Wednesday, 13 May 2009

LEAKED copy of Lambeth Council ALMO Draft Inspection Report

An anonymous contributor has leaked to me part of the Lambeth Arms Length Management Draft Inspection Report, which I referred to in my post two days ago here. The document is an inspection of Lambeth Living, Lambeth Council's social housing management wing, and is confidential, and, as far as I know, has not been released on account of it being so critical of the council's service.

The document is dated April 2009 and indeed alleges (amongst other things) that the complaint system within Lambeth Living has broken down and that the organisation is is bad at rent collection and the collection of service charges. Most alarmingly, the number of properties without Gas Safety Certificates is high. Anybody who knows anything about property management (and I know a little) might be aware that if a house blows up on account of faulty gas equipment (and indeed has no valid Gas Safety Certificate), and anybody is killed, the people within a company responsible for arranging the certificate might be charged with Corporate Manslaughter. There's a RICS report here to such end, should there be any interested landlords reading. It's a very serious alleged failing of a landlord duty.

The report (I'm presuming the copy I've received is genuine) does also say some good things. I wouldn't want anybody to think that Lurking about SE11 is unfair in its reporting, so it's worth recording that estate management is considered to be delivered effectively with "reasonable" standard of ground maintenance and cleaning, and that some improvements are beginning to emerge from the service overall.

However, the report is incredibly damning. There is no escaping the fact that major reform will have to be carried out. I suppose the main question will be; is there money to carry out the reforms of the department, necessary to drag it up from its weak position?

I actually do have a suggestion on the matter. In my view, property management is all about systems, and software systems in particular. With the implementation of excellent software, staff trained to follow procedure and use the software, and good relationships with maintenance teams, it's possible to turn around a management service relatively quickly. The report seems to suggest that Lambeth Living only manage 34,000ish properties, which isn't that many in the grand scheme of things. Let's hope that change for the better happens quickly since so many Labour residents are being let down.

Personally, I find it very interesting that this report should have been leaked so close to the Princes ward by-election. I doubt it has been leaked for precisely that reason (since the inspections took place in February, and relate to the entirety of Lambeth and not just SE11), but it's not going to help the local Labour team in their campaign efforts.

Ed: Actually, I think I'm going to change my mind about the fact that I said 34k properties aren't a lot to manage in the grand scheme of things. There's a recently published housing strategy by Lambeth Council (2009 - 2013) which suggests that Lambeth Living is the largest ALMO in London, which would imply they have a huge number of properties to manage. On reflection, perhaps that might be the problem.

10 comments:

Andrew Orange said...

Fascinating. Have you thought about publishing the report? Andrew

Three wheeled one said...

Absolutely. Lambeth Conservatives are also threatening to publish it :) The only thing I'm not sure about is my legal position... Whilst Lurking about SE11, and the identities of the three wheeled one and Tri Porteur are anonymous, there are a number of people that know who I am. I'm sure it wouldn't be too hard for various authorities to figure out my identity, and if that happened, I don't know whether Lambeth Council would consider taking action. What do you think?

Long term tenant said...

Agree this is interesting, but don't think it is news to anyone with experience of Lambeth housing within say, the last twenty years... At least this should help people face up to the inherent problems, which have been glossed over for far too long. I have some respect for Labour, and in particular current cabinet member for housing Lib Peck, for biting the bullet and trying to get this sorted once and for all.

Andrew Orange said...

Well, I'm not a lawyer. Lambeth would be mad to take action against you but then they may actually BE mad.

Don't worry - it will leak somehow.

Anonymous said...

Does the report say "Private" or "Confidential" on it? If it does you are safest not to publish. But if those words aren't on it then go ahead.

Rob Blackie said...

You could always email the council and ask them if they would sue?

I'm not sure of the legality but on the basis of the leaked Iraq war stuff I'd assume that the threat is more to the person who leaked it than you.

Lambeth Living said...

As a new ALMO, Lambeth Living has proactively contacted the Audit Commission to carry out an internal “advice and assistance” review to help identify services which might need improving in advance of our formal inspection.

The report has not been released because it is currently a draft document. Further consultation with the Audit Commission will take place before it can be finalised and then it will be publically available.

To reduce the number of properties without Gas Safety Certificates we are actively taking court action against residents who have consistently refused to allow checks to be made within their properties.

We know at Lambeth Living that there is a lot of work to do, but tenants and leaseholders deserve excellence and we are committed to working with them to improve housing within Lambeth. The short-term goal of Lambeth Living is to achieve a minimum 2 star ranking by the Audit Commission in our next formal inspection. Working with the Audit Commission is just one example of the proactive work we are undertaking to help deliver our aims and objectives.

Lambeth Living

Mark said...

