflet could be made available in other languages, large print or Braille. Language line, a telephone-based interpreter service is advertised and is available in all offices as well as face-to-face interpreters who can be made available. In the Civic Offices in Grays, signage from the main reception area to the housing, social care and benefits reception areas are colour and shape coded for the benefit of those whose first language is not English or who have difficulty in reading. 26The council’s diversity statement ‘promoting diversity, fighting intolerance’ is included in the customer care leaflets in the tenant’s handbook. Contractors carrying out disabled adaptations on behalf of the council have all had to undergo disability awareness training. 27At a service level the council works closely with specialist providers to meet the needs of vulnerable people. The council has part funded two parent and baby units, move on accommodation from the women’s refuge as well as helping to fund a new refuge. The council is aware that more needs to be done in terms of accommodating ex-offenders and those misusing addictive substances. 28Not all staff have received equalities and diversity training. Training had been planned for earlier this year but there were difficulties in implementing it and it is now planned for later in this financial year.
 
Thurrock Borough Council - Housing Services p 11  29Satisfaction of minority groups with opportunities for tenant participation is very low at 11 per cent compared with 46 per cent of non-black and minority ethnic tenants. Similarly, satisfaction levels of BME tenants with the overall housing service was lower than that of non-BME tenants at 67 per cent compared with 80 per cent. We do acknowledge the point made by the council that the sample size for BME tenants was very low and therefore the results may be statistically unreliable and that further more work in this area is necessary to obtain reliable results. Access and customer care 30Access and customer care is a strong area for the council. 31There are six local housing offices open from 9.00am to 4.30pm and in addition the South Ockenden and Tilbury offices are open from 9.00am until 12 noon on Saturday mornings. There is an out-of-hours service with the telephone number available on answerphones and clearly displayed outside the offices. We did encounter difficulties in getting through on the phone to the homeless service and our message on the answerphone was not responded to. The council told us they had had a new answerphone in the week we were on site and that they had experienced difficulties. 32that offices had a variety of useful leaflets and staff were courteous,We found professional and helpful and all were wearing name badges. The council have a programme of improvements to ensure all offices comply with the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) and are wheelchair accessible by the end of March 2005. We found works in progress at two offices and the others already compliant, except for the Purfleet office which is due to relocate in the new year to new DDA compliant offices. 33The housing reception in the civic office has an unsupervised play area for children as well as a supervised crèche also based in the building. This ‘TOT STOP’ is available for children up to seven where parents/carers have appointments with council staff. 34The council has clear service standards, set in conjunction with service users, in most areas of the housing service which are distributed to all new tenants as part of the tenants’ handbook and are readily available in local offices. These are not yet available for the homeless service. However the council’s performance against these standards is not measured in all areas or reported back to tenants. 35council’s website contains information on how to access accommodation andThe the services offered by the council as well as other useful contact details of other agencies such as the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB). There was useful information on the housing services and clear instructions on how to contact the council including an email facility. 36The council has tendered out their specialist housing advice service since our previous inspection and the contract was awarded to the CAB. Access to this service is restricted to 10.00am until 4.00pm only on weekdays, and one evening a week there is an outreach surgery in a local library. We found the referral system from the council offices to the CAB to not always be effective. There are plans to have an integrated ‘intelligent referral system’ which will link the voluntary sector and council services into an automatic appointment service but this is for sometime in the future.