© Audit Commission 2007
For further information on the work of the Commission please contact: Audit Commission, 1st Floor, Millbank Tower, Millbank, London SW1P 4HQ each year. Our work covers local government, health, housing, community safety and fire and rescue services.
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Arms Length Management Organisation (ALMO) Inspections 5
Scoring the service 7
Recommendations 10 Report 14 Context 14 The locality 14 The Council 15 The service 15
How good is the service? 17
What has the service aimed to achieve? 17
Is the service meeting the needs of the local community and users? 18
Access and customer care 18
Stock investment and asset management 25
Capital improvement, planned and cyclical maintenance, major repair
Responsive repairs 28
Empty (void) property repairs 32
Gas servicing 34
Aids and adaptations 35
Housing income management 36
Resident involvement 39
Tenancy and estate management 43
Tenancy management 43
Tenancy enforcement and anti-social behaviour (ASB) 45
Estate management 48
Leasehold management and Right to Buy 50
Supported housing 56
Is the service delivering value for money? 58
How do costs compare? 58
How is value for money managed? 59
What are the prospects for improvement to the service? 63
What is the service track record in delivering improvement? 63 How well does the service manage performance? 65 Does the service have the capacity to improve? 69 Summary 72
Appendix 1 – Performance indicators 73
Newham key performance indicators 2003/04 to 2005/06 73
Appendix 2 – Progress against previous inspection recommendations 74
Appendix 3 – Reality checks undertaken 77
Appendix 4 – Positive practice 78
Sign-up process for new tenants 78
Resident involvement week 78
'Telecare' service 78
Arms Length Management Organisation
The Audit Commission is an independent body responsible for ensuring that public money is spent economically, efficiently and effectively and delivers high-quality local services for the public.
Within the Audit Commission, the Housing Inspectorate inspects and monitors the performance of a number of bodies and services. These include local authority housing departments, local authorities administering Supporting People
programmes, arms length management organisations (ALMOs) and housing associations. Our key lines of enquiry (KLOEs) set out the main issues which we consider when forming our judgements on the quality of services. The KLOEs can be found on the Audit Commission’s website at
This inspection has been carried out by the Housing Inspectorate using powers under section 10 of the Local Government Act 1999 and is in line with the Audit Commission’s strategic regulation principles. In broad terms, these principles look to minimise the burden of regulation while maximising its impact. To meet these principles this inspection:
• is proportionate to risk and the performance of the Council/ALMO;
• judges the quality of the service for service users and the value for money of the service;
• promotes further improvements in the service; and
• has cost no more than is necessary to safeguard the public interest. This service was inspected as part of the Government’s arms length housing management initiative, which encourages councils to set up ALMOs to manage, maintain and improve their housing stock. The Government decided that councils pursuing this option can secure additional capital funding if the new arms length body has received at least a ‘good’ rating from the Audit Commission’s Housing Inspectorate.
An ALMO is a company set up by a local authority to manage and improve all or part of its housing stock. The local authority remains the landlord and tenants remain secure tenants of the authority. An ALMO does not trade for profit, and is managed by a board of directors comprising Council nominees, elected tenants/ leaseholders and independents.
The Housing Inspectorate has published additional guidance for ALMO inspections:
• ‘ALMO Inspections and the delivery of excellent housing management services’ (March 2003); and
1 Overall, Newham Homes is providing a good housing service with promising prospects for improvement.
2 Newham Homes has a clear mission and vision, which includes bringing all of its homes up to an excellent, modern standard by 2010 and providing services of the highest quality. It improvement plans in place which are designed to achieve this vision.
3 Newham Homes is performing well in a number of areas. In particular, it has worked innovatively to consult and involve residents, including those that have not previously been reached by traditional consultation methods. It is delivering effective tenancy management and rent collection services and has taken steps to ensure that services and information are easily accessible by residents.
4 The main challenge for the ALMO is the target to bring 50 per cent of its stock up to the Decent Homes Standard by 2010. This will require substantial investment and an expanded capital programme. Newham Homes has taken positive steps to put the building blocks and capacity in place to achieve this, if the investment is available.
5 However, there are areas of weakness. In particular, the responsive repairs service cannot demonstrate that it is delivering value for money. There has not been comprehensive benchmarking or market testing of the service and, although there is high resident satisfaction with repairs, processes for ensuring value for money and identifying areas for improvement have been weak. Newham Homes has recognised the need for better performance in this area and has begun to take steps to address these weaknesses.
6 The prospects for improvement have been judged as promising as there are a number of positive drivers for change. The Board and the new Executive
Management Team are strong and have a clear understanding of the priorities for improvement and how to achieve these. There is a generally good track record of improvement, including significant improvements over the past year in, for
example, reletting procedures and services to leaseholders. The ALMO has the necessary staff and financial resources to deliver improvement and to manage the increase in the capital investment programme.
Scoring the service
7 We have assessed Newham Homes 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.
Prospects for improvement? Excellent Promising
5Uncertain Poor A good service? Poor Fair Good Excellent
‘a good service that has promising
prospects for improvement’
Source: Audit Commission
8 We found the service to be 'good' because it has a range of strengths including:
• there is a strong focus on customer care with a high level of overall resident satisfaction, good access to services, clear service standards and a range of information for residents in a variety of formats;
• there is a generally good approach to understanding and meeting the diverse needs of residents;
• there are robust arrangements for delivering the present capital investment programme, including good stock condition information, and sound
preparation has taken place for an expansion of the programme to meet the Decent Homes Standard;
• there is a generally high level of customer satisfaction with the repairs service and appointments are generally made and kept;
The 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.
• there has been an effective review of reletting procedures, including void repairs, in partnership with the Council, resulting in improved turnaround;
• performance on gas servicing is now strong, with action taken to address cases where residents have not provided access;
• Newham Homes is working well with the Council to deliver aids and adaptations to tenants and the waiting list has been eliminated;
• there is a thorough approach to rent recovery and performance has improved year-on-year. There is a full range of payment methods, access to welfare advice and good quality information, including a rents newsletter;
• the resident involvement structures for tenants and leaseholders are working well and considerable work has taken place to involve and consult residents who are not part of these structures;
• there is a strong approach to tenancy management, including a
comprehensive sign-up procedure, needs assessments and tenancy audits;
• there are effective procedures for tackling anti-social behaviour (ASB) in partnership with the Council, including a 24-hour ASB reporting line;
• estates are generally well maintained and common parts are generally clean. Graffiti and abandoned cars are dealt with efficiently;
• leaseholders benefit from a variety of consultation arrangements including a Leaseholders Group and Leaseholder Panel;
• there are effective billing and consultation arrangements for leaseholder service charges and major works;
• Right to Buy applications are handled efficiently and within timescales; and
• there is a focus on achieving value for money in most service areas and this is supported by a clear procurement strategy and robust monitoring and review arrangements for Service Level Agreements (SLAs).
