Stratford District Council leader 'underwhelmed' by strength of new housing association standards

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New service standards for housing associations were approved by Stratford-on-Avon District Council this week – despite its leader being “underwhelmed” by their strength.

The district council formed a task and finish group to look into the issues behind complaints from residents that maintenance and repairs were being dealt with slowly or even ignored.

The cross-party group worked for more than a year and recommended that it continues to meet four times per year to monitor progress on a wishlist put forward to registered housing providers.

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It includes housing associations agreeing to meet the Decent Homes Standard, consider how repairs are monitored, recorded, tracked and evidenced, establish a method for residents and councillors to report emergency issues at any time, and to respond to such emergencies “with the necessary urgency”.

Other elements are a communication channel between councillors and area representatives from housing associations, access to complaint histories when residents permit councillors to see them and a log of and explanations over any repairs that slip beyond target timeframes.

Councillor Andy Crump (Con, Southam East, Central and Stockton), who chairs the district’s scrutiny panel, acknowledged the wording of the standards “could have been more direct” but that striking a “more moderate tone” had been deliberate.

“We have no legal authority over the housing associations so we have tried to get participation by agreement and we think we have got lots of information from them, there were some really positive questions,” he said.

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It left leader Councillor Susan Juned (Lib Dem, Alcester East) with mixed feelings.

“I am a councillor who represents a ward with a significant number of properties owned by housing associations and I have a heavy load of casework as a result of maintenance issues,” she said.

“I fed some of that casework into the working group. Some of that involves damp and mould and boiler breakdowns.

“Although I am somewhat underwhelmed by the report, I do have to accept that we have to foster positive relationships and work collaboratively with housing associations.

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"They are required to cooperate with local authorities and I hope that they will do so on an ongoing basis.

“We must ensure that the concerns of residents are properly addressed and we must stand up for better conditions. It is simply not acceptable for families to live with damp and mould in their homes.

“As well as regular meetings with housing associations, which is a recommendation, I would like to emphasise that the mechanism available to make complaints and seek further action where appropriate must become a routine part of the training made available to councillors.

“There are steps that can be taken, including up to the ombudsman, but you do need to go through proper procedures to make proper use of that route.

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“I would also hope that we can make cases to parliament on behalf of the housing associations to support improvements and funding to housing associations to make sure maintenance is done properly and kept up to date so I no longer have to take compensation claims against housing associations.”