Note for the future... wikileaks could maybe help you with this sort of thing.

Anonymous said...

London Borough of Lambeth

April 2009

Draft



Content

Summary Recommendations

How good is the service?

What are the prospects for improvement to the service?

Appendix 1 - Performance indicators

Appendix 2 - Previous recommendations



Introduction

The London Borough of Lambeth (LBL) established a new housing Arm's Length Management Organisation (ALMO) called Lambeth Living (LL) on 30 June 2008. Lambeth Living manages 34,014 properties for the Council - 24,601 are tenanted and 9,413 are leasehold properties. This includes approximately 4,000 homes in 10 Tenant Management Organisations, which the ALMO will manage for the Council.

Lambeth Living must receive at least a score of two stars in a future inspection provisionally scheduled for later in 2009/10 for the Council to access additional Supported Borrowing to bring its homes up to the government's Decent Homes standard by April 2014. The Council has put in a bid to the Government for £251 million towards the cost of this work.

In its Comprehensive Performance Assessment (CPA) assessment in 2008, the Audit Commission rated Lambeth as a council that is improving well and demonstrating a three star overall performance out of a possible four stars. Within this overall rating, the housing service also received a rating of three.

In this inspection we found the overall service is weak and in some areas there are significant weaknesses. Telephones are not answered promptly, the quality of customer literature is poor, the complaints system has broken down and there is low customer satisfaction. LL lacks a strategic approach to diversity and has a very limited understanding of its customer profile.

LL lacks a robust asset management strategy, capital investment plans are not upto- date and customer satisfaction with improvement works is low. Response repairs are not completed promptly, there is a suspension on non-essential repairs, the management and delivery of repair diagnosis and appointments is poor and there is a high level of litigation for disrepair. There are backlogs of empty homes, no strategy for dealing with long-term voids and the quality of re-let voids is mixed. The number of homes without a valid gas certificates is high and access procedures do not reflect best practise.

Rent collection performance is consistently weak, current and former tenants' arrears are high and arrears prevention is weak. LL does not have positive relationships with tenants, lacks a strategic approach to resident involvement and there is low satisfaction with resident involvement. There are high levels of empty homes, re-let times are poor and choice-based lettings has not been implemented effectively. The collection of service charges and major works charges from leaseholders is poor and engagement with leaseholders is weak. LL lacks a robust approach to value for money and has a limited understanding of how its costs and performance compare with others.

However there are some strengths. Board and staff profiles broadly reflect the local community, access arrangements for gas servicing are improving and fire safety is promoted through the gas servicing contract There is a wide range of rent payment options and positive relations with the housing benefit service. Some positive work has been undertaken to engage with hard to reach groups and a good level of support is provided to TMOs. There is reasonable face to face access via a network of local offices. However their future is uncertain due financial restrictions.

There is a positive approach to tackling ASB including a strategy and effective enforcement procedures Estate management is delivered effectively with an effective caretaking service and a reasonable standard of grounds maintenance and estate cleaning.

Performance is comparatively poor and deteriorating. LL lacks strategic direction and a comprehensive range of improvement plans and strategies, it has not yet established stable or effective leadership at a senior management and Board level and the performance management framework is weak. The capacity of the Board is underdeveloped, the financial outlook is uncertain and key building blocks such as human resources, ICT and procurement have not been established.

Small ad hoc improvements are beginning to emerge from a low base but it is not yet clear that these improvements are sustainable. A new Chief Executive has brought new leadership and there is a high degree of self-awareness about the current level of performance



Background

As part of its preparations for the ALMO inspection, the Council and Lambeth Living asked the Commission to carry out an 'indicative' inspection of its services in February 2009, to ensure that it was progressing well. The aim of this inspection was to replicate the full scope and intensity of the full ALMO inspection.

The service areas on which the inspection focused were stock investment and asset management, housing income management, resident involvement, tenancy and estate management and leasehold management. In addition the three cross cutting areas of access and customer care, diversity and value for money were also assessed. The inspection also considered broader issues of governance within its overall judgement on 'prospects for improvement'.

The emphasis of the work is to review progress against perceived weaknesses with some checks to ensure that any previous strengths remain. The Commission inspected the Council's Housing management service in December 2005 and published a report in May 2006 describing it as a 'fair', one-star service with 'promising' prospects for improvement. Where relevant, we will begin each section with a description of what we said in 2006.

Approach to Advice and Assistance work

The approach that we adopted in completing this work comprised:

A desk top review of documents/data to be supplied by the organisation in advance of the inspection;

We considered Lambeth Living's full self assessment;

An analysis of the organisational approach using the relevant published key lines of enquiry (KLOEs);

A series of interviews with key officers;

Focus groups with key members of staff;

Focus groups with residents and their representatives; and

Reality checks of front line services.