9 However, there are some areas which require improvement. These include:
• Newham Homes cannot demonstrate that the responsive repairs service is delivering value for money. There is a high level of emergency and urgent repairs (42 per cent); a low level of post-inspections and results are not analysed; information on cost variations is not collated or analysed and the collection of performance information is not robust;
• the responsive repairs service has a number of outdated practices and procedures;
• the stock condition database does not yet reflect the Housing Health and Safety Rating System and responsive repairs information cannot be uploaded onto the database;
• satisfaction monitoring and analysis of feedback is not consistently applied across all service areas;
• there is not robust monitoring of the ALMO's performance against ASB service standards or reporting of the impact of work to tackle ASB;
• the ALMO only has profiling information on 25 per cent of leaseholders and so is not able to target services effectively;
• rechargeable repairs have not been recovered from tenants until recently;
• the approach to monitoring estate management standards is not comprehensive;
• the quality of estate management and, in particular, grounds maintenance is not consistent across the borough;
• there is weak performance by the Council in recovering leaseholder service charges which is not maximising the ALMO's resources; and
• costs and services within SLAs have yet to be fully unpicked and understood.
10 The service has promising prospects for improvement because:
• Newham Homes can demonstrate a track record in delivering improvements in services for residents. Service users are noticing improvements in services and this is reflected in satisfaction survey ratings;
• there has been generally good progress against the recommendations of the two previous housing inspection reports;
• the Board has strong capacity and a wide range of skills, and is operating effectively;
• the new management team has significant strengths and has made good progress in identifying areas of weakness and addressing these;
• there is a good working relationship with the Mayor and Council, with a clear understanding of the arms length nature of the ALMO;
• there has been investment in training and apprenticeships and the ALMO has taken steps to ensure that it has the capacity to deliver a substantially
increased capital programme;
• arrangements are in place for monitoring and reviewing SLAs;
• there has been effective performance management and monitoring (with the exception of the responsive repairs service);
• there is a robust service planning framework; and
• the ALMO has been open to learning from other organisations.
11 However, there are a number of barriers to improvement. These include:
• the direction of travel of performance indicators is mixed;
• ensuring that value for money is achieved in the responsive repairs service has only recently begun to be addressed and is not yet embedded;
• there is scope to improve on learning from staff, customers and internal services; and
• inefficient use of IT systems continues to be a barrier to maximising effective service delivery in some areas.
12 To rise to the challenge of continuous improvement, organisations need inspection reports that offer practical pointers for improvement. Our
recommendations identify the expected benefits for both local people and the organisation. In addition, we identify the approximate costs2 and indicate the priority we place on each recommendation and key dates for delivering these where they are considered appropriate. In this context, the inspection team recommends that the organisation shares the findings of this report with the ALMO Board, the local authority and customers; and takes action to address all weaknesses identified in the report. The inspection team makes the following recommendations.
R1 Ensure that the responsive repairs service is delivering value for money by: • ensuring that robust systems are in place for carrying out an appropriate
number of post-inspections and that information from these is analysed and used to improve service delivery and value for money;
• systematically collecting and reviewing information on variations between
initial estimates and final costs of repairs;
• ensuring that performance information is validated and that the
completion of repairs is reported and benchmarked using consistent definitions that are understood by all staff;
• reducing the number of repair priorities to more manageable levels that
can be readily understood by staff and residents;
• analysing the reasons for the high number of emergency and urgent
repairs and taking steps to reduce this;
• reviewing the schedule of rates and introducing composite items where
• achieving a position whereby the service can be meaningfully
benchmarked against other providers.
The expected benefits of this recommendation are:
• assurance that the responsive repairs service is being delivered efficiently to residents and offering value for money.
The implementation of this recommendation will have high impact with low costs. This should be implemented within nine months of publication of this report.
Low cost is defined as less than 1 per cent of the annual service cost, medium cost is between 1 and 5 per cent and high cost is over 5 per cent.
R2 Strengthen the approach to the management of stock information by: • enhancing the stock investment data to reflect the Housing, Health and
Safety Rating System and to incorporate responsive repairs data; and
• ensuring that residents are aware of the presence and risks of asbestos
in their homes and that there is an effective system for notifying contractors of the presence and location of asbestos.
The expected benefits of this recommendation are:
• more robust stock condition data to inform future improvement and investment plans; and
• reduced health risks to residents and contractors.
The implementation of this recommendation will have medium impact with low costs. This should be implemented within six months of publication of this report.
R3 Strengthen access to services, consultation and customer care by: • ensuring that call answering targets for the repairs call centre are met
and that the need for repeat enquiries is minimised;
• measuring customer satisfaction systematically across all service areas
(including complaints and ASB). Analysing results and providing feedback for residents; and
• ensuring that services are appropriately provided by collecting and using
profiling information for leaseholders, as well as for tenants.
The expected benefits of this recommendation are: • easier and more efficient access for reporting repairs;
• services that are continuously improved in the light of customer feedback; and • services that are appropriately tailored to meet the diverse needs of residents. The implementation of this recommendation will have high impact with low costs. This should be implemented within six months of publication of this report.
R4 Strengthen the approach to income recovery by:
• developing an overarching income management strategy which includes
• ensuring that arrangements for referrals for welfare advice are effective,
including advice for out-of-borough residents; and
• working with the Council to review the collection of leaseholder service
charges and major works charges to ensure that income is maximised in these areas.
The expected benefits of this recommendation are: • improved levels of income recovery; and
• income maximisation for residents.
The implementation of this recommendation will have medium impact with low costs. This should be implemented within nine months of publication of this report.
