A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Hackney Homes gets Audit Commission thumbs up

The Audit Commission has announced today that "the housing service provided by Hackney Homes is 'good' and has 'promising' prospects for improvement".

"On a scale from zero to three stars, the Audit Commission inspection team gave the service a good, two-stars rating. This is because there is positive performance in rent arrears, gas servicing and estate services. The ALMO has achieved value for money efficiencies, and has increased tenant satisfaction. However, satisfaction is low is some areas, such as leaseholder services, and the response to complaints is weak."

Adrian Brown, the Audit Commission's Lead Housing Inspector for East London, said: "Hackney Homes has improved a number of services that matter to residents, such as repairs and estate services, while improving value for money. This has resulted in improved satisfaction with most services. However, the ALMO needs to improve its approach to anti-social behaviour and to managing performance."

The big - indeed massive - implication of this is not just the fact that Hackney Homes' service has improved, but that because of hitting the two star grade, Hackney will receive from central government £225 million in Decent Homes funding to spend on making tenants' homes wind and watertight with modern kitchens and bathrooms. If Hackney Homes had not achieved the two star standard, this funding would have been withheld.

So what sounds like a dry audit report is actually fantastic news for the thousands of tenants in my council ward and across the rest of the borough waiting for their homes to be improved, quite apart from meaning that their landlord has actually been delivering services better.

Well done to all the Hackney Homes staff who have worked so hard to achieve this, and to the ALMO Board members - councillors, tenants and independent members - who steered this improvement.


Anonymous Observer's friend said...

Lousy, particularly for Hackney Homes leaseholders, those suffering from ASB, needing repairs, the disabled, women and BME workers wanting to advance their careers, etc.

"There was mixed performance in dealing with customer complaints and, although the organisation was exceeding its target to answer phones, one in five telephone calls were lost before being answered. There was also inconsistency in the way customer feedback was collected.

performance in answering telephone calls remains weak, and a third of residents are not satisfied with the outcome of their queries. Complaints are not handled effectively. Residents on regeneration estates face uncertainty about current services and future prospects.

Customer care is mixed

some aspects of customer are not positive. Sixty-five per cent of tenants find it easy to get hold of the right person, but 24 per cent do not. Sixty-eight per cent of tenants find staff able to deal with their queries, but 22 per cent do not. Fifty-nine per cent of tenants are satisfied with the outcome of their queries, but 31 per cent are not. This means that, although tenants find staff helpful, the service offered is not of a consistently high quality.

The telephone service is weak. Eighty-eight per cent of telephone calls are answered in five rings. However, one in ten calls are not answered at all. This aspect of the service does not meet the aspirations of customers.

The response to complaints is limited. Although written responses to complaints clearly address the issues raised, acknowledgements are not always sent. Complaints are not answered in target timescales. In 2008/09, 86 per cent of stage 1 complaints received a response within the unchallenging target of 15 days, against a target of 97 per cent. Only 58 per cent of stage 2 complaints were answered in target times. This performance has declined since 2007/08. Satisfaction with complaints is low at 40 per cent. This means that the complaints service does not meet the needs of residents.

Hackney Homes does not consistently keep residents informed of issues that affect them. Notice boards on estates are not used well, with a lack of up-to-date information. Residents on regeneration estates lack information on services and on the future of their estates These estates have been excluded from capital works, but demolition and remodelling have been postponed. Although some interim repairs have been agreed to the estates, these decisions have not been communicated effectively to residents. As a result, some residents face uncertainty about the future of their properties and services.

Although the ALMO knew the ethnicity of 90 per cent of its customers, a significant weakness was the low level of customer profiling for other groups such as those with disabilities, and there were weaknesses in the ALMO's approach to vulnerability and case management in harassment cases. It was not clear how the ALMO complied with level two of the equality standard in relation to monitoring ethnic take-up of core services as a standard procedure.

the commitment to diversity is not reflected at more senior levels of the organisation, with only 30 per cent of managers from BME communities and only 15 per cent women.