Main conclusions

We have assessed the strengths and weaknesses of the service areas included in the scope of the inspection Our judgements are based on the evidence obtained during the inspection and are outlined below


Table 1 Assessment

How good is the service? Assessment

Access and customer care: an area of weakness

Diversity: area of weakness with some strengths

Capital & Planned Works: weaknesses outweigh strengths

Response repairs: an area of weakness

Void Repairs: an area of significant weakness

Gas servicing: weaknesses outweigh strengths

Income Management: Area of weakness with some strengths

Resident Involvement: weaknesses outweigh strengths

Tenancy Management: area of weakness with some strengths

Anti-Social Behaviour: balance of strengths and weaknesses

Estate Management: strengths outweigh weaknesses

Leasehold Management: an area of weakness

Value for Money: an area of weakness with few strengths


Prospects for Improvement

How good is the service? Assessment

What is the service track record in delivering improvement: an area of weakness

How well does the service manage performance: an area of weakness

Does the service have the capacity to improve: an area of weakness


We found the overall service is weak and in some areas there are significant weaknesses as follows

Telephones are not answered promptly, the quality of customer literature is poor, the complaints system has broken down and there is low customer satisfaction

LL lacks a strategic approach to diversity and has a very limited understanding of its customer profile

LL lacks a robust asset management strategy and capital investment plans and customer satisfaction with improvement works is low.

Response repairs are not completed promptly there is a moratorium on nonessential repairs and the management and delivery of repair diagnosis and appointments is poor and there is a high level of litigation for disrepair.

There are backlogs of empty homes, no strategy for dealing with long-term voids and the quality of re-let voids is mixed

The number of homes without a valid gas certificates is high and access procedures do not reflect best practise

Rent collection performance is consistently weak, current and former tenants arrears are high and arrears prevention is weak.

LL does not have positive relationships with tenants, lacks a strategic approach to resident involvement and there is low satisfaction with resident involvement.

There are high levels of empty homes, re-let times are poor and choice-based lettings has not been implemented effectively

The collection of service charges and major works charges from leaseholders is poor and engagement with leaseholders is weak

LL lacks a robust approach to value for money and has a limited understanding of how its costs and performance compare with others


However there are some strengths:

Board and staff profiles broadly reflect the local community.

Access arrangements for gas servicing are improving and fire safety is promoted through the gas servicing contract.

There is a wide range of rent payment options and positive relations with the housing benefit service

Some positive work has been undertaken to engage with hard to reach groups and a good level of support is provided to TMOs

There is a positive approach to tackling ASB including a strategy and effective enforcement procedures.

Estate management is delivered effectively with an effective caretaking service and a reasonable standard of grounds maintenance and estate cleaning.


The service has barriers to improvement because:

Performance is comparatively poor and deteriorating

LL lacks strategic direction and a comprehensive range of improvement plans and strategies, it has not yet established stable or effective leadership at a senior management and Board level and the performance management framework is weak.

The capacity of the Board is underdeveloped, the financial outlook is uncertain and key building blocks such as human resources, ICT and procurement have not been established.


However there some drivers for improvement:

Small ad hoc improvements are beginning to emerge from a low base but it is not yet clear that these improvements are sustainable.

A new Chief Executive has brought new leadership.

There is a high degree of self-awareness about the current level of performance.

Anonymous said...

Recommendations

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 costs' 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.

Recommendation R1

Improve access and diversity by:

Establishing clear strategies for the delivery of services;

Developing robust and challenging service standards and monitoring their performance;

Re-establishing a robust complaints system that provides a prompt resolution for customers;

Ensuring that access for disabled customers meets the requirements of Disability Discrimination Act legislation;

Engaging with residents in the development and monitoring of all strategies and services;

Taking a systematic approach to collecting and monitoring customer feedback for all services;

Improving telephone, office and online access to services;

Providing customers with up-to-date high quality service information;

Establishing a comprehensive customer profile of customers;

Undertaking equality impact assessments of all services; and

Ensuring that all staff, senior managers, Board Members and contract partners undertake training in customer care and diversity that equips everyone to achieve LL's customer service goals.


The expected benefits of this recommendation are:

Improved customer access for all

Services that are tailored to meet customers' needs

Improved culture of customer care and diversity

The implementation of this recommendation will have high impact with medium costs.
This should be implemented by December 2009.



Recommendation R2

Improve asset management by:

Establishing a comprehensive asset management strategy;

Establishing a clear assessment of the level of non-decency based on the most recent stock condition survey;

Establishing a clear published up-to-date capital and planned investment programme;

Inspecting all voids and establishing a strategy and programme for repair of all voids that also considers retention of voids in the social housing sector;

Improving the management of stock condition data within LL;

Ensuring that all responsive repairs are carried out by appointment within published timescales and completed right first time; and

Reviewing access procedures to enable 100 per cent of gas services to be completed on time.