R5 Strengthen the approach to estate management by:
• ensuring that there are regular and systematic inspections of all estates,
publicised to residents and with resident involvement, and a clear procedure for following up issues that are identified for action; and
• reviewing the grounds maintenance contract to ensure that it is able to
meet reasonable levels of residents' expectations.
The expected benefits of this recommendation are:
• consistently good standards of estate management across all estates.
The implementation of this recommendation will have high impact with low costs. This should be implemented within six months of publication of this report.
13 We would like to thank the staff of Newham Homes and Newham London
Borough Council who made us welcome and who met our requests efficiently and courteously, and in particular, Maggie Cameron-Ratchford who co-ordinated the inspection arrangements.
Dates of inspection: 25 October and 30 October to 10 November 2006. Regional contact details
Audit Commission 1st Floor Millbank Tower Millbank London SW1P 4HQ Telephone: 0207 828 1212 Fax: 0207 976 6187 www.audit-commission.gov.uk
14 Newham is five miles east of the City of London. The borough is bounded by the River Thames in the south, the River Lea in the west, the River Roding in the east, and Wanstead Flats to the north.
15 The borough has a population of 246,200,3 and in the last census had the largest household size in England, at 2.64 people per household; the highest proportion of households with residents under the age of five in England, at over
17 per cent; and the lowest proportion of people over 65 in London. In addition, a higher than average percentage of single parents live in the borough. The
unemployment rate at 4.6 per cent is higher than the London average
(3.35 per cent) and Newham is rated as the sixth most deprived local authority area in England.4
16 Newham is the most ethnically diverse borough in England. According to the 2001 Census, over 60 per cent of the population are Black or Asian, with the proportion higher among younger residents. In comparison to the averages for England and Wales, a high percentage of people have a stated religion, with 47 per cent Christian, 24 per cent Muslim and only 9 per cent not belonging to any defined group.
17 The Council estimates that growth areas within Newham have the potential to contribute over 30,000 new homes and 75,000 new jobs towards meeting London's housing and employment needs. Major development is planned in the borough to provide the majority of sites for the 2012 Olympics. Growth areas stretch along the western edge of Newham, from 'Stratford City' and the Olympic development site in the north, and down the Lower Lea Valley, to the extensive plans for redevelopment around Canning Town.
18 London City airport is located in the Royal Docks area in the south of the borough. New transport links include Stratford International station, which will provide services to Paris and Brussels and is due to open in 2010; an extension of the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) to the Olympic park; an enhanced Jubilee underground line and new local roads.
19 There are additional development opportunities along the northern bank of the Thames and through the Royal Docks, with a planned DLR link to City Airport from Bank and Canning Town. However, the scale of this development presents a number of challenges to the Council, including potential financial risks and governance issues.
Office for National Statistics (ONS) 2005 mid-year estimate.
20 A Labour Party Mayor was re-elected in 2006 and the Labour Party holds 54 of the 60 seats on the Council. The Mayor is supported by a cabinet and a team of mayoral advisers.
21 The Council’s capital programme in 2004/05 was £92 million, of which
£29.5 million related to improvements and modernisation of the housing stock. It is managed over a rolling five-year period. Currently, 50 per cent of the Council's properties do not meet the Decent Homes Standard.
22 The Council established an Arms Length Management Organisation (ALMO) called Newham Homes with effect from 1 December 2005. Newham Homes manages 23,013 properties for the Council - 17,357 are tenanted and 5,263 are leasehold properties. This stock includes 843 properties which Newham owns outside the borough - 292 in Redbridge, 153 in Havering and 398 in Brentwood.
23 Newham Homes does not manage the properties of the two Tenant Management Organisations (TMOs) or the Canning Town Private Finance Initiative (PFI). A further PFI initiative is planned for the Forest Gate area in 2008.
24 Most of the stock is flats, with only 26 per cent being houses. The stock has steadily reduced with the impact of Right to Buy sales and regeneration activities.
25 In 2006/07 Newham Homes receives a management fee of £24,693,800, and manages delegated budgets totalling £60,067,300 (net). It employs 500 permanent staff to deliver the service.
26 The ALMO board consists of five tenants, five councillors and five independent board members.
27 The functions delegated to the ALMO can be summarised as follows.
• Stock investment decisions, repairs ordering and repairs service.
• Rent collection, dealing with arrears and debt counselling.
• Consulting and informing tenants on matters which are Newham Homes' responsibility.
• Promoting tenant participation, including involving tenants in monitoring and reviewing service standards.
• Enforcement of tenancy conditions, caretaking and estate services.
• Services to leaseholders.
• Managing empty properties (voids).
• Lettings – signing up new tenants who have been processed through the Council's choice-based lettings scheme.
• Housing-related support services under the Supporting People programme, and the community alarm scheme (Newham Network).
28 The functions retained by the Council include the following.
• Overall housing strategy, including liaison with Registered Social Landlords (RSLs), housing needs assessments and cross-tenure stock condition surveys.
• Homelessness responsibilities.
• Lettings policy, in consultation with Newham Homes.
• General housing advice – but not that related to an individual’s tenancy.
• Policy on tackling anti-social behaviour, in consultation with Newham Homes.
• Owner-occupation strategies; valuations and formal determination of Right to Buy applications.
• Housing benefit administration.
• Tenant participation in developing housing policy and strategy.
• Overall policy on rents.
• Programme of best value reviews, in consultation with Newham Homes.
• Reporting progress on energy efficiency measures under the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995.
• Determining minimum standards of services required for Newham Homes, and other housing management providers, and monitoring performance.
• Managing the Supporting People programme, including reviews.
29 As Newham Homes' service standards have met the Government's criteria, the Council will initially receive 'Supported Borrowing' of £78.1 million and be allowed to seek up to £240.5 million if the ALMO progresses well.
30 In 2002, the Audit Commission inspected Newham's housing repairs service and judged it to be providing a fair, one-star service, with promising prospects for improvement. In 2004 we inspected Newham's housing management service and judged it to be providing a good, two-star service, with promising prospects for improvement. Where relevant, we start each section of the report with a brief description of what we said in these previous inspections.
How good is the service?
What has the service aimed to achieve?31 The Mayor's 2010 Vision says that:
'By the year 2010 Newham will be a major business location and a place where people will choose to live and work.'