Only 30 per cent of community halls are fully accessible.

The approach to diversity training is mixed. Hackney Homes helps the progress of BME staff through the Phoenix course on supervisory and management roles. However, 17 per cent of staff have not attended equality and diversity training, even though this is mandatory. Therefore, not all staff are benefiting from such training.

There are some weaknesses in the collection and use of diversity data. Hackney Homes collects diversity information on its tenants, but this is some way from being complete. It has information on 71 per cent of its tenants. Although this has increased from 20 per cent in 2006/07, it has only been collected from 28 per cent of leaseholders. The availability of information by strand ranges from 86 per cent for gender to 16 per cent for sexuality. Some of the information held is of limited use. For example, the organisation has collected information on residents' disabilities, but not on what impact this has on their service needs. In practice, there are limited examples of Hackney Homes effectively using the information it has. There is an IT pop-up system to alert staff to vulnerable residents, but this is held on different databases and does not often work in practice. As a result, Hackney Homes is not fully tailoring services to the needs of its residents.

Although translated materials are provided, Hackney Homes does not have fully developed processes in this area. It does not currently send translated materials where it is known that residents do not read English, and straplines do not specify what the document is about. As a result, some customers may not be able to access the services they need.

Aids and adaptations

84 In 2007, we found that there were more weaknesses than strengths. There were poor performance management arrangements with no service level agreement with LBH, poor adapted property data and insufficient customer information. There were arrangements to ensure minor adaptations were carried out quickly and decent homes works were picking up adaptation needs.

a high proportion of urgent minor adaptations are completed within target times. However, other minor adaptations and major adaptations are not completed in target times, and satisfaction with adaptations is relatively low.

Performance in terms of completing adaptations is mixed. Eight-eight per cent of 'fast track' minor adaptations are completed within the target of three weeks. The average time for completion of major adaptations is 25 weeks, which is better than average performance for London boroughs. However, only 76 per cent of major adaptations are completed within 30 weeks, against a target of 90 per cent (2008/09 year to date). For minor adaptations, only 34 per cent are completed within nine weeks, against the target of 90 per cent (2008/09 year to date). The average time to complete minor adaptations is 18 weeks. This means that adaptations for vulnerable tenants are not consistently completed in a timely manner.

Tenants are not offered the option of applying for Disability Facilities Grant for the adaptations they need. The adaptations booklet states only that leaseholders can apply for this grant. As a result, tenants may not benefit from alternative sources of help to adapt their homes.

Satisfaction with aids and adaptations is low. Based on 105 responses, 77 per cent of tenants are satisfied with adaptations, 9 per cent believe them to be adequate and 14 per cent are dissatisfied. This is lower than satisfaction reported by other comparable providers.

Resident involvement

In 2007, we found that weaknesses outweighed strengths in this area. Hackney Homes was reviewing resident involvement structures but this was not due for completion until the end of April 2007. Overall we found that there was a commitment to resident involvement but the existing structures did not reflect current needs, and outcomes were not monitored. The impact of more recent changes and value for money was not demonstrable.

In this inspection, we found that strengths outweigh weaknesses in this area. Hackney Homes demonstrates a strong commitment to involving residents in its work and has effective working relationships with TMOs. The resident participation service is well resourced, with training and support widely available for active residents. The review of participation structures in 2007 has led to some positive outcomes, particularly around the engagement of hard-to-reach groups. A strong focus on youth engagement is providing new opportunities for young people and having positive community impacts. However, satisfaction with opportunities to participate remains relatively low, and the new model of 'enhanced' tenant and resident associations (TRAs) is not yet fully effective. Few residents are aware of the resident participation compact. Despite good quality written guidance for newly established TRAs, some are not yet getting the support they need at the initial set up stage.

satisfaction with opportunities to participate is low. The 2008 residents' survey found that only 54 per cent of residents were satisfied with opportunities to participate, with 30 per cent of respondents neither satisfied nor dissatisfied. A slightly higher proportion (58 per cent) is satisfied that their views are taken into account. While residents we spoke to felt that Hackney Homes listened to their views, they also felt that the outcome from some major works would have been improved with more resident input. Residents also feel that the effectiveness of TRAs varies, depending on the commitment and attendance of local housing managers. This means that, while engagement has widened, tenants do not feel they are always involved in decision making.