The expected benefits of this recommendation are:

Clear strategic direction for capital investment and achievement of decent homes

Better informed stakeholders and better planning

Improved health and safety of residents

The implementation of this recommendation will have high impact with low costs. This should be implemented by October 2009.



Recommendation R3

Improve income management by:

Implementing a preventative approach to arrears recovery and rent collection;

Improving procedures for the collection of former tenant arrears;

Considering the introduction of incentives for rent and arrears payment;

Developing accessible money and welfare benefits advice services for customers;

Improving the collection of non-rental charges;

Reducing the level of evictions by promoting a sustainable approach to income recovery;
Improving the administration of direct debits and increasing take up; and

Improving customer service information and advice


The expected benefits of this recommendation are:

Increased rental income

Reduced rent arrears

Better advice for customers and prevention of increasing arrears

The implementation of this recommendation will have high impact with medium costs

This should be implemented by October 2009.



Recommendation R4

Improve resident involvement by

Establishing a Lambeth Living-wide resident involvement structure focused on providing the best possible service for LL residents;

Involving residents in all areas of service improvement development;
Adopting a new LL resident involvement strategy that seeks to maximise the engagement of residents at all levels beyond the formalised structures of involvement;

Ensuring that involved customers are representative of the whole community;

Monitoring the impact of resident involvement to ensure that engagement meets its objectives and influences service delivery; and

Addressing the current weaknesses of the central and area-based approach to resident involvement to ensure that resources are used efficiently.


The expected benefits of this recommendation are:

Improved customer influence for LL customers on LL services

A clear strategic direction for resident involvement

More representative involvement

The implementation of this recommendation will have medium impact with low costs.

This should be implemented by October 2009.



Recommendation R5

Improve tenancy and estate management by:

Ensuring that the management of empty homes has a clear cross-departmental coordinator focused on a comprehensive empty homes strategy that reduces relet times,

Improving the partnership approach to tackling ASB;

Improving monitoring and targeting of ASB action;

Improving access to the ASB service;

Ensuring there is sufficient capacity to address ASB effectively and met service standards;

Improving quality assurance, and

Taking a pro-active approach to managing the travellers' site.


The expected benefits of this recommendation are:

Reductions in the level of empty homes and faster re-let times

Improved access for customers to the ASB service

An increased focus on partnership and prevention for ASB

Improved management of estates

The implementation of this recommendation will have high impact with low costs. This should be implemented by October 2009.



Recommendation R6

Improve leasehold management by:

Improving service charge accounting to ensure that is accurate;

Increasing the level of information provided for instance providing regular statements;

Engaging leaseholders in shaping service improvement;

Issuing service charge statements on time;

Improving communication between major works and home ownership teams;

Increasing payment options and methods for leaseholders; and

Improving access and the quality of service information.


The expected benefits of this recommendation are:

Improved collection of charges

Greater customer focus

Achievement of statutory requirements

The implementation of this recommendation will have high impact with low costs. This should be implemented by October 2009.



Recommendation R7

Improve value for money by:

Reviewing the value for money strategy and adopting a robust action plan;

Introducing new modern methods of procurement for all services and achieving the current April 2010 deadline;

Establishing and reviewing all service level agreements with the council to ensure that value for money is achieved;

Benchmarking with peers cost and performance and prioritise the areas for improvement;

Ensuring that income across all areas is increased and current losses are stemmed;

Improving budget management by establishing robust data and a clear monitoring framework; and

Providing value for money training at all levels of the organisation.


The expected benefits of this recommendation are:

Improved strategic approach to value for money

Improved understanding of value for money

Improved income levels

The implementation of this recommendation will have high impact with low costs. This should be implemented by October 2009.



Recommendation R8

Improve capacity and performance by:

Adopting a business plan with clears aims and objectives;

Adopting a robust performance management framework;

Ensuring that stable and effective leadership is provided by the Senior Management Team and Board;

Ensuring that Board members are equipped to undertake their role within a clear governance framework;

Adopting strategies and improvement plans for service improvement;

Establishing a robust ICT and procurement strategy; and

Establishing a stable financial base.


The expected benefits of this recommendation are:

Improved strategic direction for LL

A focus on performance management

Improved capacity and stability

The implementation of this recommendation will have high impact with medium costs.



This should be implemented by October 2009.

We would like to thank the staff of Lambeth Living and the London Borough of Lambeth who made us welcome and who met our requests efficiently and courteously.

Dates of inspection: 16 February - 27 February 2009

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