32 When the vision has been achieved Newham will be a place:
• which is attractive, clean and well maintained;
• which is safer and where people feel safer;
• where young people are healthy, educated, safe, have high aspirations for employment and good self-esteem;
• where the diversity of its people is celebrated, where people live harmoniously, respect each other and play a full part in the life of their community;
• which is thriving economically and socially and where all people share in the growing prosperity; and
• where health and wellbeing and the quality of housing continues to improve, where people are active, have greater independence and where the most vulnerable are supported.
33 Newham Homes' vision is to:
'Bring all of the Council’s homes up to an excellent, modern standard by 2010, providing management and repairs services of the highest quality. We want our residents to feel safe in their homes, living in clean and attractive neighbourhoods. We will work closely with our residents and other partners, and we will listen to what you tell us. We have a commitment to quality and will work to continually improve our performance and the services we deliver. We aim to be Newham Council’s first choice of partner to provide housing management services and to maximise the potential benefits for residents arising from freedoms and flexibilities for ALMOs.'
34 Newham Homes' mission is to create:
• homes people want to live in;
• estates that are clean and safe;
• a staff team that treats customers fairly, efficiently and appropriately;
• information that is clear and easy for everyone to understand; and
Is the service meeting the needs of the local
community and users?
Access and customer care
35 In 2004, we found that the Council operated a helpful and customer-focused contact centre and local service centres which dealt effectively with most enquiries at the first point of contact. There was a clear, tightly-managed complaints system with consistently fair, user-focused and concise responses.
36 In this inspection, we found that there is a strong approach to access and customer care. The local service centres and contact centre are providing good levels of service for customers; service standards are clear and publicised; there is a broad range of information for residents including an informative website; and overall satisfaction levels are high. However, there can be delays when reporting repairs and in dealing with complaints. There are also gaps in monitoring
satisfaction in some service areas.
37 There is a comprehensive strategy for communication with residents,
stakeholders and staff, and a draft customer access strategy which sets out strategic objectives.
38 The 2005 Newham Homes residents' survey shows 73 per cent tenant
satisfaction with the overall service - which is top quartile performance compared with other London boroughs5 and shows a steady improvement from previous years. However, overall satisfaction among leaseholders is lower, at 58 per cent in 2005, although this too has improved - from 47 per cent in 2003.
39 These figures are borne out by the Council's survey of Newham residents in 2005, which shows that the perception of the standard of service delivery for council tenants is higher than the London average.
40 Newham Homes regularly measures satisfaction in most service areas and is a member of a mystery shopping syndicate. For example, there are postal surveys for repairs and caretaking services and telephone surveys for new tenants, repairs and the Community Housing Officer service. The 843 out-of-borough residents are included in all surveys.
41 However, satisfaction with the handling of complaints and the response to reports of anti-social behaviour are not systematically measured and satisfaction with the Right to Buy service has only begun very recently. This limits the ALMO's ability to learn from customer feedback in these areas.
42 Feedback from satisfaction surveys is provided to the appropriate managers, senior managers and residents and there is substantial evidence of steps being taken to address areas of dissatisfaction. For example, disrepair identified in the 'First Impressions' survey of new tenants is followed up and the repairs
appointments system was changed following feedback from tenants.
43 A comprehensive set of service standards has been developed with input from residents. Over 80 standards, covering 8 service areas, are advertised through the website and through a 'Service standards' leaflet available from all offices.
44 Standards include specific targets and are appropriately challenging. For example:
• remove offensive graffiti within 24 hours;
• respond to lift breakdowns within two hours; and
• contact you within two weeks if you miss a rent payment.
45 Performance against service standards is monitored. However, there is no separate published report of performance against the set of service standards. This makes it difficult for residents or managers to see whether the advertised standards are being met.
46 There is good access to services for personal callers. Access is primarily through the eight local service centres which are run by the Council and deliver a range of services, including answering enquiries on housing benefit, council tax and adult social care. Housing enquiries are dealt with through a Service Level Agreement (SLA) with Newham Homes.
47 Nowhere in Newham is further than 15 minutes public transport travelling time from a local service centre. Opening hours have been discussed with residents and reflect local demand. They are generally open 9.00am to 5.00pm Monday to Friday, but with Saturday morning opening at two offices. The Docklands local service centre is open part-time due to lower demand from the smaller and more dispersed population.
48 Our visits to the eight local service centres found that all had good physical access and were compliant with the requirements of the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act. There are good standards of decoration and furniture, and comprehensive information is displayed including Newham Homes' posters and leaflets. There is clear 'branding' of Newham Homes' information, which is in a clearly signposted Newham Homes leaflet rack and on a dedicated notice board. There is also a checklist of the information which should be on display at all times - this helps to ensure that customers visiting the centres receive a consistent experience.
49 The local service centres are performing well against the target waiting time of 15 minutes; the average actual wait is 7 minutes (excluding housing benefit enquiries which have longer waits).
50 Our reality checks showed good standards of customer care from local service centre staff. These findings are supported by high satisfaction survey ratings. In 2005/06, 98 per cent of service users scored the service as either good or very good and to date in 2006/07 the satisfaction rate is 99 per cent.
51 There are also reasonable access arrangements for out-of-borough residents. Residents in Redbridge are relatively close to the local service centre in Stratford and there is also a monthly surgery in Redbridge. Residents in Havering and Brentwood are further away and so there are well-established weekly surgeries by Community Housing Officers at two estate offices in Brentwood and one in Havering. Home visits from the housing management or rents services are also available for these residents.
52 There is generally good access for telephone callers, although there can be delays in reporting repairs (see 'Responsive repairs' below). For non-repairs calls, a Council-run telephone contact centre operates from 8.00am until 8.00pm each weekday and from 8.00am until 1.00pm on Saturdays. Emergencies can be reported outside these hours through the Council’s out-of-hours number.
53 The contact centre is broadly meeting agreed SLA performance targets for telephone and email enquiries. Our own reality check calls confirmed that calls are answered promptly and staff have good customer service skills. This is providing a customer-focused service.
54 There is a comprehensive range of up-to-date printed information available to residents. In 2006, the ALMO has produced a series of 15 leaflets on different aspects of service delivery including: service standards; complaints; resident involvement; anti-social behaviour; and 'modern homes'. Further leaflets on gas safety and rent arrears were due to be published shortly after the inspection.