There are some weaknesses in the Tenant Compact. Only a fifth of residents have heard of the compact, and few active residents we spoke to were aware of the role and purpose of the compact. This means that, although the compact has some strengths, arrangements for monitoring outcomes are limited, and Hackney Homes has yet to persuade residents of its significance.

The policy and procedures to guide work on anti-social behaviour are underdeveloped. Positively the policy makes links to the wider legal framework and recognises a need to balance tolerance with wider community interests. It also includes an emphasis on multi-agency working, preventative measures, protection of staff and training. However, different definitions of ASB are included in the policy and procedure, with only the latter making direct reference to racial harassment and homophobic behaviour. There is lack of supporting guidance to make clear when different types of legal action should be considered, the support available to vulnerable tenants or how performance will be measured. Staff involved in managing ASB cases are not familiar with either the new policy or procedure, both of which were described by senior managers as 'work in progress'. Lack of consistent, well-embedded policies and procedures hinders a consistent approach to ASB casework and does not encourage good practice.

The Respect Action Plan does not provide a clear understanding of outcomes. The plan generally links back to the issues identified in the self- assessment undertaken in 2007. However, while 40 actions have been identified, it is not always clear what impact completed tasks have had for tenants. A tendency to describe outcomes in general and often non-measurable terms also makes success difficult to gauge.

Timescales to address ASB are unclear. There are published standards for ASB which indicate a 24-hour response time for serious cases of ASB and three working days for non-serious cases. However while these timelines are reflected in the procedure, the ASB policy only makes reference to carrying out a formal interview within five days. Shorter timescales to interview residents in four hours for very serious cases within the procedure are not uniformly recognised by staff. The lack of agreed, challenging targets, compounded by the lack of definition about what actually constitutes a serious ASB case, limits the ability of staff to provide an effective response to problems.

Arrangements for residents to report ASB are not comprehensive. Although there is a range of ways to report ASB during office hours, the hotline provided in some local offices is not available in others. Out-of-hours reporting is limited to a hotline provided by social services, and a noise patrol operating on three nights per week. This means that residents may experience inconsistent services, and may have problems reporting problems which occur outside normal working hours.

Case management of ASB is weak. The new IT system has potential to improve services, as outlined later in this report. However, the system is still bedding down, and there are still some gaps in case notes and documentation. Equally, the case files reviewed did not demonstrate that procedures are being followed.

* There are delays in taking action in cases, and time targets are not always met.
* Dormant cases are not consistently closed.
* There is no systematic log of actions setting out progress in cases, making it hard to understand what has happened.
* Some documentation, such as follow up letters to perpetrators following interviews, is not completed.
* There is lack of evidence that complainants are routinely kept informed of the progress of their cases. Although the procedure requires action plans to be completed, few of the cases examined contained clear action plans setting out follow-up action.

As a result, service users cannot be confident that they will receive an adequate response to their concerns.

there are also some weaknesses in partnership working. Our file checks show that mediation services are not being used effectively. Access to this service has been problematic for the last six months, with the previous contract terminated in March 2008, and reintroduced in October 2008. Gaps in this service may represent a missed opportunity to resolve some cases. Although Neighbourhood Case Panels are useful in coordinating activities, some partners do not regularly attend, and getting appropriate senior staff of other agencies to attend can be problematic. Information about legal support for ASB cases is not satisfactory, with perceptions of some significant delays in responding to casework enquiries. There are some weaknesses between the housing management partners, Hackney Homes and the Council’s legal team, in communicating agreed action on ASB cases. This limits the opportunity for achieving positive outcomes for complainants.

