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Watford Community Housing Trust taken to task over performance
The boss of a Watford housing association faced stern questions over continued issues with the service it provides is more than 5,000 households.
Politicians criticised Watford Community Housing Trust for the time it takes to answer calls from tenants, not publicising its free phone number and not getting repairs done fast enough.
Tina Barnard, the chief executive of the trust, said it had undertaken a review of its services and the organisation was focused on "getting the basics right".
Ms Barnard was questioned by politicians on Watford Borough Council’s overview and scrutiny committee last night (Wednsesday) as part of its work accessing the performance of the trust.
Watford Community Housing Trust was founded in 2007 when it bought the council’s 5,000-home housing stock.
Last year the council set up a task group to research the service tenants were receiving from the not-for-profit organisation.
Yesterday councillors got a chance to see how much progress the trust had made since they handed a 20-point list of recommendations to improve its performance last year.
One of the main issues the councillors raised was the time it took for trust staff to answer the phone to tenants. One councillor, Liberal Democrat Steve Johnson, said it had taken him up to 13 minutes to get through in the past.
He said the he had tried again last week and it had taken him 10 minutes, which he described as "better but still a long time."
Labour representative Asif Khan, added the problems with the phone service created frustration with tenants that was being fed back to the councillors.
Ms Barnard said the trust had a call back system which it planned to promote more to residents.
She added: "I am also very frustrated about this and the team understand how important it is. A question I have said to my team is ‘how would you feel if it was you waiting’ and they are taking it very, very seriously."
The trust was also criticised for not promoting its free phone number on home page of its website.
Councillor Johnson added: "It is just so basic. Why is the free phone number not on the page? And why is it up to us to point it out?"
Another area where councillors said they wanted to see improvement was on the number of repairs that were solved first time round.
Later in the meeting Councillor Khan raised his concerns after some residents had told him they felt intimidated by the trust’s staff.
Ms Barnard said the trust had a number of ways to support tenant who made complaints about staff including having advocates and workers to support them through the process.
During the meeting the trust was also praised for some of the progress it had made since the councillors last met with Tina Barnard in the summer.
Councillors commented that Ms Barnard had been more defensive at the earlier meeting but that the trust now seemed more willing to co-operate with the scrutiny process.
Ms Barnard added: "I apologise if you thought I was defensive, I did not mean to be. To me performance is very, very important and it always has been. We did an organisation review as we know we have to get it right, so it is part of our journey."
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