55 The leaflets are well-designed, clearly written and contain essential contact information. They include straplines in 22 community languages offering free translations and a contact number for large print or Braille versions.
56 Tenants and leaseholders receive ‘Newham Homes Update’, a monthly eight-page newsletter containing clear and informative information on recent developments and service delivery; residents are encouraged to send in
contributions. The newsletter is posted to residents but is also available online or by email. The October 2006 edition includes a report on the recent residents' conference and articles on disabled adaptations; fire safety; paying rent by direct debit; and recycling. There is also a twice-yearly newsletter specifically for
57 Both newsletters were praised by tenants and leaseholders that we spoke to. A 'readers’ panel' of residents has recently been set up to pre-check the newsletters and other publications.
58 Other publications include the twice-yearly 'Rent matters' newsletter, the leaseholders' handbook and tenants' handbook. These are also generally comprehensive, although some contact information in the handbooks requires updating following the establishment of the ALMO - updated handbooks are planned for 2007.
59 Newham Homes has made good progress in branding its information to underline its separate identity from the Council. All leaflets and newsletters follow the
60 There is a separate Newham Homes website with a good range of information and links to other relevant sites including Council services. The site has a reasonable level of inter-activity. For example: tenants can report repairs, make complaints, report anti-social behaviour, pay rent or check their account online. The site has been externally audited and a website development plan is in place to further enhance the content.
61 We found a strong overall approach to customer care. Staff in the local service centres and telephone contact centre have received induction and specialist training from Newham Homes. Recent examples include tenancy audit training and tenancy termination training. Tenants and leaseholders attending our focus groups were positive about the standard of communication and information from Newham Homes and the attitude of frontline staff.
62 An external organisation carries out a quarterly mystery shopping survey, making around 20 calls with casework scenarios; an internal communications working group looks at the results. One outcome of this is revised guidance on telephone answering which has led to improvement in the quality of customer care.
63 Newham Homes has a clear three-stage complaints procedure which is publicised through a Newham Homes leaflet and on the website. There are
timescales for responses and guidance on what constitutes a complaint. Although performance is monitored, this is hindered by the date of response not always being recorded in the complaints log.
64 Monitoring shows that in the first six months of 2006/07, only 78 per cent of first stage complaints were dealt with within the ten-day target and 72 per cent of second stage complaints within the 15-day target. Poor performance mainly related to complaints about repairs and asset management and action has been taken which has improved the most recent two months' performance to 96 and 100 per cent for first stage complaints, although performance on second stage complaints has remained variable.
65 The complaints files we reviewed showed a comprehensive response to the complaints received. Second stage complaints include a review sheet which details action that needs to be taken as a result of the complaint. For example, improvements to the repairs appointment system resulted from this process. However, there has been little overall analysis of trends arising from complaints and there is no feedback to service users on how complaints have been used to shape and improve service delivery.
66 There are no regular, systematic surveys of customers who have made
complaints to ensure that they are happy with the way in which their complaint has been handled. The ALMO is therefore not maximising its learning in this area. Newham Homes accept that this is an area for improvement.
67 In 2004, we found that the Council was successful in meeting the needs of the diverse local communities through the provision of language and interpretation services and making equalities an explicit element of staff and departmental development. The Council was proactive in seeking to reflect diversity on tenant representative groups and monitoring the standard of services provided to all ethnic groups. However, not all local service centres met the standards required by the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act and ethnic minorities were under-represented in the department’s manual workforce.
68 In this inspection, we found that the strong corporate approach to diversity has continued following the establishment of Newham Homes and that strengths outweigh weaknesses in this area. There is a clear understanding of diversity issues from the Board, managers and staff, and a good understanding of the profile of tenants, although not of leaseholders. A number of practical steps have been taken to ensure that services meet the diverse needs of residents and that opportunities for involvement are maximised. Public offices are now fully
accessible and there is good access to translation and interpreting services. However, the profile of the workforce still does not reflect that of the local community and overall satisfaction among BME residents is below that of other residents.
69 There is a strong corporate approach to diversity by the Council and by the ALMO Board and managers, and there has been a comprehensive approach to equalities training for staff, Board members and residents' representatives. The Council has self-assessed at level four (of a possible five) against the Local Government Equality Standard.
70 Newham Homes is compliant with the Commission for Racial Equality's code of practice for racial equality in housing. It has agreed a comprehensive equalities and diversity statement, strategy and action plan, and additional performance indicators to measure delivery are being developed. The procurement strategy and the asset management strategy require contractors to be compliant with the Newham Homes equality and diversity statement.
71 The ALMO has also worked proactively with the Council to produce a Disability Equality Scheme by the deadline of December 2006.6
72 A new and comprehensive domestic violence policy has recently been agreed with the Council, to which the ALMO is a signatory. The policy reflects accepted good practice in this area, takes a victim-centred approach and clarifies the respective roles of the ALMO and the Council in dealing with any cases which arise. There are also appropriate policies and procedures in place to address racial harassment and other forms of harassment. These policies and procedures are supported by training for staff.
The 2005 Disability Discrimination Act places a new duty on public housing authorities to produce a Disability Equality Scheme by December 2006. ALMOs are subject to the general duty in the Act but not to the specific duties. However, local authorities may require ALMOs who are carrying out work on their behalf to produce Disability Equality Schemes to demonstrate that they are giving due regard to disability equality.
73 Newham is the most ethnically diverse borough in England. Over 60 per cent of the population are Black or Asian,7 with the proportion higher among younger residents. The Board and managers of Newham Homes reflect this ethnic
diversity, but this is not the case among staff. Around 25 per cent of staff are from BME communities, compared with 60 per cent of the borough's population; this is largely due to the profile of the repairs and maintenance service (RMS). The latest breakdown of the workforce shows that 44 per cent of non-RMS staff are from BME groups (an improved position since 2004) but only 18 per cent of RMS staff are from these groups.
74 Little progress appears to have been made by the Council on addressing this issue following the last inspection. More recently, these issues have been discussed by the Human Resources Committee of the ALMO's Board, which receives workforce profile information. The Committee is currently looking at mechanisms to address this, such as the recruitment of trainees, and actions will be included in the Human Resources Strategy. However, little impact has been achieved so far.