Satisfaction with ASB services is, however, low. The STATUS survey of all tenants in 2008 asked specific questions about satisfaction with ASB. It found that that 48 per cent find it easy to get hold of the right person, 56 per cent find staff helpful and 42 per cent find staff able to deal with their problems. Information collected by the ASB team has been based on low returns, and the use of satisfaction cards has now been abandoned. A more recent telephone survey of 100 ASB complainants undertaken in November 2008 did not suggest high levels of satisfactions with ASB complaint handling. On average around a third of complainants were satisfied with reporting arrangements, handling and outcome. However, 48 per cent were very of fairly dissatisfied with how the complaint was handled and 56 per cent were dissatisfied with the final outcome. Ratings of staff in terms of knowledge, sensitivity, helpfulness and responsiveness indicate that about half of respondents are satisfied. This suggests that there are still significant inconsistencies in the approach to handling ASB and in outcomes for residents.

Performance reporting of ASB is limited. There are currently no arrangements in place to monitor ASB response times. The new IT system does not produce aggregated data to show whether time targets are being met, and does not automatically issue satisfaction forms on the completion of cases. The approach to assessing the impact of diversionary activities is still in development. Externally funded projects are evaluated, but there is no reporting process to bring together outcome data for these activities. As a result, Hackney Homes cannot be confident that its approach to ASB is working effectively.

Satisfaction of leaseholders is low. Satisfaction with the services provided by the ALMO rose from 24 per cent in 2007 to 28 per cent in 2008, but it remains lower than satisfaction for comparable landlords. The satisfaction of leaseholders is closely linked to VFM issues. Despite improvements to information, leaseholders we spoke to were concerned that the description of major works is limited, and that the evidence provided to link service charges to actual costs is confusing. As a result, leaseholders are not confident that their charges accurately reflect the services provided.

There are weaknesses in customer care. There is only one day each month that direct debits can be paid, and direct debits cannot be set up by phone, limiting flexibility for leaseholders. Leaseholders are not routinely involved in checking the quality of works to their properties. Actual service charge bills were served late in 2008. As a result, services may not reflect leaseholder priorities.
The leasehold service is not maximising its income. The overall cost of leasehold services is greater than the amount of service charges billed, though the gap in resourcing reduced from £100,000 in 2007/08 to £10,000 in 2008/09. In addition, Hackney Homes continues to lose income through the inaccurate service of section 125 notices.

There are some weaknesses in the management of VFM. Although there have been some positive outcomes from SLA reviews, there is limited progress in other significant areas such as legal services and finance. More than a quarter of repairs are completed as emergencies, well above the ten per cent level recommended by the Audit Commission. Although a recharging policy has been introduced, outcomes are very limited. As a result, Hackney Homes is not maximising income which could be used to improve its services.

Service charge bills have increased significantly, and Hackney leaseholders received the highest service charge bills in London in 2006/07. Charges have increased from £535 per annum in 2004/05 to £611 per annum in 2005/06 to £936 per annum in 2006/07. The latest actual bills for 2007/08 however show a reduction to £865 per annum. Tenant satisfaction with value for money is low at 63 per cent. Hackney Homes has some way to go to persuade its customers that it provides value for money services.

Although losses from inaccurate service of section 125 notices have been reduced they are still substantial. In 2005/06, Hackney Homes lost £865,000 (10 per cent of potential income), in 2006/07 £3,513,000 (13 per cent), in 2007/08 £3,802,000 (10 per cent) and in 2008/09 £993,000 (8 per cent). This has reduced resources to provide services.

Hackney Homes did not systematically learn from its experiences and had a low self awareness of its weaknesses

Hackney Homes lacks a shared long term vision to guide its work. While there has been a clear focus on service improvement and achieving two-star performance, there is a lack of focus on the activities of the ALMO after decent homes works have been completed. A number of challenges face the Council and Hackney Homes, such as the forecast deficit in the Housing Revenue Account (HRA) after 2010. While some senior staff and councillors express a desire to work together, we found a lack of an agreed vision of long term activities.. This means that, while there are strategic plans for future activities, both the Council and ALMO are missing the opportunity to clearly set out priorities and plans for the future."

