Watford Community Housing Trust still has work to do to improve, say councillors

Watford Observer: 'Still areas where housing trust is falling down' 'Still areas where housing trust is falling down'

Watford Community Housing Trust still has work to do to improve its service to tenants, according to politicians reviewing its performance.

Watford’s elected mayor was told on Monday night the trust was still taking a long time to answer phone calls and needed to focus more on being a landlord instead of community events.

At a Watford Borough Council cabinet meeting Councillor Asif Khan, who headed up the review of the trust’s performance since it bought the town’s housing stock in 2007, reported back on progress made by the trust.

In October the council made 20 recommendations to the housing trust over ways it could improve based on tenants’ feedback.

Councillor Khan told the cabinet the task group’s investigation quickly picked up a pattern with concerns tenants were expressing about the trust.

He said the main areas they wanted to see improvement were with trust’s communication with tenants and the quality and speed of repairs.

Councillor Khan said tenants had seen some improvements since the council’s recommendations but there were still areas where the trust was falling down.

He added: "There are still concerns with the telephone response as it is still taking them between six and 16 minutes to respond to telephone calls. We felt this was an area that needs drastic improvement".

The cabinet was told the trust’s chairman, Diane Lee, and chief executive, Tina Barnard, had been invited back to the council report on the progress made on the recommendations next month.

Keith Crout, the Liberal Democrat portfolio holder for Community and Customer Services, asked why the task group had recommended the trust should have less community involvement.

Councillor Khan, a Labour representative for Leggatts, said that although the task group felt the trust had a responsibility to engage with the community its core responsibilities were housing repairs and being a landlord.

He said: "What the committee felt was that in these areas they need to improve and put more focus on."

The cabinet heard that the task group hoped the trust would see councillors more as "partners" rather than "adversaries" in the future.

Relations between the politicians and the trust became strained last year when councillors were banned from attending meetings held with tenants over service charge increases.

These sentiments were echoed by mayor Dorothy Thornhill, who said: "I think the trust should accept that if residents come to us it is usually as a last resort when they feel they have exhausted the normal channels of communication."

She added that there had been instances where councillors had received "less than satisfactory" treatment from the trust and that it needed to accept politicians were advocates for residents. The mayor also praised the work of the task group and said it was legitimate for the council to scrutinise issues on the town.

She said: "I think it is quite legitimate to look at partnerships and what is happening in the town and not just at ourselves and I think that is where some of the best scrutiny can come from."

Comments (1)

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11:15am Wed 4 Dec 13

Cuetip says...

I’m all for their support of community events.

One of the problems which need to be addressed is the difficulties working tenants have in arranging day time appointments for maintenance as they are reluctant to take a day off work for obvious reasons to wait for a maintenance person. Perhaps WCHT could explore more flexible work schedules to suit their tenants as sometimes their maintenance teams might require more than one visit and employers may take a dim view of employees taking time off work.
I’m all for their support of community events. One of the problems which need to be addressed is the difficulties working tenants have in arranging day time appointments for maintenance as they are reluctant to take a day off work for obvious reasons to wait for a maintenance person. Perhaps WCHT could explore more flexible work schedules to suit their tenants as sometimes their maintenance teams might require more than one visit and employers may take a dim view of employees taking time off work. Cuetip

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