75 Newham Homes has a good understanding of the profile of its tenants; this is necessary to ensure that services are provided and targeted appropriately. Information is held on the ethnicity of 90 per cent of tenants, the language preferences of 80 per cent and the disability/vulnerability of 60 per cent. An 'equalities flag' appears when a property or tenancy details are accessed by computer and this is available to all teams. The flag highlights the preferred language of that tenant for communications and any known disabilities or vulnerabilities.
76 Measures are in place to systematically add to and update this information. For example, a 'diversity assessment’ of each tenant is planned prior to Decent Homes works and used to update information held on the integrated housing management system. Preparation for Decent Homes work also includes an assessment of any needs for aids or adaptations.
77 There is evidence of tenant profiling information being used to support particular groups, although this is not systematic. For example, summary documents have been provided in preferred languages, and an analysis of rent arrears by ethnicity led to a targeted housing benefit take-up campaign.
78 On the other hand, profiling information is currently only held for 25 per cent of leaseholders as this has only recently begun to be gathered. This prevents the effective targeting of services to individual leaseholders.
79 Also, while complaints forms ask for diversity information, Newham Homes is not systematically analysing this, and is therefore not identifying trends or ensuring that fair and equitable service delivery is taking place.
80 Positive steps are being taken to identify vulnerable tenants and to ensure that they receive appropriate support. The needs of vulnerable new tenants are considered at preletting stage, again at letting and as part of the initial tenancy visit, with appropriate referrals made. All tenants aged 74 and over are visited annually to assess their needs, and appropriate referrals are made for aids and adaptations. There is also close multi-agency working to meet the needs of people with mental health problems and young people leaving care. This is promoting independent living and tenancy sustainment.
81 The annual tenants' survey found that there was 69 per cent overall satisfaction among BME residents in 2005/06, compared with 73 per cent for all tenants. Newham Homes has taken steps to understand the reasons for these lower levels of satisfaction. The analysis found some dissatisfaction from larger Asian households wanting larger homes, but that the difference is largely linked to household size and the age profile of the population, with higher dissatisfaction among younger people.
82 Newham Homes has taken steps to explore and address dissatisfaction among both BME groups and young people, and to encourage their involvement. There has been a successful series of events to promote involvement of BME residents in the ALMO. These have led to further participation from some of the residents that have attended. Examples include a Somali Women’s focus group that has identified areas where the repairs service can improve its cultural awareness; for example, by operatives wearing shoe coverings. Other repairs focus groups are planned for the near future (see also 'Resident involvement', below).
83 The most recent event was held in October 2006 to mark Black history month. This included a celebrity speaker and presentations from two Newham Homes directors, including information on Decent Homes. The event was well attended and captured names of residents who wish to increase their involvement with Newham Homes.
84 To address the shortage of BME residents in the higher levels of the resident involvement structure, a BME forum is about to be convened from volunteers who have come forward at recent events. So far 67 residents have expressed an interest in participating in the forum. The ALMO is making representation to the Council to grant places on the BTLC to the BME forum.
85 There have been significant steps to improve access to buildings and information since the last inspection. Local service centres now meet the physical access requirements of the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act and textphone services are available in all offices. However, not all of the general needs housing blocks are fully accessible as some have a single step entrance to the block. Although accessible council housing is not a requirement of the Act, level access would particularly benefit many older or disabled residents and their visitors. There are plans to address this as part of the Decent Homes work in 2007/08.
86 The Communications Strategy sets out how services are provided to people whose preferred language is not English. Newham Homes uses the Council's 'Language Shop' for translation and interpreting services. There is a designated budget for Newham Homes' use of these services (£26,500 in 2006/07) and staff receive comprehensive guidance on how to access and use the services.
87 Information is available in translation and other formats and there are translation strap-lines (22 on the most recent documents) to advertise this. However, the strap-lines do not tell customers what the document is about, nor do they state the name of the language in English.
88 The public can request a translation of any publication from the Language Shop, although we found one exception to this where we were told that a translation was not available on budgetary grounds. Newham Homes accepts that this was an error and was inconsistent with its stated policy, which will be more strictly enforced in future.
89 Newham Homes is demonstrating a positive approach to diversity by using a company which employs people with learning disabilities to deliver some of its kitchen refurbishments to meet the Decent Homes Standard.
Stock investment and asset management
Capital improvement, planned and cyclical maintenance, major
90 In 2002, we found a lack of clarity about the future direction of the service as a result of the failure to complete and update both the stock condition survey and the stock option appraisal.
91 In this inspection, we found that strengths outweigh weaknesses in this area. Newham Homes has put in place the necessary building blocks to deliver the Decent Homes programme. The stock condition survey has been updated and the stock options appraisal completed. There is a robust Asset Management Strategy and appropriate staff resources are either in place or are planned. A 'Decent Homes plus' standard has been agreed with residents. Capital
programmes have been delivered on budget and there is an appropriate planned maintenance programme. However, there are weaknesses in the management of asbestos and the stock condition database does not yet take full account of responsive repairs or the Housing, Health and Safety Rating System.
92 The Asset Management Strategy integrates the approaches to capital and
planned programmes to deliver economies of scale and reduce inconvenience to tenants and leaseholders. This will also provide leaseholders with clearer
information on the amounts they will be liable to pay for major works.
93 Consideration has been given to the future of the out-of-borough properties but, in the absence of any desire from residents to change their status, the Council currently has no plans to seek to transfer them to other social landlords.
94 The ALMO has put the staff resources in place to prepare for the delivery of the Decent Homes work through partnering contracts. It has employed a consultant with specialist knowledge of partnering; it has also employed clienting consultants and a small project management team. All staff are now co-located to promote better working relationships between the technical disciplines. This provides confidence that there is the capacity to deal with the increase in the annual capital programme. Having this capacity in place at this stage is particularly important for Newham, as the main host borough for the 2012 Olympic Games. The construction work required for the Olympics is likely to impact significantly on construction capacity and costs in the area.
95 Newham Homes has carried out kitchen and bathroom improvements to around 500 properties in the past year to meet the Decent Homes Standard. The ALMO is using traditionally procured capital projects to experiment with and develop partnering techniques. For example, this includes incentives for early starts and finishes for schemes, setting key performance indicators and targets, and sharing any savings. This is in preparation for the letting of the framework contracts during the last quarter of 2006/07.