7:49 pm, February 05, 2009

Blogger Quink said...

"because of hitting the two star grade, Hackney will receive from central government £225 million in Decent Homes funding to spend on making tenants' homes wind and watertight with modern kitchens and bathrooms"

Basically, you're saying that if the people who manage your homes are shite, then your living conditions will deteriorate. Whereas, if they're a bit less shite, some tenants might actually - wait for it - be allowed to have DRY homes that DON'T have a gale blowing through them.

Well. Done. What. An. Achievement.

Targets met: check.

People disregarded: check.

This sort of vile nonsense must stop.

10:10 pm, February 05, 2009

Anonymous Justin Hinchcliffe said...

Knowing Hackney well - and having delivered on a council estate in the recent Stoke Newington by-election - I find this news deeply depressing.

Many people in Hackney, as in other Labour borough, live in really shitty conditions.

Labour politicians, such as yourself, live in your warm cosy period houses, surrounded by organic produce and copies of the Guardian. You are out of touch.

Maybe if you were forced to live amongst 'your' people you would treat them better?

12:06 am, February 06, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's two-stars. Not three-stars.

That bit is vital.

It means the government doesn't consider the housing authority is operationally coherent to be allowed to begin a construction programme.

In other words, Labour in Hackney has screwed it all again.

12:31 am, February 06, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

THIS little extract from Audit commission report is putting a gloss on the excessive overcharging of leaseholders in Hackney

"Satisfaction of leaseholders is low. Satisfaction with the services provided by the ALMO rose from 24 per cent in 2007 to 28 per cent in 2008, but it remains lower than satisfaction for comparable landlords. The satisfaction of leaseholders is closely linked to VFM issues. Despite improvements to information, leaseholders we spoke to were concerned that the description of major works is limited, and that the evidence provided to link service charges to actual costs is confusing. As a result, leaseholders are not confident that their charges accurately reflect the services provided."

are you sure it was a thumbs up and not just a thumbs straight in the middle neither up nor down.

i think maybe the audit commission felt that it would be disastrous for hackney people not to let hackney have the money. even though they are incompetent . if they didn't get two stars minimum then come the 2012 olympics the host borough would have thousands of sub standard homes.

the report is not going to prevent many more challenges to hackneys excessive major works bills by it's leaseholders http://www.ltb.viviti.com

1:02 am, February 06, 2009

Anonymous Observer's friend said...

Thanks Anonymous of 1:02 AM, February 06, 2009, for that reference. Any other leaseholders' battle with Hackney Homes click here. I think Luke will be eating his words when the truth is finally revealed about the way Hackney Homes has been fleecing leaseholders.

It's not so much a Thumbs Up as Giving Us The Finger!

6:18 am, February 06, 2009

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...


you don't mean "council estate". Hackney Homes is an ALMO where the council has handed over management of housing to a Board where elected tenants' reps are in the driving seat, controlling the improvements on their own estates. That's why the service has improved.

This news is about dealing with the "shitty conditions" you describe.

I may live in a "warm cosy period house" but I grew up on a housing association estate so I've got first hand experience of what social housing is about.

Where did you get the idea I'm into organic food?

Ben/Quink - the people who direct the people who manage the homes are now tenants, elected by tenants. Why should the government have thrown taxpayers' money at Hackney Homes if it hadn't proved itself competent?

Observer's friend, why don't you run for the ALMO Board?

8:15 am, February 06, 2009

Blogger jdc said...

Do you see any problem with a system where the best performing areas get more money to improve, and the areas which need to improve most have to do so with the fewest resources?

8:37 am, February 06, 2009

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

It's not about "the best performing", it's about hitting a minimum standard.

8:38 am, February 06, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

An almo is a legal fiction.

It doesn't exist. As was set out in the "Europarks" case in the European Court.

The leaseholders'/tenants' landlord remains the council. They're the people you sue for disrepair.

Officers at Hackney Council know as do councillors. When the chair of housing scratches his arse the officers jump.

Akehurst almost certainly knows this.

11:30 am, February 06, 2009

Blogger Quink said...

Why should the government have thrown taxpayers' money at Hackney Homes if it hadn't proved itself competent?

Throwing money? Well, you said it Luke.

I lived on many council-run estates when I was younger. Oddly the houses I lived in were both dry and airtight. Even the oldest ones. In fact, even the worst ones suffered only from poor reputations, not the wind whistling through the sitting room. It's shocking that we're now in 2009 and ALMOs have to jump through hoops in order to provide basic amenities - like airtight and dry shelter - for tenants.


This isn't political finger pointing. I simply wish people didn't come second place to tidy (and voluminous) paperwork. I think you need to become an old school Labour politician and start championing people's causes, not the mutant and expensive reality that we've ended up with.

7:33 pm, February 06, 2009

Anonymous Rich said...

Audits are pointless. You can award stars but as we all know organizations become experts at hitting targets....it becomes a tick box exercise.

Home Repairs for example. A customer calls in a repair and the call centre assigns a priority. The repair is completed on time and the they hit their target. But who is actually looking at the general condition of our social housing stock. I know for a fact most councils and housing associations will not meet the standards set for 2010 and probably not 2020.

I have seen houses in appalling states, I have also seen some lovely ones too. The problem is that councils and housing associations don't have the money run these as a viable business. They are not a business and will never be self sustaining or profit making. the sooner we realise this the better.

10:34 pm, February 06, 2009

Anonymous Haggerston Harry said...

Steve Tucker must be fuming. He worked his b*llocks off last year gets 1* and Pipe make him fall on his sword. HH do absolutely nothing different and this year get 2 stars. What a stich up.

Still hopefully some of the Millions will go to local tradesmen and not East European employed on the cheap by monsters like Kiers and Connuaght

10:39 pm, February 06, 2009

Anonymous Rich said...

Kiers and Connuaght don't employ tradesmen, they employ cowboys. I have seen some of the work done by these contractors and a lot of it is appalling.

The prices they are given are too low and the result is a bodged job. Something like £300.00 to fit a new bathroom and the operative gets just £70.00. Are we surprised that they can't get real tradesmen to do the work. I wouldn't work an hour for £70.00 let alone a day.

1:44 pm, February 07, 2009

Blogger Mark Still News said...

Had the housing market been sustained, and housing was at affordable levels 76% below the peak, there would not have been a need for social housing in such high volume!

Of course this had nothing to do with NLP, that was elected in 1997?

2:04 am, February 08, 2009

Blogger Mark Still News said...

He eats Kosher food!

not organic!

2:07 am, February 08, 2009

Anonymous Rich said...

I suspect that cash rich property tycoons will probably start snapping up cheap properties very soon.

I'm not convinced that social housing is the way to go. I'm still for getting people onto the housing ladder once prices stabilize, the problem is how the hell do you do it with current prices.

I have a friend who is having to walk away from a part buy scheme. He pays something in the region of £700 pcm to rent half and buy half for a two bedroom flat. Both on low wages and can no longer afford the repayments.

Why is it that the poorest end up paying more to buy somewhere than someone who is able to shop around for mortgage deals. I think a lot of these part buy tenants are being exploited.

3:38 pm, February 08, 2009

Anonymous Cedric Smythe-Featherstonehaugh said...

Mark Still News said...

He eats Kosher food!

not organic!

You are quite wrong! For the definitive guide to Luke's wonderful approach to vegetarians, foie gras, organic and Kosher food you must consult this excellent page.

7:34 am, February 09, 2009

Anonymous Jack Builder said...

Targets are all too easy to hit. Home Repairs by tradesmen for example. A customer calls in a builder for a repair and the call centre assigns a priority. The repair is completed by the builder on time and the they hit their target. But who is actually looking at the general condition of our social housing stock.

4:25 pm, August 12, 2009


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