96 An experienced project management team has been recruited to manage the day-to-day capital programme, including staff with experience of working in organisations that have procured their capital programmes through partnering. The team has a high level of IT literacy and is using a project management system that interfaces well with the asset management database.
97 Newham Homes is preparing well for the implementation of the partnering
framework. It has been negotiating with the London ALMO Procurement Network (LAPN) to see whether procurement through the LAPN framework will fit with Newham's timetable and deliver value for money. Newham Homes has also been preparing its own briefs and specifications, with support from an independent consultant, to ensure that it is in a position to tender outside the LAPN framework if necessary.
98 As part of the preparatory work for the Decent Homes programme, the works have been packaged into five main programmes: street properties; (internal and external); tall blocks (external); low-rise (external); internal works; and security and environmental works. The security and environmental works will be procured using traditional methods to encourage local contractors; the other four
programmes will be procured through the partnering framework.
99 Other positive steps have been taken to engage with local contractors and a conference will be held to introduce these contractors to the main partners, once selected. Newham Homes will also be looking to develop smaller packages of work for local contractors, such as modernisation programmes in small blocks.
100 The ALMO has sought to build technical capacity in conjunction with its external and internal partners. A series of partnering workshops have taken place and will continue to take place to help progress knowledge and understanding among Newham Homes and Newham Council technical staff. The workshops have been run jointly by Newham Homes and contractors who are experienced in partnering.
101 Residents have been involved in developing specifications for internal Decent Homes works and are given a wide range of individual choices over materials and finishes. Leaseholders will be given the option to have kitchens and bathrooms installed by contactors who are undertaking the Decent Homes work for tenanted properties, at the same cost.
102 The information on the stock condition database is generally robust and well managed. The baseline data from April 2000 was validated by an independent survey in autumn 2003 (100 per cent external and 10 per cent internal) The database is user-friendly and regularly updated. All planned maintenance and capital works are entered on the database. However, it is not yet possible to integrate the information gathered from responsive repairs into the database, although this is currently being addressed by the schedule of rates data being translated into a form which the database will be able to read.
103 The database does not currently link stock condition to the new Housing, Health and Safety Rating System. However, appropriate steps are being taken to
address this; a consultant is working to convert existing data and provide training to staff.
104 A 'Decent Homes plus' standard has been agreed with residents and is set out in the Asset Management strategy. This includes maintenance and environmental improvements, such as improvements to lifts, communal lighting, CCTV,
landscaping and security.
105 The ALMO's first five-year capital programme is currently being consulted upon through the area and borough-wide resident participation structures. Final approval by the Board is due at the December 2006 meeting.
106 The Council and Newham Homes have a good track record in delivering capital programmes on time and to budget, with an average of 98 per cent spend against budget over the last five years. The £28 million housing capital programme for 2006/07 was on target and to budget at the mid-year point. There are good resident satisfaction ratings for capital works and these were confirmed by the schemes we visited and residents we spoke to.
107 There are weaknesses in the management of information concerning asbestos. The asbestos policy addresses the legal obligations, but the procedures are unclear about how contractors are warned and tenants informed about the presence of asbestos. Newham Homes is in the second year of a two-year survey of all properties, but prior to this the Council did not have computerised records of the location of asbestos in all its properties, although there were paper records. Newham Homes instigated detailed surveys and the information is being computerised. When surveys are completed, asbestos is either labelled, sealed or removed. However, residents who have not yet received a survey are not being told about the probable locations of asbestos in their homes and may be at risk of disturbing asbestos unknowingly.
108 Also, although a flag is now present on the IT system to warn operatives of asbestos, it does not give the location of the asbestos and operatives have to contact the asbestos team for a report on where the asbestos is located. This shortcoming was being addressed while this inspection was on-site.
109 There have been a number of effective schemes to 'design out crime' on estates and some of these were visited by the inspection team. Several of these schemes are an outcome of the Resident-Led Improvement Programme (RLIP - see
'Resident involvement', below).
110 There is an effective approach to planned and cyclical maintenance. There is a ten-year rolling programme of internal electrical testing and a five-year
programme for communal areas. Wired-in heat and smoke detectors are fitted as part of rewiring and Decent Homes works.
111 The boiler replacement programme has achieved the second largest reduction of carbon dioxide emissions in London over baseline figures.8 The ALMO is
currently piloting solar-powered hot water systems as a new initiative to further reduce carbon dioxide emissions and substantially reduce fuel bills for residents.
112 Energy efficient light bulbs are fitted as part of the specification for Decent Homes work, as well as to all tenants in receipt of benefits. These are provided free of charge by an energy company. Newham Homes helps to promote this scheme through quarterly rent statements, and by using the rent service office as a collection point.
113 All water tanks in blocks have been risk assessed and all requiring replacement are in this year’s capital programme. Service contracts are in place for lifts, door-entry and CCTV systems. Over 95 per cent of lift breakdowns were
responded to within the two hour target in 2005/06 and 100 per cent of door entry system failures were responded to within the 24 hour target. Newham Homes is also ahead of Government targets for upgrading communal aerials to digital; this improves access to digital services for residents and also enables the ALMO to enforce the removal of individual satellite dishes from blocks.
114 In 2002, we found extended opening hours for repairs reporting, and that repairs were generally carried out quickly and by appointment. However, there was no information about the Repairs Service or the Right to Repair in local service centres, it took callers a long time to get through to the repairs reporting centre, and there were inconsistencies in the delivery of communal repairs.
115 In this inspection, we found that weaknesses outweigh strengths. The service is using outdated procedures and is in need of modernisation. The repairs call centre is not operating efficiently and performance on completing urgent repairs has declined. Performance on completing routine repairs has not been correctly monitored, there is poor information on levels of variations and post-inspections of repairs are not being used to improve the service. There is also a high level of emergency and urgent repairs. However, there is still high customer satisfaction reported and good information is available for residents on how to report repairs. Appointments are generally made and kept and the number of legal disrepair claims has fallen sharply.
Reduction in carbon dioxide emissions is reported under the 1995 Home Energy Conservation Act on a total cumulative basis from a baseline.
116 Responsive repairs are carried out by the in-house repairs and maintenance service (RMS). There are centralised stores and estate-based repairs teams. Repairs to the 843 properties outside the borough are carried out by RMS and two local contractors.
117 The service in the south of the borough was provided by an external contractor for two years until March 2006, but reverted to RMS following the decision of the external contractor not to extend the contract period. However, no attempt was made to invite other external contractors to tender for the service.
118 There are a number of positive aspects to the arrangements for residents to access the service and report repairs. For example:
• a variety of ways to report repairs. A repairs call centre operates from 8.00am to 8.00pm Monday to Friday, and 8.00am to 1.00pm Saturday. Repairs can also be reported by freephones at local offices or through the website;
• appropriate service standards are published in leaflets and on the website;
• there is a clear repairs leaflet and a comprehensive repairs handbook. These include details of the right to repair and are available in local service centres; and
• an appointments system is in place and appointments are generally made and kept (see below).
119 However, there are also weaknesses in the access and reporting arrangements. For example:
• 9 per cent of calls to the repairs call centre were abandoned in 2005/06 and 23 per cent were not answered within the target time of 15 seconds;
• the speed of responses to our reality check calls varied. Some were answered immediately, others were answered in up to 3 minutes;
• around 30 per cent of calls are queries to chase up existing jobs; and
• there are 22 categories of repair priorities, which is confusing for residents. Newham Homes is aware of this and has consulted tenants on reducing this to seven categories. This was due to be implemented following this
120 The call handling system is due to be upgraded in January 2007, which is intended to reduce waiting times. The new system will provide customers with a choice to request an automated call back service while maintaining their place in the queue.
121 Until the time of this inspection, repairs call centre staff could not check progress of repairs on screen. Initial calls are given an appointment by the call centre agent, but if a subsequent appointment is required it is made by RMS directly with the customer, using a separate system. However, during this inspection a new system became operational, enabling agents to view subsequent repair requests.
122 Residents are offered a choice of three appointment slots for repairs. In 2004/05 94 per cent of appointments were made and kept - above the London above of 87 per cent. However, performance fell to 88 per cent in 2005/06 and stood at 87 per cent for the first six months of 2006/07, although there has been an improvement month on month, culminating in 92.4 per cent in September 2006.
123 Newham Homes has stated that the above figures for 2005/06 and 2006/07 are understated as the IT system did not capture all appointments made and kept until a new module was installed in October 2006. Although the impact of this is an under-reporting of performance, it also suggests that performance information has not been well managed. Our reality check of phone calls also showed varied performance on appointments being kept.
124 It is positive that in the past two years appointments have been made for all non-urgent responsive repairs. In addition, Newham Homes has started making appointments for all urgent jobs.
125 Compensation is available when appointments are missed and payments are made in line with the written procedure. The compensation procedure is advertised to residents through the repairs leaflet and handbook.
126 Newham Homes' performance information on the time taken to complete routine repairs suggests that this has been among the strongest in the country over the last three years, averaging between 4.2 and 4.6 days. However, evidence from cases we assessed showed that this information is being incorrectly recorded. The timescales being set for completion of 35-day non-urgent repairs are being recorded from the date the job is pre-inspected, rather than the date the tenant reports the repair, and are calculated as working days, rather than calendar days. This is not in line with the definition for this performance indicator9 and will result in inaccurate data which is not comparable to other organisations. It is therefore not possible to assess actual performance, although it will clearly be poorer than the figures presented.
127 Performance on completing urgent repairs has been mixed, with 97 per cent completed on time in 2004/05, but falling to 93 per cent in 2005/06. Performance for the first six months of 2006/07 is more promising at 96.2 per cent.
128 Customer satisfaction surveys show satisfaction with the repairs service to
generally be high, although levels vary depending on the specific question asked.
• 82 per cent of tenants that had reported a repair were satisfied with the overall service in 2005, up from 75 per cent in 2004 (annual tenants' survey).
• 61 per cent of all tenants (whether or not they had requested a repair) expressed satisfaction with the service in 2004 (2005/06 Business Plan Statistical Appendix).
• 93 per cent average satisfaction was recorded in monthly postal surveys of tenants with repairs carried out in 2005/06.
The definition for the performance indicator for non-urgent repairs (last collected as BVPI 73 in 2001/02) is the average number of calendar days between the non-urgent responsive repair being requested and its
129 Data collected by RMS suggests that around 80 per cent of repairs are completed 'right first time', although this cannot be independently confirmed by the
client-side of Newham Homes. Tenants attending our focus group said that they had seen improvements in repairs performance since Newham Homes was set up. Appointments are now regularly made and kept and they found the
emergency service effective. Our 'phone survey of tenants with recent repairs also found that the majority rated the service as above average.
130 This level of satisfaction is mirrored by a significant fall in the number of legal actions for disrepair taken by residents and the amount of compensation paid. Cases fell from 117 in 2002/03 to 33 in 2005/06 and just three by August in 2006/07. There is a proactive approach to these cases. Newham Homes follows the disrepair protocol, has good administrative processes and has employed an experienced independent environmental health officer. There is also an effective SLA with the Council's legal department.
131 The satisfaction of out-of-borough residents with the repairs service has not been separately assessed or analysed, which is a weakness. However, there is not a disproportionate level of complaints from these residents.
132 The previous inspection found inconsistencies in the delivery of communal repairs. This was confirmed by feedback from the 2005 tenants' survey, which found that only 64 per cent of residents were satisfied with communal repairs (compared with the 82 per cent rating for internal repairs), while 24 per cent were either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied.
133 In response to these findings a dedicated communal repairs team has been set up and Newham Homes has been working with the Council’s Public Realm service to improve the standards of communal areas. However, there appears to be no information on the impact this has made on performance or satisfaction levels.
134 Newham Homes has a target to pre-inspect 10 per cent of day-to-day repair jobs but this has not been achieved in recent years. Seven per cent of targeted repairs were pre-inspected in 2004/05 and 8 per cent in 2005/06. There has, however, been improvement in the first six months of 2005/06 with the target of 10 per cent achieved. Pre-inspections generally take place three to seven days after the day the repair is reported.
135 However, the service does not have a clear picture of the level of variations on original price estimates for jobs. RMS is able to self-approve variations up to a £250 limit. A technical officer has to approve variations above this limit, but after three days these are automatically approved. The client-side officers within Newham Homes do not have clear information on the numbers or levels of these variations. This means that spending against budget can be difficult to monitor and value for money cannot be ensured.